Top Nurses 2020: Ryan Klaustermeier serves with heart

Ryan Klaustermeier of Heartland Hospice is a recipient of the leadership award.
Ryan Klaustermeier
Courtesy of Heartland Hospice

For Ryan Klaustermeier, every decision made at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was focused on the best possible outcomes for his team and the patients at Heartland Hospice Services of Madison.

“To be able to truly and genuinely support an individual and their family through the end of life’s process, it’s just not something that can be done remotely,” Klaustermeier says. “We needed to stay right there physically with that individual and their family.”

Klaustermeier, the administrator at Heartland Hospice, started as a certified nursing assistant in 2006 before becoming a registered nurse in 2007. He’s stayed at Heartland from the beginning, transitioning to roles like RN case manager, patient care coordinator and director of professional services before landing in his current position in 2012.

Heartland Hospice does not have a dedicated care facility, so its nurses and team visit patients in their home setting, which could be anything from a private residence to a nursing home. Klaustermeier says the death and dying process is a “very intimate part of someone’s life,” and they aim to provide the best experience given the circumstances. COVID-19 posed a new challenge with limited access to personal protective equipment and fewer face-to-face meetings with patients and families, but Klaustermeier paved a way for his team.

“We did have to navigate through the dynamics and challenges of our skilled partners kind of closing their doors temporarily, but as far as us, as often as we could be physically present with the patient and the family, we were,” Klaustermeier says.

While Heartland was still able to source a majority of personal protective equipment from internal channels, Klaustermeier helped make sure Heartland staff members were protected to the best of his abilities during a time when there was a shortage nationally. “I just made sure that I was accessing and leveraging and pounding on the doors of every possible aspect and opportunity to garner PPE,” Klaustermeier says.

With the help of his team, he reached out to veterinarians, dental offices, construction and engineering firms, autobody shops, grocery stores, distilleries (for hand sanitizer) and anywhere else they could think of to gather supplies they needed.

Klaustermeier says those who could donate responded right away to Heartland’s call, and he notes that the community’s support allowed them to continue pursuing their mission.

While the safety of his staff members was a huge focus, Klaustermeier made sure those in Heartland’s care weren’t forgotten. Sean Morrison, the manager of business development at Heartland, nominated Klaustermeier for his leadership throughout the pandemic. “While he relentlessly hunted for supplies, he got the staff working on handwritten, hand-colored greeting cards for patients to ensure they knew they wouldn’t be left behind, and coordinated veterans’ ceremonies that took place outside the patients’ window,” Morrison says.

Klaustermeier took it upon himself to bring a mustang named Lucy and a miniature horse named Didey to Heartland’s nursing home and assisted living partners to spread joy during the darkest times at the start of the pandemic.

Ryan Klaustermeier with a horse

Courtesy of Heartland Hospice

“That’s the heart and grit of an extraordinary nurse and a leader who refused to let a pandemic limit the care his patients received,” Morrison says.

Throughout the pandemic, Klaustermeier says individuals in assisted living and nursing homes were confined to their rooms for weeks at the start of the health crisis. Things like bringing the horses are a way to provide a healing presence. He tried to engage with individuals just to “bring a little sunshine to their day.”

At the core of everything, Klaustermeier says he stayed focused on the need in the community to help those dying and give the care those community members deserved. When Heartland started making rapid changes in March, Klaustermeier took time to educate himself on the coronavirus to help his team. He let his staff members know his fears and that he was equally as devastated seeing COVID-19 deaths, but he encouraged everyone to focus on the facts.

“What I saw come out of the team is just true dedication and passion for the work that we do for our community and understanding that we needed to unite as a team to be able to make that happen,” Klaustermeier says. “No one backed down, we just leaned in and said, ‘Yeah, let’s do this, and we’ll do this as a team.’”

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