January 26, 2022

Challenging situations don’t faze this nurse leader

Meet Theresa Torres, winner of the Kaiser Permanente 2021 Emerging Nurse Leader Award.

Theresa Torres is assistant department administrator for critical care services at Kaiser Permanente Irvine Medical Center.

Torres is the assistant department administrator for critical care services at Kaiser Permanente Irvine Medical Center, a position she was promoted to at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, her department underwent rapid change dividing into multiple, temporary subunits. The new structure presented many challenges, especially for communication, but Torres didn’t skip a beat.

She provided support to employees whether they worked the day or night shift. A new electronic communication board she introduced helped break down communication barriers by providing the team with up-to-the-minute news on quality scores, new policies, and more. The communication board also provided a new way for employees to recognize and encourage one another.

Torres took the time to send staff members a personal text before their shifts to let them know to which subunit they had been assigned.

“This simple but moving gesture was greatly appreciated by the staff, as it provided direction and an opportunity for mental preparation,” said Choi Bagnol, assistant department administrator at Kaiser Permanente Irvine Medical Center. Bagnol nominated her for the Emerging Nurse Leader Award.

Taking patient care to new heights

Torres’ true passion lies with exceptional patient care and outcomes.

Under her leadership, patient satisfaction scores increased to 96.3% from 79.5% in the category of “nurses explained things understandably.” The jump came after she designed and introduced a series of practices based on solid research.

She also led the intensive care unit team to its first Beacon Award of Excellence, silver designation. Presented by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, the award recognizes nursing units whose outstanding care optimizes patient outcomes and increases patient satisfaction.

“Theresa is the quintessential leader, as exemplified by her approach in engaging teams in the continuous pursuit of excellence,” Bagnol said.

Torres explained what motivates her.

What makes a good leader?

When I think of great leaders, 2 of my mentors come to mind. One mentor in particular showed compassion and empathy to staff and patients while also guiding us through extremely difficult times. Another mentor demonstrated incredible clinical expertise and a hands-on approach. I aspire to be a hybrid of those 2 leaders, with one's supportive and compassionate nature complemented by the other’s strong clinical skills.

Where do you find your inspiration and energy?

I am motivated when I see nurses I have mentored advance to leadership or receive certification. It's as if you're a parent, providing your children with the tools they need to succeed and then watching them soar. That immense feeling of pride is what energizes and fulfills me. I also love seeing patients walk out of the critical care unit as a result of the incredible work done by the team.

How have you kept up your resilience during the pandemic?

Staying resilient during the pandemic has required a collaborative team effort. We’ve helped each other get through difficult times by working together and communicating frequently. It's inspiring to see how hard the team worked every day to provide their patients with the best care.

Watch Torres and all of Kaiser Permanente’s 2021 Nursing Excellence Award winners discuss nursing and their award recognition.