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Longest Tenured Employee at RCH

Kathi Schuster, CNO

Ringgold County Hospital’s longest tenured employee is Chief Nursing Officer, Kathi Schuster. Like many people with a passion for helping others, she knew from the time she was a freshman in high school that nursing was going to be her career. “My mother died of a heart attack when I was 12,” said Kathi. “It’s why I got into nursing.” In fact, she began working as a Certified Nursing Assistant at RCH before she even went to college.

She was accepted into the Methodist School of Nursing in Des Moines when she was a junior in high school. She decided to finish high school and enjoy her senior year before entering the program. “It was a three-year program that ran year-round,” she explained. “We only had three weeks off every August. When I graduated, I was a Registered Nurse. I chose nursing because of my experience with the nurses at Ringgold County Hospital. They obviously knew what they were doing, and I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be the best.” She added that she eventually did get into management and got another degree in business administration.

Her first nursing job was at Iowa Methodist Medical Center in pediatrics, where she had done her clinical training. Then she met her husband, who is from Mount Ayr, so she started looking at area hospitals. “I interviewed at other places, but I thought this was a better fit for me. I liked the direction this hospital was going. I liked the people. It was clear that everyone respected the nurses and worked as a team. Some other hospitals had a little more ‘stuff’ but the people weren’t as friendly.” It certainly has proven to be a good fit since she started at RCH in April 1982 and has never left!

According to Kathi, back then when she worked as a full-time RN, they did everything, “Emergency Room, Operating Room, Medical/Surgical, Obstetrics, we did it all! I loved it! My favorite was Obstetrics and the ER.” At the time, RCH was considered a Sole Community Provider Hospital and had 46 beds. “When I started, it was nothing to have both halls completely full. The rules have since changed significantly. We used to admit patients for things that are outpatient procedures now.”

After two years, Kathi was selected to help develop an entire program for the new Harold Hughes Center, a Chemical Dependency Unit. “I developed all the policies and procedures and assisted the Director of Nursing with a hospital-wide nursing standards and procedure manual.”

In 1988, Kathi was urged to apply for the Director of Nursing position at RCH. “There had been several people in the position, and it was clear we needed some stability,” she said. Again, Kathi made a career move that was a good fit. She remained Director of Nursing until 2005 when she was promoted to Chief Nursing Officer. “I’ve been responsible for all the nursing units: acute care, ER, surgical, out-patient,” she said. Over the years, she acquired additional departments including physical therapy, laboratory, radiology and the Mount Ayr Medical Clinic. “I’ve got very good managers!” Now her job is less clinical and more administrative, so she was pleased to pitch in and help during the Covid-19 pandemic. “It’s been kind of fun to get back to my roots!”

Kathi is proud of the orientation she’s developed for nurses new to RCH. “When I first started, we were expected to just jump in anywhere on the first day. I wanted to be sure that all of our nurses have advanced cardiac life support training. I implemented a policy that nurses have to work a year on the floor before working in the ER. I’m very proud of that.”

Technology has made the biggest changes at the hospital since Kathi started almost 40 years ago. “I actually think that having Electronic Health Records has helped,” she said. “It has standardized orders. In the past we had to go from memory. Things are now at our fingertips.”

Having such a long history in one place, Kathi has seen it all. One of the most significant milestones was helping design the current facility, which was built in 2009. “Our CEO Gordon Winkler really shined when we were building the new hospital,” said Kathi. “He allowed everyone to have a voice and it showed a lot of teamwork.”

After such a long and illustrious career, Kathi’s compassion and empathy are demonstrated when asked about the highlights. “Seeing other nurses grow, be successful, and move up in their own careers is my favorite part of the job.”

Noble Nurses: Wheeler and Johnson

We are celebrating the hard work, compassion, and dedication of nurses everywhere. Here at Ringgold County Hospital and Mt. Ayr Medical Clinic, our thanks go out to all the nurses in our hospital and clinic who care for our community every day. Each month, we’re profiling two more outstanding nurses for their contributions.

Kelsey Wheeler, LPN


Jayla Johnson, RN

Kelsey Wheeler was an athlete growing up in Gravity, IA. “My hometown is so small that you’ll miss it if you blink!” she said. She and her three siblings went to Bedford schools, where she played softball, volleyball and ran track. She headed to Nebraska Wesleyan for college, intending to become an athletic trainer. “I tried softball for a little bit in college. I wanted to follow the sports thing through. I really don’t know what inspired me, since science wasn’t my thing in school.”

Kelsey learned about nursing through personal experience. “My mom has MS, and she was receiving treatment in a hospital. I started talking to the nurses there and realized that appealed to me more than athletic training.” So, she switched schools and career paths and headed to North Central Missouri College to get a nursing degree. She graduated with her LPN in 2014.

Following graduation, she moved back in with her mother to care for her, which led to a job with a home health agency. She cared for her mother as well as other patients. “It was a great introduction into a nursing career,” said Kelsey.

When she learned about an opening at the Mount Ayr Medical Clinic, she applied. “I liked the idea of the routine, and the Monday-to-Friday schedule.”

Kelsey loves the day-to-day interaction with the clinic patients. “I feel as if they’re my patients. I’ve been able to learn the whole community. Growing up in Bedford, there was such a strong sports rivalry. It’s been great to see that everyone here in Mount Ayr is so caring. It’s a nurturing and loving community.”

With a five-month-old daughter, she is planning to stay at the Clinic for the foreseeable future. “The Mount Ayr Medical Clinic is my second family!”


Jayla Johnson got some practical advice from her mother which set her on a nursing career path. “I was leaning towards becoming a beautician,” she said. “My mom reminded me that were at least 10 beauticians in the county, and that I needed a profession that would guarantee a job. So, I took a health occupations class while I was in high school. At the same time, I started a job as a Certified Nursing Assistant at the nursing home. I realized that I liked taking care of people!”

She didn’t waste any time. Two days after high school graduation, she began her studies at Southwestern Community College and earned her LPN in 1998. She continued to work at the Clearview Nursing Home and oversaw a walking program and did wound care. “I really liked wound care and taking care of the elderly,” said Jayla. “It has always been my favorite. They have all kinds of stories to tell.”

Although she loved her job, she realized that she wasn’t going to move up any further until she got her degree as a registered nurse. So, she “took a leap of faith”, quit her job, cashed out her 401K, and went back to school full time. “I leaned on my significant other and my family for support. I wanted to focus on school.” It took her about 14 months, and she became an RN.

After graduation, she started at the hospice in Mount Ayr. “They taught me a lot. I enjoyed building the bonds with the entire family, not just the patients.” When a friend recommended she apply for an opening at the Ringgold County Hospital Visiting Physicians Clinic, she hesitated, thinking she wouldn’t be good at it. But eventually, she was convinced and is so happy in her job. “I love the variety of all the clinics,” she said. “I still trim nails, and I love that.” She does all the clinic prep work, pulling labs and notes for the doctors. She does the scheduling and assists the physicians during the actual clinics. And, she’s backup for cardiac rehab and stress testing.

The favorite part of her job is seeing all the people and caring for them. “I like knowing they can count on me.” And like her work in hospice, she cares for the entire family helping them navigate through the patient’s healthcare. “I create a game plan and make the necessary referrals and schedule appointments.”

Jayla enjoys the variety of work in the Clinic. “Going back to school and getting my RN has really paid off,” she said. “I only wish I had done it sooner!”

Nurse Spotlight: Caring Is Our Calling!

Ringgold County Hospital is celebrating the hard work, compassion, and dedication of nurses everywhere. We are especially thankful for all the nurses in our hospital and the Mt. Ayr Medical Clinic who care for our community every day. Each month, we’re profiling two more outstanding nurses for their contributions.


Kris Swank grew up in Corning, IA, not far from Mount Ayr. Around 2003, she began working at Iowa Select Farms. “It was fun for a while,” she said. “But it started taking its toll on my lungs and it was really physically demanding.” After 11 years, she decided she needed to make a change for health reasons.

Knowing that she needed a career she could count on, she decided to pursue nursing. In 2012 she started nursing school at Southwestern Community College. “I graduated in 2014, and when I saw an opening at Ringgold County Hospital in 2015, I applied. I’ve been here ever since!”

Kris started as a nurse on the acute care floor, spent some time in the Emergency Room, and then moved into the surgical department. “I really liked surgery when I was doing my rotations in nursing school, so it had always been my goal,” she explained.

In a typical day, she cares for patients when they come in and gets them prepped for surgery. “We prepare necessary paperwork, complete assessments, obtain vital signs, start IV’s, and administer medications. We also follow our patients through surgery as well as into recovery and make sure they have everything they need.”

She loves the challenges that surgical nursing brings. “We’ve been busy. Some of it is related to Covid, but some of it is because we also provide infusion services from simple injections to administering chemotherapy.  We have also added cataract surgeries and a pain management clinic!” She doesn’t prefer one kind of surgery over another, though. She enjoys caring for her patients and making sure they’re comfortable.

Kris has a difficult time pinpointing her favorite part of working at Ringgold County Hospital. But like many others on the nursing staff, it all comes back to her coworkers. “They’re the best!”


Kate Couch got her start and fell in love with nursing during high school at an assisted living facility. Her mother alerted her that there was an opening, so she interviewed and got the job. “Until then, I really had no idea that I was interested in geriatric care,” she admitted. “It was a good introduction to nursing. You become really familiar with that select group of residents. You develop relationships and bonds. It’s very rewarding to see how you’re appreciated.”

After graduating from Bedford High School, Kate Couch went to Southwestern Community College to earn her nursing degree. She graduated in 2011. “When you live in a rural area, nursing school is a good option,” she said. After graduation, she continued to work at Vintage Park Assisted Living. Once her first child was born, she moved to St. Francis Family Health Care in Maryvillle. After her second child came along, she spent some time at home caring for her children before joining the Mount Ayr Medical Clinic in 2015. The Clinic has been a good fit for the mother of three, (with another due in July!)

Awesome coworkers and the ability to build long term relationships with her patients is what Kate Couch loves most about her job as a nurse at the Mount Ayr Medical Clinic. “It’s overall a really rewarding job,” said Kate. “We are all focused on what we need to do to keep everyone healthy.”

Like all healthcare workers, Kate has seen a lot of changes since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Things are starting to look up and get back to normal. Everyone is doing what they need to do now. At the beginning, many people didn’t take it seriously, but when it got to us, it opened up peoples’ eyes.”

Kate enjoys being part of the Mount Ayr Medical Clinic team. Along with her coworkers and patients, she appreciates being trusted by the medical providers. “Because we’re trusted, our patients trust us.”

COVID Vaccination Waiting List

Ringgold County Hospital is encouraging everyone who is interested in being vaccinated for COVID-19 to contact Ringgold County Public Health at 641-464-0691.

As of Monday, April 5, 2021, all Iowans age 16 and above are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Those age 16-17 can receive only the Pfizer vaccine. Iowans age 18 and older can have the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines. 

With eligibility expanded to all Iowans, vaccine supply will be lower than demand for several weeks. Local public health departments, health care providers and pharmacies are working hard to vaccinate eligible Iowans as quickly as possible. Your patience during this time is appreciated. As vaccine supply increases, more appointments will be available and, eventually, every Iowan will be able to be vaccinated. IDPH remains in close contact with our federal partners to communicate Iowa’s need for additional vaccines.

IDPH continues to urge Iowans that while the vaccine is still a scarce resource, to practice virus mitigation efforts.

Please call Ringgold County Public Health at 641-464-0691 or HyVee Pharmacy 641-464-3300 if you are interested in receiving a Covid vaccine.

Local Prenatal Care

Katie Willcox, DO (left) and Erin Leonard, ARNP (right) partner with Tami Fahnlander, DO to offer local pre-natal care.

Expecting parents, and those who plan to be in the future, are fortunate that the Mount Ayr Medical Clinic provides family planning services including pre-natal care. Through 34 weeks of pregnancy, women and future babies will be cared for by Katie Willcox, D.O. and Nurse Practitioner Erin Leonard at the clinic locally. At 34 weeks, her care is transitioned to Tami Fahnlander, D.O. with Women’s Health Services in Des Moines. 

“We start coordinating with Dr. Fahnlander when a mom is 20-weeks pregnant,” explained Erin Leonard. “So, when we transfer her care, we’ve been working together for quite some time. It makes a smooth transition possible.” The partnership is ideal for pregnant women living in Mt. Ayr and surrounding communities. It saves travel costs and time off work by reducing the number of trips women make to Des Moines while providing comprehensive care throughout a pregnancy.

Prior to becoming pregnant, women may choose to meet with their primary care provider or the clinic’s Health Coach, Katie Smith. Appointments can be made by calling the clinic at: 641-464-4470.

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