Former Ute Mountain Ute nurse Nancy Cole was one of four people in Southwest Colorado honored with this year’s Nightingale Luminary awards in Durango.
The Nightingale awards, sponsored by statewide Area Health Education Centers, are among several awards given to health professionals across Colorado every year. Cole, the only winner from Montezuma County, received a Nightingale award for advocacy in honor of her years of service as a registered nurse at the Ute Mountain Health Center in Towaoc. Kathleen McInnis, executive director of the Southwest Colorado Area Health Center, said she was nominated for championing practices designed to improve the lives of people on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation, particularly women and children.
Cole, 71, worked in Towaoc for about 14 years before her recent retirement, but she said her career in medicine has spanned more than 40 years and multiple disciplines, from mental to orthopedic health. Her experience in a wide variety of disciplines made her a good fit for the Towaoc clinic, which offers health services ranging from nutrition counseling to clinical psychology, in addition to primary care.
Although she worked in several specialty clinics during her time at the Health Center, Cole was also in charge of several women’s health programs. One she was especially proud of, she said, was the “Reach Out and Read” program, which encourages literacy among children between 6 months and 5 years old, “with the understanding that literacy leads to good health.”
Throughout her time in Towaoc, Cole said she tried to incorporate traditional Native American ideas about medicine into the services provided at the clinic. “The outlook for Native American healthcare is very holistic, very focused on the whole person,” she said.
Because of that holistic mindset, she said, she felt it was even more important to encourage life skills that most people might not associate with health, such as reading.
McInnis didn’t say who had nominated Cole for the Nightingale award, but she said most recipients are nominated by their colleagues.
“I was nominated as a Luminary winner in 2012, so I know there’s nothing better than being nominated by your peers,” McInnis said.
But Cole said the award mostly came to her as a shock.
“I was very surprised that I was entered, and very surprised that I won,” she said.
Cole, who now lives in the countryside near Dolores, didn’t attend the award ceremony in Durango on March 15, and said she doesn’t plan on attending the Denver ceremony for statewide award winners on May 12. She said she’ll be too busy working.
Although she’s retired from running the Reach Out and Read program, Cole said she continues to tutor children in reading through the Towaoc Head Start program. She also has five children, 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren to keep her busy.
Cole said she hopes the small statue of Florence Nightingale that represents her award will be “a tribute to nurses everywhere who work very hard every day.”
Other winners at the Henry Strater Theatre on March 15 were:Winners for clinical practice included Michelle Hayo, of Mercy Regional Medical Center, who was awarded for leadership. Cole was awarded for advocacy.Winners for administration, education, research or nontraditional practice included: Mary Shry, of Mercy Regional Medical Center, for advocacy; and Linda Young, of Mercy Regional Medical Center, for leadership.The Star Awards, founded in 2014, also were announced during the event, and honored a “rising star” novice nurse and “shining star” expert nurse. Kim Ackles, of Pueblo Community College, received the Shining Star Award and Paul Geslao, of Mercy Regional Medical Center, received the Rising Star Award.
Emergency Medical Technion and nursing student at Southwest Colorado Community College, Jeff Sederlin, was awarded a nursing scholarship and gave a speech to audience members.
Reporter Forrest Stone of The Durango Herald contributed to this article.