Pillar Health and Kenosha Community Health Center (KCHC) are thrilled to announce that our esteemed CEO, Dr. Mary Matteucci Ouimet, Nurs ’86, Grad ’15, has been honored with the 2024 College of Nursing Professional Achievement Award from Marquette University. This prestigious award recognizes Dr. Ouimet’s outstanding contributions to the nursing profession and her unwavering commitment to enhancing healthcare in our community.

Dr. Mary Ouimet has had an illustrious career, serving over 15 years as a chief nursing officer in a hospital setting. In a bold move, she accepted the role of CEO at KCHC just as the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact the United States. Under her visionary leadership, KCHC’s four sites now provide essential care to more than 17,000 medically underserved and socially vulnerable individuals across Kenosha, Racine, and Walworth counties in Southeastern Wisconsin.

In response to the pandemic, Dr. Ouimet led the launch of “Pillar Health,” a fully integrated health clinic. This innovative model enables patients to receive medical, dental, and behavioral health care in a single health home, aiming to increase healthcare access, improve health outcomes, and reduce costs.

Dr. Ouimet attributes much of her success to the education and mentorship she received at Marquette University. “My Marquette professors were role models in our field, unrelenting in their pursuit of quality and excellence. They gave me the confidence to always Be The Difference,” she says. She fondly recalls Professor of Nursing Donna McCarthy, describing her as “a high-performing, excellent, fearless nursing professional.”

Dr. Ouimet’s connection to Marquette runs deep, following in the footsteps of her father, a proud graduate of the Marquette University School of Dentistry, and her brothers, who are also Marquette alumni. “I recognize that my parents made many sacrifices so my brothers and I could benefit from a Marquette education,” she says. “My late father lived and breathed MU blue and gold and would be so proud of this recognition. That means the world to me.”

Please join us in celebrating Dr. Mary Matteucci Ouimet’s incredible achievements and her dedication to transforming healthcare in our community. Her leadership and vision continue to inspire us all at Pillar Health and Kenosha Community Health Center.

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Award Luncheon Speech by Dr. Mary Ouimet:

When I first received the phone call from Lansen Barrow back in January notifying me of my selection for this incredible professional achievement award, to say I was shocked was an understatement. The first thought that came to my head was, ‘but I have only gotten started’… words spoken in this healthcare world where there is always so much to do. But after 38 years, I can honestly reflect on milestones and defining moments that almost always arose from unique challenges—often shared experiences with colleagues—that made us stronger and helped us achieve things greater than we could have ever imagined.

In December 1986, I left Marquette University wide-eyed and eager to start my first job as a professional nurse on the orthopedic unit at what is now Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital. I had been fully formed as a ‘Marquette Nurse’ with a lens Cura Personalis, in the St. Ignatius tradition meaning ‘care of the whole person,’ and fully embracing the responsibility to ‘be the difference’ with patients, families, in the delivery of excellent care, as a team member, critical thinker, etc. I quickly could see that nurses were the ‘glue’ that almost always made it work for patients, providers, each other, and even the organization. They were the leaders of care, teams, day-to-day operations, and professional practice—well supported with professional standards to guide care and practice.

As time went on, I moved on to other hospital jobs and settings where it became clear to me that my personal fit was to practice in a faith-based organization that aligned with my own values and was supportive of the holistic approach to care that is delivered within the independent scope of practice of a nurse. In 1991, I took a job as a Clinical Nurse Specialist within the Wheaton Franciscan System where I remained for 27 years. Along the way, I was inspired by peers and mentored by incredible role models who guided me and invested in my development at each leg of my journey, from the CNS role leading population health efforts (before anyone knew what that even was), to leading the acute care division, to leading the organization as a SVP and Chief Nursing Officer for over 15 years. I was blessed to be formed as a ‘ministry leader’ by the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters, leading to the values of 1) respect for the sacredness of life and uniqueness of each individual, 2) integrity, 3) development of self and others, 4) excellence in care and service, and 5) stewardship to ensure the adequacy of resources to provide care to all.

In conjunction with my executive colleagues, we led to the achievement of a ‘five-pillar’ organization, on a journey to earn the Malcolm Baldrige Award—and receiving the state’s version with the Wisconsin Forward Award—demonstrating sustained results in a well-defined system of leadership and quality. We supported the development of nurses and talented teams of clinicians and leaders who demonstrated excellent outcomes in care and operations for many years. We learned to adapt to the challenges we faced and ‘respond to the needs of the time’ in an ever-changing healthcare landscape. We were a team using evidence-based leadership strategies, executing with unique roles—mine as the voice of the nurse leader, safeguarding care quality, at the table able to help design, implement, and evaluate the care we delivered in a manner that preserved and leveraged the role of the nurse.

But what I could see so clearly was that the problems and issues challenging the hospital environment were symptoms of what was NOT happening outside of the hospital. When I finished my DNP, I knew that I needed to move outside of the hospital environment to make an impact upstream in the community. I was fortunate to draw upon many learnings from the Johnson & Johnson Nursing Executive Fellowship program at the Wharton School in 2009, and the exposure it provided for me to interact with nurse leaders who had implemented nurse-led community models of care in Canada, England, and Australia. But I was not clear how to implement aspects of them in the context of our US healthcare system. From 2018-2020, I consulted in private practice and found it was (as my brother Bob would say) ‘the wild west’ out there—with much less structure for care, yet a growing demand for clinical outcomes by payers with shrinking reimbursements for providers. What was glaring to me was the absence of nursing to ‘close the gaps’ in care, quality management, and administrative practice—this after watching ambulatory practices strip away nursing positions because of their perceived high cost—never realizing what it was ultimately costing them.

During this phase of my career, I was still searching for ‘what was mine to do’—a very Franciscan way of knowing your calling. But in January 2020, I was asked by a friend who was the Board President of the Kenosha Community Health Center, to help stabilize the very challenged organization during a CEO transition. Little did I know that this would be the setting where all the pieces could be put together and aligned to provide care in a very different way. I very quickly became familiar with the FQHC model and the immense reach of KCHC’s primary medical, dental, and behavioral health care, drawing from a service area of over 350,000 citizens in Kenosha, Racine, and Eastern Walworth counties—and containing a large, underserved population. Within 30 days of my arrival, the pandemic hit, and the country was shut down. Without letting a good crisis go to waste, we decided to ‘re-birth’ the health center as a leader in the community by providing Covid testing and vaccinations—ultimately serving over 24,000 individuals. What was important was the effort to solicit feedback from the community regarding the type and design of primary health care services tailored to their needs. From this, the concept of a newly branded ‘Pillar Health’ was born, grant funds were obtained, a new Ochin Epic Health Record was purchased, and a building was purchased and renovated capable of supporting a fully integrated medical, dental, and behavioral health practice—a true health home with one interprofessional care team.

In November 2022, the pilot practice opened and has steadily grown. I have an incredible team of leaders who are shepherding the ongoing development of the practice. What will make Pillar Health unique is the offering of fully integrated services supported by nurse-driven patient navigation, care coordination, and panel management. It is a value-based model of care poised to deliver a superior patient experience of care while achieving outstanding clinical and financial outcomes. It is a model that leverages the role of the nurse—that is built upon the business case FOR nursing and a response to the ‘call to action’ found in the most recently published ‘Future of Nursing Report.’ I can only hope in five years, Pillar Health will be a common name in Southeastern Wisconsin—offering a sustainable model of value-based healthcare, with clinic sites in each county—ones that are known to ‘be the difference’ among options for primary care.

In closing, I leave you with some key learnings and a show of gratitude:

  1. Every building needs a strong foundation: I thank my parents for instilling the importance of a life of service and the gift of a Marquette education. (Mom, you were my first nurse role model, My late father, a graduate of the Marquette Dental School deeply believed in the values of the university and quality of education.)
  2. Great leaders know they are part of something much bigger than themselves: I thank my mentors and colleagues who always helped me see a much bigger picture; people like Susan Boland, Sandra Shelley, Donna McCarthy, Carol Feuger, and Rosi Fowler, to name a few.
  3. Great ideas in healthcare cannot be executed without great teams of passionate people: I want to thank the KCHC team (many here today) who have contributed to the vision of Pillar Health and are working tirelessly to bring the model to life.
  4. The life of a nurse and nursing leader is really hard without the support and sacrifice of your family:
    • Thank you to my family and friends who have come here today and who have been there through the years.
    • A special shout out to my four brothers (all Marquette Grads) for contributing to my competitive edge.
    • Thank you to my three children (all Marquette grads, including my two Marquette Nurse daughters here today), who have had to manage in my absence many times throughout the years.
    • Thank you to my son-in-law, Trey, also a Marquette grad, who is now making his own sacrifices in supporting his own Marquette Nurse.
    • And thank you to my husband Joe, who has been an unselfish partner who has demonstrated unwavering support from day one.
  5. Marquette Nurses are Different—they are leaders and they are difference makers:
      • Thank you, Marquette University College of Nursing, for your role in forming me as a Marquette Nurse.
      • Thank you for acknowledging my professional achievements with this very prestigious award.”

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