Work Life

A Heart to Serve

Nikki Armstrong and her team

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Growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, life was not easy for Nikiki Armstrong. The oldest of three, she remembers seeing her mother struggle to provide for her and her siblings.

“I saw her struggle trying to raise three kids on a CNA salary,” Nikiki said. “But that's what made me realize that if I wanted to succeed, I had to make sure I got an education.”

Nikiki’s mother continued to work hard, and eventually became a nurse. The resilience and perseverance she witnessed from her mother would be a tremendous motivating factor for Nikiki as she progressed through high school. With her mother as the example, Nikiki enrolled at Clemson University and eventually earned a nursing degree.

After college, Nikiki began her nursing career on the surgical floor at Kershaw County Medical Center in Camden, South Carolina. She later began working as a critical care nurse at Palmetto Richland Memorial Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina. After spending years caring for patients in the hospital, she transitioned out of the care setting into case management, which has been her focus for almost 20 years.

Today, Nikiki is a clinical operations manager for AdventHealth’s Population Health Services Organization (PHSO). She leverages her experience as a registered nurse and certified case manager to lead a team comprising nurse health advisors, a licensed clinical social worker and whole health coordinators who work to support patients along their care journey with everything from staying connected to their primary care doctors to remaining current on their prescribed medications.

With her team primarily working remotely, she had recently been contemplating various team-building opportunities to bring them together, in person, for some much-needed face time. Instead of a day that focused largely on fun and games, they took a different approach and planned their team-building activities around service to others by volunteering at a local food bank.

On the day they volunteered, Nikiki and the team were given a brief orientation by the food bank staff and then proceeded to perform the various tasks they were assigned throughout the day. Some separated and sorted items. Some packaged food. Others were responsible for loading the items onto pallets after they were sorted and boxed. Regardless of the task, every one of them played a role in supporting people in need.

“It felt really good because you feel like you have really accomplished something,” Nikiki said. “I think it made our team closer because you're in there and we’re able to interact with each other. It was a lot of fun and I really think it helped with our bonding.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 34 million Americans are considered food insecure, with 9 million of them being children. In 2022, more than 49 million people turn to food assistance programs, according to Feeding America, a US–based nonprofit organization and nationwide network of food banks that feeds more than 46 million people through food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other community-based agencies. Feeding America also works to raise awareness and action around food insecurity with an annual recognition of Hunger Action Month each September.

Over the years, social determinants of health have become focal points for health care organizations across the country because of their cumulative impact on a person’s overall well-being and the potential implications on hospital resources if these issues go unaddressed. This has led to the development of programs and resources that specifically focus on the non-medical factors that impact and influence health outcomes.

For instance, the AdventHealth PHSO develops and coordinates programs with the specific goal of targeting and engaging health plan patients who are most prone to food insecurity. In doing this, the PHSO uses proprietary technology, data and analytics to identify those individuals and then encourage and direct them to food pantries and food banks in their immediate vicinity. In 2023 alone, the PHSO has engaged nearly 50,000 patients to help connect them with food resources in their area.

For Nikiki and her team, their volunteer experience not only fostered an opportunity to give back to the community, it also strengthened their comradery. In fact, they are already planning additional team activities that are service based in nature. All in all, Nikiki believes it is an honor to serve and help others.

“I like being able to serve and knowing that I'm making a difference if I can give my time,” she added. “So, I really enjoy giving. That's part of what we are all here to do.”

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