July 06, 2006 (PRLEAP.COM) Health News
CHICAGO – Although for many years she has lived on the city’s west side working as a community health nurse serving predominantly Hispanic families, Catharine “Cat” Quinn doesn’t limit the “community” she serves to just Chicago or even the U.S. In fact, Cat Quinn sees her role as a nurse as a global one, with a passion for supporting needy communities not only in Chicago but all over the world. Her remarkable enthusiasm for her work, her varied experiences as a local community health practitioner, and her unique view of community nurse as advocate are just a few reasons why Quinn was recently chosen as winner of the 2006 VNA Foundation Super Star in Community Nursing Award and recipient of a $25,000 unrestricted cash award. Now in its fifth year, the VNA Foundation’s “Super Star” award recognizes Quinn’s significant contributions to community and public health nursing – an often unglamorous and under-rewarded career choice within the nursing profession, despite great need.

Quinn has been passionate about nursing since she first decided to dedicate her life’s work to helping the underserved at the young age of 16. In the mid 1980’s, she first volunteered with Travelers and Immigrants Aid (TIA) in Chicago, serving on a mobile health clinic run by nurses. She spent a summer visiting local communities and working with the homeless – specifically homeless teens. That experience crystallized Quinn’s career path and she immediately decided to devote her time to working with patients that don’t have any access to health, schools, homes or – in some cases – basic human rights.

Quinn’s career choice has kept her traveling throughout Chicago and the globe providing much-needed community nursing services to the underserved. She entered nursing school in the late 1980’s at a time when the nursing shortage was in full swing. Undeterred, she spent her summer vacations volunteering overseas in England working with adults with disabilities and also in Honduras at a hospice treating patients with HIV. After earning a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Quinn immediately began working inside Chicago’s Cabrini Green neighborhood at the Winfield Moody Health Center. In 1994, she was offered a grant by the San Carlos Foundation in Berkeley, CA which sent her to San Pedro Sula, Honduras where she learned fluent Spanish and spent two years as a case manager for adults and children living with HIV and AIDS. In Honduras, Quinn also helped open a community-based home for HIV positive children with the support of the Mercy Sisters (the home remains open still today). She went on to work with California-based Concern America, as a community health nurse in a rural health development project in Peten, Guatemala facilitating workshops for health promoters and midwives. In fact, it was in the jungle of Guatemala that Quinn and her husband – with the help of a local midwife – celebrated the birth of their first child. After returning to the U.S in 1995, Quinn worked at El Valor Corporation in Chicago as a bilingual nurse case manager for 250 local Head Start families and then went on to become the only Spanish-speaking nurse at Community Health, a free clinic which serves the uninsured population in Chicago.

One of Quinn’s most memorable jobs was her role as the heath educator and community nurse at the Lakeview Health Center in one of the city’s predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods. During the five years at the school-based health center, Quinn taught sex education classes, prenatal classes and mentored hundreds of young Latina women. In fact, Quinn was such a positive influence on the young women that she co-founded the Latina Girls Club at Lakeview High School, a project that was created by and for young Latina students. Still active today, the girls explore options for their future that enable understanding of their heritage, take control of their lives, and make informed choices for their futures. As a testament to Quinn’s support and mentoring, many of the club’s “graduates” have pursued nursing as a career.

Today, Quinn is busy using her nursing skills and knowledge to design the International Health Immersion Program for Concern America, a unique nonprofit, nonsectarian, nongovernmental development and refugee aid organization that emphasizes the transference of skills, rather than just the placement of aid, into impoverished regions. Concern America trains local populations in health, education, agriculture, and/or environmental health (appropriate technology), and accompanies these populations from eight to ten years, working with and through them to build local, functional social systems that meet their basic needs. Eventually, the Concern America team can be withdrawn, leaving in place trained local people who are "capacitated" to continue the work and to bring it to neighboring communities.

She recently earned a Masters of Science from the School of Public Health, Health, Policy and Administration at the University of Illinois’ Chicago campus. Earlier this year, she served as the Chicago delegate for the World Social Forum in Caracas, Venezuela and was a delegate from the United States for the 2005 Peoples Health Movement Assembly in Cuenca, Ecuador.

She recently earned a Masters of Science from the School of Public Health, Health, Policy and Administration at the University of Illinois’ Chicago campus. Earlier this year, she served as one of two Chicago delegates for the World Social Forum in Caracas, Venezuela and was a delegate from the United States for the 2005 Peoples Health Movement Assembly in Cuenca, Ecuador.

“Over the past four years of sponsoring this award, we have reviewed the credentials of some incredible ‘super stars’ in community health nursing,” said Robert DiLeonardi, Executive Director of the VNA Foundation of Chicago. “I do not recall, however, encountering before a nurse like Cat Quinn. She exhibits such an undeniable enthusiasm and is such a passionate advocate within the health community. During the finalist interviews, we were most impressed with Cat’s multifaceted career and her ongoing dedication to ensuring quality health care for those in need. Cat is truly a remarkable inspiration to others who are considering a career in community nursing.”

“Nursing to me is truly about being an activist and advocate for all,” said Quinn. “I have always believed that we have a responsibility as nurses to learn about different cultures, religions and languages. You really need to be an activist in community nursing — and sit at the global table to learn why people are without health care, hungry, in places of violence without schooling. Only then can you make a difference.”

Adds DiLeonardi: “We are honored to acknowledge the incredible service of all community health nurses and the important role they play in providing much-needed nursing care to our local neighborhoods. This award was created to promote the importance of community nursing and hopefully encourage more young people to pursue it as a career option and serve communities that desperately need the support. Cat is able to bring her unique international experiences and knowledge to Chicago’s communities, helping our local agencies to broaden their views of what is possible and to be more creative in the care they provide.”

According to an article in the October 27, 2005 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, approximately 126,000 nursing positions are unfilled today and that number is expected to skyrocket as 78 million aging Baby Boomers begin placing unprecedented demands on America's health care system. The nurse staffing problem today is a major factor in emergency department overcrowding, cancellation of elective surgeries, discontinuation of clinical services, and the limited ability of the health system to respond to any mass casualty incident. In addition, 90 percent of nursing homes report an insufficient number of nurses to provide even the most basic care, and some home health agencies are being forced to refuse new admissions. Although there are currently shortages of other health care personnel, nurses are the primary source of care and support for patients at the most vulnerable points in their lives. Nearly every person's health care experience involves a registered nurse. Birth and death, and all the various forms of care in between, are attended by the knowledge, support and comfort of nurses.

The VNA Foundation of Chicago’s 2006 Super Star in Community Nursing Award is intended to acknowledge the service that Public Health/Community Health nurses provide, recognize the value of nursing in the community, help attract young people to the profession and contribute to efforts to decrease the nursing shortage.

Quinn and three semi-finalists were chosen by an all-volunteer, independent panel of community health experts, including longtime physician, public health activist and radio commentator Quentin Young, M.D.; Ruth Slaughter, Director of Public Health Nursing at the Chicago Department of Public Health; and last year’s “super star” award winner Carol Palmer Wardlaw of Huginnie Crane Adolescent Health Center, among others.

From 1890 to 1995, The Visiting Nurse Association of Chicago employed its own nurses and other health professionals to provide health care to the underprivileged. Since 1995, The VNA Foundation has operated exclusively as a grant making foundation, giving financial support to nonprofit organizations offering home- and community-based care to the medically underserved. In fiscal year 2006, the VNA Foundation distributed 59 grants totaling $2,028,067 in support of its mission to increase home and community-based health services for Chicago's medically underserved. Recipients of the grants include a variety of agencies providing health care and health services to the homeless, the working poor and the disenfranchised. For more information on the VNA Foundation, please visit

The VNA Foundation also awarded one Super Star runner-up an unrestricted $5,000 cash award for her exceptional efforts in community nursing:

Patricia Littlejohn, RN – Adolescent Medicine Program at the CORE Center (AMaC), Chicago
Patricia Littlejohn spends her days fighting against the spread of HIV and AIDS in Chicago. As a primary care nurse in the adolescent medicine program at Chicago’s CORE Center on the city’s west side, Littlejohn coordinates its clinic serving predominantly African American and Hispanic children and young adults living with HIV and AIDS. Littlejohn’s job is often not an easy one – she works with gang members, drug users and other challenged youth to help them deal with their HIV or AIDS diagnosis and provide much-needed medical and emotional support. In addition to their HIV status, many of the youth visiting the CORE Center also suffer from multiple psychosocial issues including homelessness and housing instability, psychiatric disorders and substance abuse. Through it all, Littlejohn has become known for her nearly inexhaustible compassion and sincerity. She has earned the trust of her patients by helping them cope with life-threatening health issues, and to do so with dignity and self-confidence. She also supports her young patients by educating them about contraception, abstinence, and about their adherence to antiretroviral medications. She works with other medical staff members at the center to understand the unique medical needs of these youth by maintaining clinical information critical to their care including biological markers of HIV disease progression, immunizations, STD screens and PAP smears.

In addition, one finalist received a $1,000 unrestricted cash award for her remarkable efforts:

Lorraine C. Schoenstadt, BSN, MS, RN, BC – Immunization Education Coordinator, Chicago Department of Public Health
Lorraine Schoenstadt has spent her entire 21-year career as a public health nurse within the Chicago Department of Public Health supporting the city’s underserved. Her days have included in-home visits with low-income mothers and babies, providing care to drug exposed and/or chronically ill infants, offering immunization services to the uninsured and providing nursing support in local communities. In all of her various roles, Schoenstadt has demonstrated vision, determination, enthusiasm and compassion for her staff and patients. As the current Education Coordinator for the Immunization Program, Schoenstadt is often asked to evaluate the quality of immunization services being provided in CDPH and non-CDPH clinical settings. She also has a long history of volunteering to provide nursing services in emergency situations. Schoenstadt has administered vaccines during the 1989-90 measles outbreak, volunteered to be vaccinated with and administered smallpox vaccines in 2002, and provided meningococcal vaccine during the 2003 outbreak. Schoenstadt also volunteers as a mentor for Rush University nursing students at various community health events supporting Chicago’s underserved communities as part of the RU Caring Program (a student-run interdisciplinary community service project). She is also the Vice President of the Chicago Nurses Association (District 1). No matter what the situation, Lorraine Schoenstadt is always willing to step in and provide nursing assistance for the underserved and at-risk.
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For more information or to schedule an interview with the 2006 VNA Foundation Super Star in Community Nursing winner or finalists, please contact Kathleen Henson at 630-933-9477.