Dr. Marc Gorelick, president and CEO, progressive pediatrics blog

A Children’s Minnesota trailblazer shares lessons learned over 30+ years caring for kids.

If there were a Minnesota health care hall of fame, Patsy Stinchfield would be in it. Patsy could easily fill a book with her experiences and accomplishments (and she is working on that). I’m lucky that my time as CEO overlapped with her last four years at Children’s Minnesota. In honor of our 100th anniversary, Patsy shares some of the wisdom she amassed over a third of a century as a Kid Expert.

Patsy Stinchfield, RN, MS, CPNP-PC, has been in the nursing profession for 46 years. She is now an independent consultant (part-time) and grandma (full-time) after finishing a 34-year career at Children’s Minnesota as senior director of Infection Prevention and Control and the Wound Care Program, and a practicing clinician in Infectious Disease and Immunology.

Headshot of Patsy Stinchfield.
Patsy Stinchfield, as president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, at the annual gala event.

Patsy in her own words

Early connections to Children’s Minnesota

I was born in 1958 and grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was just looking in my baby book for what my mom had written about measles (two doses of gamma globulin shots after household exposures in 1959 and 1963) and saw her beautiful handwriting noting I was admitted to Children’s Hospital in St. Paul for “severe pneumonia” when I was 15 months old. While I don’t remember that I do remember that my youngest sister got a rock thrown in her eye on the playground and she was admitted to the “hospital up on the hill,” where, as a new driver, I would go see her after school during her four days inpatient. I can see the kid in the bed next to her with a colorful curtain between their metal beds. I remember looking out of her hospital room window at a space that would be my future office. The old Children’s Hospital building is now a condominium building. There’s still a smooth, flat piece of stone over the entrance with “Children’s Hospital” etched in it that I liked to show people from my Gardenview 5th floor office so we would never forget from where we came.

I vividly remember being inside the “old hospital,” going up the white marble staircase with these worn areas on the steps. I could just picture nurses and doctors running up and down those stairs for so many years.

Historic photo of Children's Hospital, St. Paul
Children's Hospital, St. Paul, where Patsy was admitted when she was a baby.
Children's Hospital name in stone.
The building is now condominiums, but "Children's Hospital" remains over the original entrance.

Like a family

I started at Children’s (Hospital, St. Paul)* in 1987. I had a pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) degree, but there were no jobs available when I graduated. So, I took an RN position in the emergency department (ED), on call, working 9 p.m.-2 a.m. The woman who hired me, Olga Dale, was legendary. She could start an IV with her eyes closed. I met so many wonderful people there and from the clinic just adjacent to the ED.

Eventually an infectious disease PNP position opened up. While the early years of the infectious disease department in St. Paul were tumultuous, the clinic and hospital staff all knew each other and were so fun and welcoming which I credit to the Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) Marlene Fondrick and her wonderful partnership with our Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Brock Nelson. It was the most wonderful environment I ever worked in. Times were simpler then. It was like a family, and anyone who worked there in the ’70s and ’80s will tell you the same thing. In my 34 years at Children’s Minnesota, I worked with nine CNOs and four CEOs. Ending my career working with Marc Gorelick (the current president and CEO) and Caroline Njau (the current CNO) symbolizes to me how Children’s has kept its mission and adapted to the times leading, as always, for kids.

Patsy Stinchfield wearing a Cat in the Hat costume.
Patsy at work in the early ’90s dressed as the Cat in the Hat for Halloween.

Missed opportunities

Patsy Stinchfield holding a baby.
Patsy with a young patient.

When I started my new PNP role, it was the late ’80s and the AIDS crisis was on the news all the time. So was Ryan White, the Indiana boy with hemophilia who contracted HIV during one of his blood transfusions. Someone threw a brick through the window of Ryan’s home because he had HIV. We cared for children with hemophilia; at the same time Minnesota was also accepting immigrants and refugees from around the world, some of whom were likely to have HIV. I told Brock, our CEO at the time, that I wanted to help develop a clinic for kids with HIV. We were both standing right outside the cafeteria. He was reading the menu for the soup of the day. Without looking up, he said, go ahead, it was a great idea. That’s what I mean by simpler times!

Brock and I met later to talk about the details. I told him of a conversation I had had with a Minnesota public health official who had told me the HIV clinic was a terrible idea; it would ruin Children’s reputation. The official said no parent would allow their child to lie down on a pillow or mattress that a kid with HIV might have touched. I told the public health official that we would not turn our back on them.

After I relayed that conversation to Brock he said, “You know, this is not a hard decision. Our mission says we care for the health of children. There is no ‘comma, except children with AIDS.’” I still get emotional when I tell this story. Brock didn’t even have to think about it. There is no comma. That’s what I love most about Children’s Minnesota, we care for ALL children.

There is no comma

Shortly after that came one of the biggest challenges of my career: a national measles outbreak. There were 440 cases and three deaths in Minnesota from 1989-1991. I was still new, and it was my first time dealing with an infectious disease emergency.

Measles is so contagious, and the pediatric systems were really, really stressed. The fact that three young children died of a vaccine-preventable disease was shocking and heartbreaking. It changed me and my career forever. The children who died were Hmong, and some people jumped to the conclusion that their families didn’t believe in vaccines. I was like, “No, that’s not right, that’s not what we hear in our clinics.”

I got together with some interpreters, a public health nurse and a family practice doctor and we went door to door in the community to get a sense of the knowledge, beliefs and barriers related to vaccines. That was the beginning of the Children’s Immunization Project, which eventually gained millions of grant dollars and years of award-winning success in improving patient and staff immunization rates.

We learned a lot in those home visits over a cup of herbal tea. We listened first, which is still my main advice on how to best work with families. We realized that we can’t just put up a poster with the complicated CDC vaccine schedule, in English, and say, “Here follow this.” We also learned that we, as clinicians, had missed many opportunities. The kids who died had been in health care, but they weren’t necessarily being asked if they were up to date on their vaccines. We had a second campaign educating clinicians on making every visit a “vaccine visit.” When we started using computers in the early ’90s, it was easier to track if patients were current on their vaccines. This was one of Children’s earliest community outreach endeavors from the established hospital system.

Patsy and family at a vaccine event.
Patsy and her family at a vaccine event. She's wearing her “Children’s Immunization Project” T-shirt.

Healing a culture clash

I was a big supporter of the merger (in 1994, between the children’s hospitals in Minneapolis and St. Paul), but it was hard because we had been competitors. Also, the cultures were different, reflecting the cities in which the hospitals were located. I felt staff didn’t trust each other because they didn’t know each other. So, we started the Culture Committee, which planned a lot of activities where we could have fun together and get acquainted. I co-led this work with others, including Dr. Don Brunnquell, our hospital ethicist (who we recently lost to cancer). He brought his guitar to director meetings and made up songs for people’s retirement parties. He wrote a song to help inspire us to get through an upcoming Joint Commission visit. It used the melody from “Climb Every Mountain” and so he coaxed me to dress up as Mother Superior. Fun brings people together. It also helped that staff started crossing the river to pitch in when it was needed or to expand a program or clinic. It took years of chipping away at the stereotypes and barriers that existed. The growth in our ambulatory programs over those years with some excellent leaders also helped us realize we are many sites but with one mission.

Children's Minnesota Minneapolis Campus 1995.
Children's Minnesota Minneapolis campus in 1995.
Children's Minnesota, St. Paul campus, in 1994.
Children's Minnesota St. Paul campus in 1994.

Our due north

When we had a big measles outbreak in the Somali community in 2017, I said to Emily Chapman (chief medical officer at Children’s Minnesota), this is going to be national news because it’s spreading so fast, and we need to get out ahead of the story. So, with Emily’s support, I invited Lena Sun, the health reporter from the Washington Post, to follow us around. I led a Measles Incident Command Center at our hospitals, and it was all hands on deck. Our plan paid off because we ended up on the front page of the Washington Post, leading the conversation about the importance of the measles vaccine, instead of reacting to the anti-vaccine disinformation we were fighting against. (What I didn’t know at the time was these outbreaks were preparing me to lead Children’s Minnesota as the incident commander through the early years of the COVID pandemic.)

The 2017 measles outbreak was another good example of Children’s Minnesota leaders asking, “What’s the right thing to do? What’s our due north?” Whether it’s prioritizing patient safety, being transparent when you make an error, advocating for gun safety or providing gender health care, we do it because it’s the right thing to do. The due north has always been, what is the best thing for ALL kids?

Remember, there is no comma.

*Children’s Minnesota St. Paul hospital was called “Children’s Hospital” before it merged with the pediatric hospital in Minneapolis in 1994 to form Children’s Minnesota.

Marc Gorelick, president and CEO

Marc Gorelick, MD
President, chief executive officer

Marc Gorelick, MD, is the president and chief executive officer (CEO) at Children's Minnesota. He is deeply committed to advocacy issues that impact children's health, sustainability and advancing diversity, equity and inclusion.

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Julianna Olsen