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Photo provided by Guthrie

Kansas Underwood, right, chats with nurses Gail Thompson and AJ O’Connor at Guthrie Cortland Medical Center. Underwood, a Homer native who now lives in Dryden, was recently named the hospital’s chief nursing officer.

Kansas Underwood has come home, and she wants to use the experience she has gained elsewhere to help make Cortland County residents healthier, as Guthrie Cortland Medical Center’s chief nursing officer.

“I grew up here. These are my people. It’s nice to be able to contribute,” said Underwood, 42. “I’m really proud to be able to be part of this community again and to be able to make some really impactful and healthy changes.”

She and her husband, Shawn Underwood, graduated from Homer High School in 2009.

On Jan. 31, she began working at Guthrie Cortland Medical Center as vice president of nursing/chief nursing officer. She had previously worked at Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca, where she was the interim chief nursing officer and system senior director of emergency services for the seven or eight months while also overseeing surgical services.

Over 18 years at Cayuga Medical, she was the nursing director of a medical/palliative unit, telemetry unit, dialysis service line and manager of surgical services inpatient.

“It was a long and hard decision,” she said of taking the Cortland job. “I was leaving an environment I was pretty comfortable in. I am really interested in making changes for the (Cortland) community and the nursing division, and for health care ultimately.”

Guthrie Cortland Medical Center has been using traveling nurses to supplement its staff to meet staffing requirements and to meet standards in the short term during a nationwide nursing shortage, Underwood said.

She said she will work to make nursing jobs at the hospital attractive and to draw more people to the profession.

“Long term, we have to recruit and we have to retain,” she said. “My role is to serve them (nurses). My job is to give them the support they need to take care of patients.”

Guthrie Cortland President Jennifer Yartym said Underwood was a natural choice for the position.

“Kansas presented as an excellent candidate for us because of her background,” Yartym said Thursday, citing Underwood’s work in critical care and other specialties.

“She seemed to be a natural fit for us.”

Yartym also noted Underwood had experience in nursing recruitment and retention while working as vice president of a hospice service provider.

The medical center will continue working with the nursing program at Tompkins Cortland Community College to train future nurses and will look to draw students from other colleges in the region to do clinical work at Cortland while they work toward their academic degrees.

Underwood has a background in critical care nursing and trauma emergency services. She received her associate’s degree in nursing in 2004 from TC3 and her bachelor’s degree in nursing from SUNY Upstate Medical University and a master of science and management from Keuka College.

Underwood has served on the board for Local Home Care Services, Hospice.

The Underwoods live in Dryden with their children, two Labradors and a cat. The family loves to ski, swim and spend as much time as possible outdoors.

While she liked her job at Cayuga Medical Center, Underwood said she was intrigued by the opportunity to work at a small hospital that had the support and resources of being part of Guthrie’s larger healthcare system, which is based in Sayre, Pennsylvania, and has affiliations with the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

Underwood said she plans to create more connections to the community, through participation in events and educational opportunities.

“We want to show the community what we are about and interact more with the community,” she said.

Nurses create important connections with their patients, Underwood said.

“I like people. I like their stories,” she said. “I like to be able to help. It is an awesome profession. We get to connect with people. We get to educate people.”

Underwood recalled several instances when people would stop her at a store, hug her and thank her for helping them.

“It’s an honor to be able to care for people at the most vulnerable times of their lives,” she said.

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