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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. Public Health is currently compiling contact information for individuals aged 65 years and older, OR the following populations vulnerable to high risk of exposure or severity of illness:

  • Individuals with disabilities living in home settings whom are dependent on attendant care staff, and their attendant care staff, if not otherwise vaccinated under Phase 1a.
  • Correctional facility staff and individuals incarcerated, including state and city or county operated facilities.
  • Staff of and individuals living in congregate settings, not covered by the first two bullets, including shelters, sober living homes, behavioral health treatment centers, and detention centers. College dormitories shall not be included as part of Phase 1B.
  • Where public health data indicates outbreaks or clusters of disease among food, agriculture, distribution and manufacturing workers whom work in or live in congregate settings that do not allow for social distancing. For example, working in a meatpacking or manufacturing production line or migrant workers whom live in bunkroom style housing.
  • PK-12 school staff, early childhood education, and childcare workers. Sub-prioritization should consider persons who work with younger and at-risk children in care, to better ensure child-wellbeing and mitigate impact to parent workforce.
  • First responders (e.g., firefighters, police officers, and dependent adult abuse and child welfare social workers).
    Inspectors responsible for health, life and safety, including those in hospital and long-term care settings, child, and food production safety.
  • Government officials, including staff, to ensure continuity of government, engaged in state business at the Iowa Capitol during the legislative session

Please call Ringgold County Public Health at 641-464-0691 if you fall under one of the groups above and are interested in receiving vaccine, once available.

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.

Noble Nurses: Smith & Staver

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.


Katie Smith, RN is originally from Des Moines and now serves as the Health Coach for the Mount Ayr Medical Clinic. A Registered Nurse, she was interested in pursuing careers in psychology or criminal justice during High School, but in the end decided on nursing because she wanted to make a difference in peoples’ lives. After she graduated from Des Moines Community College as an RN, she moved to Mount Ayr to be near family. She started her nursing career in acute care at Ringgold County Hospital. “I moved here as a single mom,” she said. “I love this community. It’s laid back and everyone helps each other out.”

Although she enjoyed working at the hospital, when an opening came up, she opted to move to the clinic. “I like the preventative care approach to nursing,” said Katie. “I like focusing on wellness and how body, mind, and spirit are all connected.” So, moving into the Health Coach role was a natural when it became available two years ago. “It was the perfect next step in my career. I like to try and keep people healthy.”

Katie knows she can help people because she shares many things with her patients. “I’m not this super-healthy person who’s naturally thin. I’ve struggled with my weight, thyroids, anemia. So, I know what it’s like to have someone hold you accountable. I really have to work at it myself.”

Working individually with her patients is the favorite part of Katie’s job. “I love talking with them and getting to know their stories. Honestly, I think I learn more from them than they do from me! But what’s really rewarding is feeling as though I’m making a difference.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how she interacts with patients. “We do a lot more over the phone,” she said. “But I feel like I’ve picked up a lot more patients. I see conditions like diabetes, COPD, and people who want to lose weight or stop smoking. I do a lot of teaching.”

For another month, Katie’s spending most of her time with her newborn son, Gavin, who was born on November 21. The health coach, wife, and mother of two will have her hands full when she returns to work full time on February 1st.


Melanie Staver, LPN is a native Iowan who grew up on a farm north of Creston. After graduating from high school in Orient, she went to college and earned a degree in biology. About 16 years ago, she and her husband moved back to the area from Northern Iowa and started farming his family farm.

Along with raising cattle, corn, soybeans, and hay, they’re raising three children, all of whom are now teenagers. Seven years ago, Melanie went back to school at Southwestern Community College and earned her nursing degree. “I discovered that jobs were hard to come by in biology. I’ve always been interested in the medical field, and nursing is one of those careers where you can always find a job,” she said. Because of her biology degree she had many of the prerequisites out of the way, which made it easier to earn her LPN.

She immediately started in the surgery department at Ringgold County Hospital and has been here for six years. “I assist with the surgeries,” said Melanie. “It’s a lot of fun.” Like many RCH staff members, it’s her coworkers that are the favorite part of her job. “We have great people here. And we’re truly a team. Everybody supports each other, and we like to have fun! It makes some of the long, stressful days go by faster.”

The COVID-19 pandemic changed many things in 2020. “It affected us a lot in the beginning,” explained Melanie. “All elective surgeries were put on hold. There was lots of uncertainty. But now, we’ve gone back to normal for the most part. We’re busy as can be. The one thing we have to be aware of is the number of in-patients already on the floor. Emergency surgeries will always happen. But we need to be sure we can take care of all of our patients.”

Pandemic or not, life is full and busy for Melanie. Between surgical nursing, three kids in sports, and a farm to help with, she’s got her hands full. And she enjoys it all!

Growing Into 2020

Visiting Physicians Clinics Expanded

Bringing You More Local Services

Expanding the hospital’s Visiting Physicians Clinics has long been a priority for Ringgold County Hospital. Keeping patients close to home while they benefit from experienced, top-notch specialists contributes to a healthier community.

January of 2020 began with exciting news as Ringgold County Hospital announced a new partnership with Radiant Complexions Dermatology Clinics. Rodney Clark, ARNP, FNP-C, a certified family nurse practitioner trained in dermatology, treats patients with skin issues including psoriasis, ectopic dermatitis and various skin cancers.

In August, RCH  partnered with Des Moines Eye Surgeons to offer cornea and comprehensive ophthalmology with a focus on treating cataracts. Roughly 10 area residents received the gift of better sight in 2020 by electing cataract surgery in Mt. Ayr rather than traveling out of the area. 

During November of 2020, a partnership with Midwest Integrated Pain Care allowed area residents to benefit from pain management services at Ringgold County Hospital. Brian Jacobs, MS, CRNA, NSPM-C, joins Melissa Friedrich, current anesthesia provider at Ringgold County Hospital to provide local services such as: epidural therapeutic injections, image-guided joint injections, Botox, trigger point injections, and other therapy options. 

Ringgold County Hospital also broke ground on a building expansion that will provide additional space and allow more people to benefit from seeing specialists in the visiting physician clinic. In addition, the Senior Life Solutions program will be able to reach twice the number of people we are currently serving, and a new retail pharmacy will offer area residents greater access to necessary medicines.

Pandemic Preparations

After a relatively normal winter, the winds of March blew in the COVID-19 pandemic. The good news is that Ringgold County Hospital and the Mount Ayr Medical Clinic rose to meet the challenges. We continue to follow all the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and continue to work closely with Iowa Department of Health/Ringgold County Public Health to help those impacted by novel coronavirus. “We’re healthcare professionals, and along with everyone else in the country, we’re taking this situation very seriously,” said Gordon Winkler, CEO of RCH.

In response, the hospital implemented several new safety procedures, including a dedicated entrance where employees, patients and visitors are pre-screened prior to entry. In addition, car-side triage and services were offered to provide greater safety of both patients and healthcare providers. 

The Mount Ayr Medical Clinic also adapted by offering new telemedicine options for patients to visit with their provider virtually. Using a smartphone with a microphone and a camera, we are now able to conduct routine exams, diagnose illnesses, and even check in with people struggling with mental health issues. Patients don’t have to leave their homes, which helps prevent the spread of the virus.

Emphasis on Regular Screenings

As the COVID-19 pandemic raged across the country, many people put off routine health screenings. Even in rural areas like Ringgold County, healthcare professionals have advised patients to postpone some testing, but not forever. Bruce Ricker, D.O. said that when the pandemic was thought to last two to four weeks, it made perfect sense to postpone screenings like colonoscopies. “But as time marches on, we need to look at the risks versus the benefits.” Katie Willcox, D.O. also reminds parents to keep up with their children’s immunizations. “This is not the time to skip doses,” she said.

Even in the midst of the pandemic, we continued to remind residents of the importance of checking in regularly with your primary care provider. In March, we profiled Lonnie Hawbaker, who discovered a pre-cancerous mass in his colon after a routine colonoscopy. In June, we heard from Brett Ruggles, a local basketball coach who is a survivor of testicular cancer. During October, three breast cancer survivors shared their stories of how a simple 10-minute mammogram saved their lives.

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