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Twenty Years of Growing

By Michelle Fortune

Healthcare Umbrella

This summer, we planted a small garden. Audrey Hepburn said, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” It felt like an act of expectation for brighter days ahead. Sadly, our garden hasn’t performed very well despite a sunny spot and the best of intentions. Thankfully, my cravings for locally grown tomatoes were satisfied with the bounty from generous friends. This disappointing experience prompted me to think about why our garden wasn’t a success and what I could improve for next year.

As I’ve celebrated the richness of crops shared with our family, it made me think about St Luke’s yield for our community. The results of what St Luke’s accomplishes has a significant impact on our lives and our county. As you know, it’s the people at St Luke’s that make us unique. I’ve shared my desire to highlight local healthcare heroes, and as I consider growth, let me introduce you to Sommar Waters.

Sommar began her career at St Luke’s in January 2001 as a housekeeper in the Environmental Services (EVS) department. She was in her early twenties, and caring for a baby son was her priority. Her position in EVS was her first in the medical field, and she had a deep desire to learn and grow. A year and a half later, she learned about an opportunity as a File Clerk in Medical Records. She jumped at the chance to continue to expand her knowledge of healthcare in this new area.

Most of us recognize the importance of Medical Records when we need to review health data or ensure a specialist receives our information. Often, this team of professionals works quietly and stoically, protecting and organizing vital data behind the scenes without fanfare or flash. After Sommar absorbed herself in this world for two years, she learned the hospital needed a Credentialing Coordinator. This role is a critical one for any healthcare organization. The responsibility of validating a provider’s training, education, and experience to ensure patient safety is of utmost importance. Sommar broadened her horizons and took on this critical function. She then returned to school and obtained her degree in Health Information Technology. She said it was challenging to work full time and raise a small child, but her leader and mentor, Teresa, inspired her to advance further. Teresa planted that seed on Sommar’s thriving heart and encouraged her not to allow circumstances to hold her back.

In 2006, after Sommar completed her degree, she became the Coder for St Luke’s, utilizing her education to benefit our local hospital. For more than a decade, Sommar served as the Coder at St Luke’s and became the Medical Records Department leader’s planned successor. When her leader passed away unexpectedly a few years ago, Sommar extended sooner than expected and stepped into the department’s leadership role with poise, grace, and professionalism.

Since arriving at St Luke’s, I’ve seen Sommar honored with our “Teammate of the Month” award. This award is special because it can only be awarded after nomination by another teammate. Praised for her teamwork, Sommar’s passion and dedication are on display each day. Her growth here in almost twenty years has been exceptional, and she continues to seek novel ways to provide value to our team and patients.

Sommar’s son is now 20, and her daughter is 13. In addition to the incredible work Sommar does at St Luke’s, she spends time cheering on her daughter during various sports, drama performances, and singing events! I asked Sommar what her advice was to others who wanted to grow, and she said that the environment is essential. She shared that “some bigger facilities may offer more money but working at St Luke’s is like working with family. Plant yourself carefully.” Those are some sage words.

What would she want you to know about the Medical Records Department, who works tirelessly on your behalf? Sommar says that her department cares about you, our patients.

“Patients come in Medical Records and share their stories, challenges they are facing, and struggles they are having with their health, and our team wants to help,” she confided. “They matter to us.”

The next time you request records, read an article about Medical Coding or hear a news story about Electronic Health Records. I hope you will have a sense of pride for Sommar and this local team. They are working hard to continue to grow and serve you in a greater way! Please follow St Luke’s on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn or visit our website at SaintLukesHospital.com.

You can contact Michelle Fortune at  Michelle.Fortune@slhnc.org.