Congratulations to the 2017 Award Winners

The GWL Award recognizes managers and directors who have made outstanding leadership and operations contributions to their organizations. In addition, it honors those who have demonstrated a commitment to participating in continuous educational opportunities that promote operational excellence. The GWL Award honors the memory of Gary Willis, an ASHHRA board member, who passed away in 2010 after a battle with cancer.

Previous Award Winners

2016 - Lotus Yon

Lotus YonLotus Yon
Manager, Training Programs & HR Projects
Northwest Community Healthcare, Arlington Heights, Ill.

Yon’s love of her college classes led her to seek a career in human resources, while her long-standing fear of hospitals motivated her to push herself out of her comfort zone and enter the health care field. When her manager unexpectedly left Northwest Community Healthcare, Yon took on that role — and the responsibility to lead nearly 80 employees through an electronic medical record system (EMR) implementation including a credentialing program, training redesign, super-user and end-user training, at-the-elbow support plan and go-live.

With 90 days to bring their training status from red to yellow on the EMR’s go-live readiness assessment, Yon drew upon her team-building, trust-development and communication skills to lead her team to achieve green status in only 60 days. These efforts helped to significantly increase her organization’s operational efficiency.

"I believe Lotus' work fits nicely with Gary Willis' belief in developing current and future health care workers," said John Zubiena, director of talent acquisition, Children’s National Health System, and Yon's ASHHRA Mentor. "The age of technology has significantly changed the delivery of patient care, and Lotus played a key role in the implementation of Northwest Community's EMR."

"I'm thrilled to win this award; it serves as another motivator to be the best leader for my team and organization," said Yon. "Based on the lessons learned in my career so far, my advice to new and advancing HR professionals is to keep an open mind, never stop learning, and carry on self-reflection — you can influence others but you can't change them. Sometimes, we need to look within ourselves to change and make a situation better. I've also found that, especially in fast-moving health care, it's common to lose sight of the importance of soft skills and engaging your culture. It shouldn't just be about productivity and performance and numbers, it should be, 'Am I really making a difference in the world, in my team, in my organization?'"

2015 - Tina Boeckenstedt & Tracy Braman, SPHR

Tina Boeckenstedt
Tina won for her work as Human Resource Client Services Manager, Children’s Hospital Colorado, Aurora, Colo.

When Boeckenstedt was 10 years old, a community hospital recommended her leg be amputated due to a bone marrow staph infection. The specialized care she received after transferring to a children’s hospital in Denver not only saved her leg, but inspired her to enter her now 22-year career in health care human resources. Boeckenstedt recently joined Boulder Community Health in South Boulder, Colo., as human resources director. In her prior role at Children’s Hospital Colorado, during which she received her award nomination, she collaborated with leaders across the organization to develop and implement a strategy to improve operations across seven specialized service lines. As a result, employee engagement scores within these service lines increased — attaining the Moorhead Employee Engagement Survey’s Tier 1 — and all lines achieved a U.S. News and World Report national ranking.

“As a strong partner in establishing our hospital’s Service Line Strategy, Tina helped significantly enhance our operations and improve service to patients,” said Kanayo Keri, MST, MHA, administrator, Digestive Health Institute and Breathing Institute, Children’s Hospital Colorado. “Holding herself to high personal standards, she has demonstrated excellent communication and teamwork skills and a high level of emotional intelligence, a valued trait in health care leadership.”

“I was thrilled and honored to learn I won the Gary Willis Leadership Award,” said Boeckenstedt. “Health care HR has kept me engaged for 22 years because it’s purposeful, meaningful, challenging work that offers an endless opportunity to create and build programs that support the employees who care for the patient,” said Boeckenstedt. “And I was so excited to learn that Gary Willis was an HR leader in a children’s hospital as well, helping to make health care better through human resources.”


Tracy Braman, SPHR
Human Resources Executive Director
Lakeland Health, Saint Joseph, Mich.

Braman’s 15 years of human resources experience has included roles of increasing responsibility in the corporate, nonprofit and health care fields. At Lakeland Health, she has successfully created a culture of health by leading a holistic wellness program that has helped the organization improve the health of its workforce while also managing the cost of its self-insured benefit plan. To inspire and educate associates to lead better, healthier lives, Braman launched an ongoing communication program that includes highlighting individuals’ success stories. She also collaborates with key internal and external stakeholders to ensure the program remains efficient, effective and measurable. In addition, Braman is co-chair of Lakeland’s Diversity Advisory Council and is rolling out a School at Work program to foster associates’ development.

“Just like the late Gary Willis, Tracy has a passion for making a difference in the field of human resources,” said Norma Tirado, vice president of HR, IT and organizational transformation, Lakeland Health. “Under Tracy’s leadership, Lakeland has won “Excellence in Engagement” awards from the Advisory Company in each of the last three years. A caring, compassionate and capable HR leader, she’s also making a difference in our community through her community involvement.”

“Health care’s transformation is making it an exciting time for HR, because we’ve solidified our seat at the table to now really be able to make a difference in health care,” Braman said. “My advice for new and advancing HR professionals is to never put your role in a box. Be open to any opportunity, and you’ll grow as a person and as a professional. That’s why I’m so excited this award is giving me the opportunity to network, collaborate and share best practices with other passionate colleagues across the nation at the ASHHRA conference.”

Watch Video>>

2014 - Eileen Brown, MPPM & Tonya Richards, PHR, MS

Eileen Brown, MPPM
Director of HR Transitions Management
Conifer Health Solutions, Frisco, Tex.

Eileen has more than 12 years of leadership experience in human resources and 19 in health care. She has helped Conifer Health Solutions maintain operational excellence by smoothly transitioning 1,500 Vanguard Health System employees in five states to Conifer (which is jointly owned by Tenet Healthcare and Catholic Health Initiatives) following the merger of Tenet and Vanguard. To bring staff with regional differences in benefits and policies into a centralized organization with standardized procedures, Eileen rolled out extensive training and communication programs to make each employee’s experience as stress-free as possible.

“Eileen’s work ethic and ability to lead are familiar to everyone her work touches. I knew Gary Willis personally, and Eileen shares with Gary a kindness of spirit — a willingness to let everyone be a part of their family,” said Irma L. Pye, SPHR, CHHR, chief human resources officer at Valley Baptist Health System (acquired by Vanguard Health System in 2011).

“With the rapid changes in health care I’ve witnessed, I’ve seen that HR professionals must be open to change,” Eileen explained. “If you can’t change, you can’t expect employees to. You need to lead by example, and always be honest and transparent.” She continued, “I am so excited to be selected for this award, and am gratified that my efforts to be a role model helped me to earn it.”

Tonya Richards, PHR, MS
Director of Human Resources
Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Tonya Richards, PHR, MS receives awardAfter interning at various health care organizations, including Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, Tonya spent four years in the utility industry as a labor relations specialist before eagerly returning to health care as Kingsbrook’s HR director. The only non-senior executive on Kingsbrook’s Leadership Institute Steering Committee, in the past two years she has successfully improved supervisors’ skills by presenting lectures and navigating 130 participants through the program. Tonya also has boosted employee engagement through a variety of creative programs, including an extremely popular concert series by and for employees. She has further demonstrated her HR excellence by increasing efforts across the institution to improve patient satisfaction scores.

“Tonya has effectively reshaped the human resources organization to help Kingsbrook become greater than the sum of its parts,” stated John McKeon, Kingsbrook’s vice president of human resources.

Tonya said, “One of the rewards of my role at Kingsbrook has been to help our employees continue to provide for our community in an environment of health care transformation. Throughout this transformation, I’ve learned that HR leaders need to focus on continual growth and share their experiences with others so they can learn and excel.” Regarding winning the award, she continued, “I fell in love with the human resources field back in college, so getting the news was very emotional for me. I’ve worked hard on improving my leadership skills, and since I’m younger than most directors, the award will give me added credibility.”

2013 - Michelle Rousseau, M.B.A.

Michelle Rousseau, M.B.A., 2013 GWLA RecipientMichelle Rousseau, M.B.A.
Director of Human Resources
Terrebonne General Medical Center, Houma, La.

With 15 years’ human resources (HR) experience, Michelle worked her way through many leadership roles, including compensation specialist and HR data coordinator, representative and director. She has demonstrated her HR excellence by leading a cross-functional team in implementing a new HR/payroll information system that has automated, streamlined, and increased accuracy in pay and benefit policy management and applicant tracking. The improved system has also fostered better communication among hiring managers and applicants while reducing paperwork, staff administration time, errors and costs.

“Michelle has built a reputation of trust and respect throughout our organization,” stated Dean J. Verret, C.P.A., M.B.A., vice president of financial services for TGMC. “Her desire for continuing education to bring efficiency and understanding to the medical center is valued. In addition to human resource expertise, her knowledge of information technology, combined with certification in Six Sigma improvement, has saved time and financial resources to benefit the organization.”

“I hoped to win the award to fund continuing education for my young staff to help them grow and develop. Through the application process, I learned what a great cross-functional support team surrounds me; they helped me tell the story of what we all have accomplished. I was very fortunate to have met Gary Willis, and to find I won an award in his honor and memory was amazing and humbling. I consider my role is to be a good teacher — to guide my organization in improving how we work with each other. The award inspires me to continue to pass along what I’ve learned.”

2012 - Celeste Gardner, SPHR

Celeste Gardner, SPHRCeleste Gardner, SPHR

With more than 15 years of HR experience, Celeste has worked her way through many roles, including payroll clerk, recruiter, HR administrative assistant, generalist and director. She was nominated for the award based, in part, on her exceptional leadership developing, implementing and managing the Commitment to CARE program at St. Cloud Medical Group. Celeste created a program that focused on all employees doing their best work for the customer-the patient-by upholding the organization's Mission, Vision and Value system.

“Celeste is a leader in our organization with a strong business sense and great ideas,” says Diana White, Administrator for St. Cloud Medical Group. “She has been and continues to be an asset to our organization.”

“I was scared to death to enter health care. But I have an absolute passion for customer service. So in my role, I feel that my interaction with the staff has a direct impact on patient care,” says Celeste about her career. Regarding the future, she continues, “The transition in health care is pushing HR professionals to expand our day-to-day role. We are a resource. We have to know and be prepared tp give the best-practice answer…We’re in the role of service, but now we have the opportunity to think strategically, to encounter the C-Suite and understand the bottom line.”

2012 - Terri Stevens

Terri StevensTerri Stevens

Terri resides in Roanoke, VA where she has worked for the past five years at Carilion Clinic. Previously, Ms. Stevens worked as Compensation Manager for Rockingham Memorial Hospital in Harrisonburg. Terri has demonstrated her HR excellence as project team lead developing and implementing a more simplified compensation structure for the more than 10,000 employees at her organization. She successfully created separate education modules for both employees and managers that provide information, test understanding and set action items relative to structured salary ranges.

According to Lee Byrd, Immediate Past-President for VaSHHRA, “Ms. Stevens exemplifies excellence in her HR role both as an employee and ASHHRA member. Having been fortunate to have known Gary,” Byrd continues, “she embodies the key qualities that qualify her for this GWL Award: a proven HR leader, excellence in her work and a true desire to gain additional knowledge in HR.”

“One of the reasons I chose to pursue a health care HR career is that I enjoy working with people and helping them find efficient solutions,” says Terri. “When I first started in this field, HR was more of an administrative function…it has evolved and become a strategic business partner. HR now sits at the executive table with a voice in organizational decisions.” Because of the GWL Award application process, Terri explains, “I realized the value of my leadership and operational contributions to Carilion Clinic. Answering the [application] questions allowed me to see how passionate I am about my work and my employer.”