Trenton Nightingale winner brings passion, humor to role

When Dennis Stone was a patient at Oakwood Heritage Hospital in Taylor, he would thumb through the “We Care” cards that displayed pictures of his nurses and a little information about them. On one of those, belonging to staff nurse Laura Lager, he had written two words: The Best.

It was no surprise to him that Lager, a long-time nurse in the rehabilitation unit at the hospital, was honored this year with a Nightingale Award for Nursing Excellence in the Long Term Care category.

“I think she’s the most wonderful nurse at this hospital; the best nurse I’ve ever had anywhere,” said Stone, a Dearborn resident who was the victim of a hit-and-run accident. “From the day we met, we just bonded.”

Lager is one of the charge nurses at the Multidisciplinary Acute Care Rehabilitation Unit at Heritage and said in that role she gets the best of both worlds. She runs her shift, but still gets plenty of time with patients and she said the long-term nature of their recuperation allows her to get to know her patients as they recover.

“I like the aspect that they’re there for a little while—longer than just a couple of days—as they get better,” said Lager, a Trenton resident. “You can build a relationship with your patients.”

Lager tried a variety of jobs before she decided to follow her mother’s advice and give nursing a try. She took a course to become a nurse’s aid, and never looked back.

“You have to listen to what your parents say,” she said. “Sometimes, they’re right.”

Known as a mentor to newly hired nurses and nurse externs, Lager is also the unofficial unit jester. She said her sense of humor helps her bond with her patients, gain their trust and speed along their healing.

“I believe laughter is one of the best ways to heal,” she said. “I try to make my patients laugh.”

Stone said that ability helped him through his recovery and the rapport he had with Lager was priceless.

“I wouldn’t want another nurse, even if you paid me a million dollars,” he said. “She’s the best nurse anywhere, hands down.”

Nurse Nightingale Awards are handed out by the Oakland University School of Nursing to honor exemplary nurses and recognize achievements within the nursing profession. The tradition of honoring Michigan’s top nurses began 25 years ago.

Lager said the team approach at Heritage contributed to the success there, and said all the staff in the Acute Care Rehabilitation Unit work together as “one big happy family” and she wouldn’t want to trade her part in it for anything.

“I don’t want to deal with being in meetings all the time or this or that. My pace is at the bedside,” she said. “It’s where I belong.”

CUTLINE: Dennis Stone of Dearborn of Dearborn said Laura Lager, RN, is the best nurse he's ever had.