NICU baby and nurse, photo

National three-year award with gold, silver, bronze designations marks a significant milestone on the path to exceptional patient care and achieving a healthy work environment

The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), Aliso Viejo, Calif., recently conferred a gold-level Beacon Award for Excellence on University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

The Beacon Award for Excellence—a significant milestone on the path to exceptional patient care and healthy work environments—recognizes unit caregivers who successfully improve patient outcomes and align practices with AACN’s six Healthy Work Environment Standards. Units that achieve this three-year, three-level award with gold, silver, or bronze designations meet national criteria consistent with Magnet Recognition, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, and the National Quality Healthcare Award.

“We are grateful for this award in that it truly highlights the exemplary care and service our nurses provide to our tiniest patients and their families,” says Jody Kurtt, MA, RN, CPNP, NEA-BC, director of nursing and patient care in Children’s and Women’s Services. “Our nurses are part of a remarkable interdisciplinary team. The Beacon gold-level award for excellence was only possible due to the expertise and commitment to excellence by the entire NICU team. We are proud to let to let this award symbolize to our families and communities the excellent care these babies receive. By earning a gold-level Beacon Award for Excellence, we are showing our families and our communities that their babies are getting the most advanced care available.”

UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital is home to Iowa’s only Level 4 NICU—the highest level recognized by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The NICU at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital is equipped to care for the tiniest and most critically ill babies, offering the greatest range of neonatal services and support. The hospital cares for more complex conditions than any other NICU in Iowa, and survival rates for babies born at 23, 24, and 25 weeks are significantly higher than survival rates for extremely premature babies born at other U.S. hospitals, placing UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital among the top neonatal intensive care providers in the country.

UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital’s NICU has more than 200 registered nurses and more than 30 nursing assistants and clerks. 

AACN President Clareen Wiencek, RN, PhD, ACNP, ACHPN, applauds the commitment of the NICU caregivers at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital for working together to meet and exceed the high standards set forth by the Beacon Award for Excellence. These dedicated healthcare professionals join other members of the exceptional community of nurses who set the standard for optimal patient care.

“The Beacon Award for Excellence recognizes caregivers in stellar units whose consistent and systematic approach to evidence-based care optimizes patient outcomes. Units that receive this national recognition serve as role models to others on their journey to excellent patient and family care,” she explains.

The gold-level Beacon Award for Excellence earned by the NICU at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital signifies excellent and sustained unit performance and patient outcomes. The UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital NICU earned a gold award by meeting the following evidence-based Beacon Award for Excellence criteria:

  • Leadership structures and systems
  • Appropriate staffing and staff engagement
  • Effective communication, knowledge management, learning and development
  • Evidence-based practice and processes
  • Outcome measurement

“We are proud to receive this recognition, which highlights our expert team of nurses who are dedicated to making sure that every baby and every family member receives nursing care that is safe and of the highest quality,” says Emily Spellman, MSN, RNC-NIC, nursing practice leader for the NICU. “This award recognizes the work we do that affects quality, outcomes, and evidence-based care. This allows us to give these babies individualized, dedicated care so they can go home with their family with the best outcome possible. We join a select group of NICUs in the country who have achieved this highest-level Gold recognition.”

AACN honors the NICU at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital and other Beacon Award for Excellence recipients with announcements in AACN Bold Voices, the monthly award-winning member magazine distributed to more than 100,000 acute and critical care nurses nationwide. AACN also honors awardees at the National Teaching Institute & Critical Care Exposition (NTI), the world’s largest educational conference and trade show for nurses who care for acutely and critically ill patients and their families.

About UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital

University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital is the only nationally ranked—and comprehensive—children’s hospital in Iowa. Part of University of Iowa Health Care, the state’s only academic medical center, it is home to groundbreaking research that helps solve the mysteries of childhood diseases, and it trains the next generation of health care professionals.


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