In the far reaches of the United States, in the land of the Midnight Sun, Andy Bertapelle’s nursing career continues to shine.
Always looking for an adventure, Bertapelle, BSN ’00, has been a registered nurse for 13 years, serving the past seven months as the director of nursing at Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital in Barrow, Alaska, the United States’ northernmost city. Surrounded on three sides by the Arctic Ocean, Barrow (population 4,346) is a place where the roads are unpaved because of permafrost, and no roads connect the city to the rest of Alaska.
“This location was able to provide me with the adventure and challenge that were missing in my life,” said Bertapelle, bracing for sub-zero temperatures in January with no protection from the frigid Arctic air. “We are the only hospital providing services to an area the size of Washington state. We make do with what we have because getting supplies delivered is a challenge. During the summer, when the ice has moved away from shore, we get a few barges with supplies, but once the ice comes back, the only way in or out is by plane.”
Bertapelle steadily has climbed the career ranks. Soon after completing his studies at Baker’s School of Nursing in Topeka, Kan., Bertapelle was commissioned in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps and served at the Naval Hospital in Rota, Spain, for three years before moving to the Naval Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla. While in the Navy, he worked as a medical/surgery RN and emergency/trauma RN. He served the country as a nurse in Djibouti, Africa, for six months and in northern Kuwait for another six months to support American troops. After leaving active duty service, he moved closer to family in Denver, where he was the assistant director of patient care, and eventually the director, for two 20-bed inpatient units at a Level I trauma center.
Bertapelle credits much of his success to Baker’s School of Nursing faculty.
“I believe I owe my progression to a great foundation the Baker staff provided me,” Bertapelle said. My advancement throughout my nursing career has been a mix of planned steps and having some luck with a few doors of possibility opened for me. I truly believe the solid foundation of nursing education I received at Baker was the catalyst to allow for such growth. My career and nursing education have prepared me to handle just about anything thrown at me.”
Bertapelle consistently looks for opportunities to provide better care for patients. In Denver, he took the initiative to complete a staffing model evaluation. His research found that there were plenty of nurses wanting jobs despite the perception of a nursing shortage. He submitted a business proposal to upper management that was approved and changed the staffing model of his two units — general surgery and medical/telemetry unit — to a total care model.
“The model allowed me to hire and properly support an increased number of new graduate nurses without jeopardizing patient care,” he said. “Among the many other factors I researched, the model also supported the looming retirement of more than 30 percent of the nurses working for me who were at or above retirement age. It was a win-win situation and was successful in all aspects with notable success in improved patient satisfaction and improved employee engagement scores.”
In Barrow, Bertapelle oversees a team of one assistant director of nursing, 18 nurses, two certified nursing assistants, a unit clerk and five case managers. The inpatient unit in Barrow features 12 beds for medical/surgical patients of all ages and two beds for low-risk labor and delivery patients. The outpatient unit features a six-room clinic, a two-bed emergency room, and a case management department.
“We are a critical access hospital and see everything imaginable,” he said. “For our critical and trauma patients, we work to stabilize them while coordinating air medical evacuation services for transport to Fairbanks or Anchorage.”
Originally from Bellevue, Neb., with a father and other family members in the military, Bertapelle was raised with a sense of duty to serve. He was an active Boy Scout and volunteered as a firefighter, where he first rode in an ambulance.
“How better to serve others than to help them heal,” he said of his inspiration to pursue a nursing career. “It is this same philosophy that led me to service in the Navy and eventually to Barrow, where I get to help ensure quality care is delivered to a very rural community.”
After high school, Bertapelle joined the Navy as a sonar technician and was selected for a Navy Nurse Corps ROTC scholarship. He participated in the University of Kansas ROTC program while taking courses at Baker’s School of Nursing.
“Baker offered the program I was looking for,” he said. “I wanted a smaller setting, which gave me exactly what I needed to become successful.”
Bertapelle reflects proudly on his two years at Baker and how the program helped him develop professionally.
“I often look back and have joked with Dean Kathy Harr that I wasn’t the best student who went through nursing school at Baker, but the instructors, staff and dean believed in me and kept me on track,” he recalled. “I am grateful for that and realize that level of individual attention and commitment is unique to Baker’s nursing program. They invested themselves in my success. I am proud to wear my Baker nursing pin, as I truly credit Baker with getting me to where I am today.”