Kelly Hancock Trailblazes an Elevated Path for Nurses Worldwide as the First Chief Caregiver Officer

Kelly Hancock

Flagged as the Year of the Nurse, 2020 promised to bring a greater awareness to the pivotal role of nurses — innovative leaders who are instrumental in transforming human health. Thanks to the global pandemic, their severely understated role as wellness champions quickly elevated. Furthering the cause is nursing pioneer K. Kelly Hancock, DNP, RN, NE-BC, FAAN, who plans to maximize her cornerstone role as Cleveland Clinic’s first chief caregiver officer to advocate for equal footing — ensuring that nurses become an essential partner on interdisciplinary teams and secure a voice in health care policy.

“Nursing is a true community — they coordinate care and manage patients for the whole continuum of patient health,” explained the graduate of Chamberlain University’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. “There is a much higher demand outside of the traditional walls and we need to figure out how to balance that with the nursing shortage. As nurses assess health disparities and social disparities, they connect patients with what they truly need — whether it’s finding the homeless a safe place to quarantine, assisting those with food insecurities or finding affordable medications. They are advocates across the board. And we’re seeing an increase in behavioral health diagnoses and the impact it plays on the people in society. Nurses are instrumental to foster that mental health for our patients in addition to general health care.”

During her 27-year career, Kelly has honed her skillset while swiftly moving up the ranks at Cleveland Clinic. Starting as a nurse, she soon became a manager, director of heart and vascular, senior director, chief nursing officer (CNO), executive CNO and now has an innovative role as chief caregiver officer. In her newest position, she leads the development and implementation of caregiver engagement for the medical facility’s 70,000 global caregivers, of which about 24,000 are nursing caregivers. She is active in leadership, coaching, employee relations, talent acquisition, compensation, organizational design and change, performance management, learning and development, and more.

Checking the Pulse of Her Team

Kelly’s job is to ensure the wellness and resiliency of the facility’s greatest asset — caregivers, and to communicate with full transparency. A couple months back, she remembers a casual conversation with her boss, CEO and president Dr. Tom Mihaljevic, about the value of nursing and his plan to propel the organization to the next level of care.

“In keeping aligned with our four guiding principles —  caring for patients, caring for caregivers, caring for our organization fiscally and caring for the community, he said he wanted to create a new role. One that showed the world and the organization the importance of all aspects of caregiving — from professional growth and engagement to really supporting a culture that fosters a more intense team-based approach to health care that has always been there.” Kelly remembers agreeing wholeheartedly but had no idea she’d be tapped to lead the charge.

“I never thought a girl from the city of Cleveland would be in this position,” she laughed. But two months in, she has grabbed the reigns to collaborate with stakeholders. “This is much more than a chief HR officer role. I am not just an individual contributor but part of a team envisioning what we can do to invest in caregivers and serve as good stewards in the community. One of our organization’s top goals is ensuring a culture where caregivers can excel with the resources and support they need as members of our one Cleveland Clinic family. What continues to move us forward in this field is the culture — how happy and engaged each of our caregivers are domestically and internationally. No matter what their contribution, they need to always know they are supported and valued.”     

Inspiring Others to Reach Higher

Kelly encourages her team to stay abreast of health care trends and to consider higher education to advance their career and improve patient outcomes. In 2015, she set her own sights on earning a DNP and recalls choosing Chamberlain because of the program caliber and esteemed faculty. Though her team members weren’t expected or required to earn a doctorate, Kelly inspired many to follow suit and subsequently, the class of 2015 became an inspirational team-building experience. Kelly expresses great appreciation for lessons learned at Chamberlain, stating it has been invaluable in her newest endeavor. “With this degree and my new role, I can join others in elevating the importance of nursing to a much higher platform. We’re evening the playing field by achieving a parity that’s deserved.”

An Ohio native and mom of two, Kelly said her fascination for nursing began as she watched a diligent medical team care for her father who battled cardiac disease. And it seems her passion is trending as her daughter recently enrolled in nursing school.  

“We are continuing to earn more respect for nursing and creating a standard where nursing is truly integrated,” Kelly reflected about the profession. “The value of an organization is interwoven with its health care advocates who provide an integrated approach to stand out and deliver safe, high-quality care. They are the lynchpin to connect with patients through education, advocacy and the right plan of care. All caregivers are leaders and all caregivers are everyday heroes.”

 

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