Judy Wilson-Griffin transformed lives of infants and mothers through evidence-based care
At a time when some might have been content to simply finish out their careers, Judy Wilson-Griffin was determined to bring her practice to the highest level possible.
That’s how the SSM Health-St. Mary’s Hospital-St. Louis perinatal clinical nurse specialist came to enroll in the MSN to DNP Program in the University of Missouri–St. Louis College of Nursing in August 2017 despite the fact that she had already been in practice for approximately 30 years.
“Judy did not view her role in nursing as a career,” said DNP Director Laura Kuensting. “She viewed perinatal nursing as her life’s work. Judy was motivated to keep moving forward, achieving excellence and making a difference. She was revered as an expert in perinatal nursing at the local, state and national levels.”
Wilson-Griffin’s devotion to her field has ensured her legacy will endure long after her passing on March 20, when she became the first St. Louis County resident to die as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. At UMSL, she will be remembered as the kind of student teachers want in their classes – a hard worker, a kind soul and a mentor. Wilson-Griffin was an agent of change for the better throughout her career, and she lives on through the quality of her work, the lives she improved and her commitment to evidence-based care.
Kuensting recalled how Wilson-Griffin came through the social determinates of health tour of St. Louis, one of the first experiences of the DNP program, which exposes students to health disparities in the region, particularly in low-income and predominantly African American communities. She knew she’d found her fit at UMSL.
“I remember her making comments to me of how impactful that was,” Kuensting said. “Being a black nurse herself and overcoming adversities and implicit biases throughout her career, she could relate. She was driven to change the maternal and infant mortality for African American women in the St. Louis area.”
Wilson-Griffin advocated for changing systems to tackle mortality rates starting early in her career.
When evidence demonstrated that maternal transport teams decreased infant and maternal mortality, Wilson-Griffin was determined to bring those results to Missouri. She did that first at Barnes Hospital, now BJC Hospital, when she established its maternal transport team – the first in Missouri – and then again when she moved to St. Mary’s.
Time and again, Wilson-Griffin called for change and evidence-based care. So it was natural that when the time came to design her clinical scholarship project, she looked to the literature and got to the heart of her interests as an advanced practice nurse.
Wilson-Griffin had been poised to begin her project implementing recent recommendations for an evidence-based, five-tiered triage system known as the Maternal Fetal Triage Index in St. Mary’s women’s evaluation units, an emergency-type area for pregnant women where they receive care from obstetrical providers.
“Judy was determined to implement and evaluate the new acuity system,” Kuensting said. “She was a catalyst for implementing evidence into practice.”
She brought those same passions to the hospital and national policy committees on which she served and helped develop protocols for maternal severe hypertension, massive transfusions for women and rapid response to hemorrhage. Wilson-Griffin was also an advocate for her profession and recently called for the importance of recognizing perinatal nursing and the PNCSN certification exam at the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists annual meeting.
She was also an invaluable asset to Generate Health, a coalition dedicated to uniting the community to accelerate positive change in the areas of health and well-being of moms, babies and families. A founding board member who helped train staff, she helped launch a fetal and infant mortality program in Missouri – another first for the state.
Those things are only a sliver of what Wilson-Griffin accomplished throughout her career, which also included serving on active duty during the Gulf War with the U.S. Navy Reserve Nurse Corp and, this past fall, being named Nurse of the Year in the Women’s Health Category by the March of Dimes.
Her impact on her colleagues, classmates and friends cannot be overstated. In the days since the perinatal nursing leader’s passing, Kuensting has received a flood of emails in tribute to Wilson-Griffin.
“The nursing profession, and particularly the perinatal nursing specialty, have greatly benefited from Judy’s work,” Kuensting said. “Her leadership persevered through the times when she was told, ‘That’s not the way we’ve always done it.’ She was a mentor and a preceptor to countless numbers of nursing and medical students, colleagues and coworkers. She was motivated and determined to deliver the best care to pregnant women.
“But most importantly, Judy Wilson-Griffin loved her patients and their families and walked through crises with them – providing unending support and expert care. She will be missed, but her work will continue through others, and she will never be forgotten.”
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