VHA Innovation Ecosystem and the Office of Nursing Services are proud to celebrate the Year of the Nurse by highlighting a unique, nurse-led innovation or promising practice each month for the remainder of 2020. With over 80,000 nurses throughout the VA health system, we are the largest employer of nurses in the nation. This month, we introduce diffusion champion, Michelle Lucatorto, from the Office of Nursing Services.

Michelle Lucatorto’s VA career has taken her on a journey around the country. From Pittsburgh to Martinsburg, where she now works in the Office of Nursing Services, one thing Lucatorto has always taken with her is her passion for serving Veterans and a flair for disrupting the status quo. Her first innovation project was at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and focused on improving care for patients experiencing heart attacks. As with all innovation, it took a team. Lucatorto worked with a cardiac catheterization laboratory and Emergency Department professionals to change how VA delivered care for Veterans having heart attacks.

This year, she helped lead VA’s national celebration of the “Year of the Nurse.” She designed the “Thank a Nurse” card, which is a wonderful opportunity for patients to express their appreciation directly to nurses. This effort then expanded into a wide variety of cards, including “Thank a Nursing Assistant,“ “Thank an APRN,” and “Thank a Case Manager” cards. She also developed an ongoing outreach program called “Mindful Mondays,” in which mindfulness sessions are shared with nurses and other staff across VA. Finally, she has continued her years-long work with the Office of Connected Care on the development of clinical- and Veteran-facing mobile applications (apps).

More recently, she connected with the VHA Innovation Ecosystem’s Diffusion of Excellence team and led the dissemination of the effort to reduce non-ventilator pneumonia, “HAPPEN,” and “TeleWound: No Wound Left Behind,” which uses virtual technology to proactively prevent a patient’s wounds from appearing and worsening.

Why does Lucatorto continue taking part in all this innovative work? It still comes back to the Veteran.

“Nurses are always leaning into technology, but with a focus on what people experience rather than on a disease process,” she says.

Throughout our Year of the Nurse celebrations each month, the most common thread in all the nurses’ stories was how nurses are the people who spend the most time with a patient. The fact that they are always listening to individual patient’s unique needs puts them in the best position to think about how they can make things better. That is what an innovator and diffusion champion does: find a better way and share it.

Thank you, Michelle Lucatorto, for being a diffusion champion. Celebrate the Year of the Nurse and follow her story all month on Facebook and Twitter. A tremendous thank you to all the nurses we highlighted throughout the year and to every nurse on the frontlines of this pandemic. You are heroes.


Allison Amrhein, MPH, is the director of operations for the VHA Innovators Network.

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