Ten UCLA Nurses honored by new recognition from the Simms/Mann Family Foundation

Gifts are intended to recognize outstanding, humanistic care nurses provide in a variety of community settings
Nurses hands form a heart
Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Ten nurses from UCLA Health are among 30 honored by the Simms/Mann Family Foundation in a generous program to recognize the mettle of nurses in Los Angeles. The program, Off the Chart: Rewarding Nursing Greatness, Powered by the Simms/Mann Family Foundation, recognized 30 nurses working at three medical centers in the region. The gifts are intended to recognize outstanding, humanistic care nurses provide in a variety of community settings.

Clockwise from top left: David Yamada, Lindsay Brant, Kelly Hopkins, Mithun Mahinda, Valentina Obreja, Kayla Kafka-Peterson, Kemi I. Reeves, Iris Mayoral, Christopher H. Lee, Amy Castillo.

For three years, ten nurses at UCLA and ten each from two other institutions in Los Angeles will receive a $10,000 gift from the foundation as part of the honor. The unrestricted funds are an expression of appreciation to extraordinary nurses for their leadership, ingenuity, and expertise in caring for fellow human beings.

The foundation selection criteria were focused on nurses with “a bias toward action; a capacity for self-direction; originality and creative instincts; courageous and bold thinking; and the potential to achieve even more.”

Nurses have long been recognized for their importance at the bedside; the gifts seek to build morale among a group that has been worn down by the pandemic and its aftereffects. As part of the honor, nurses can attend media training in an effort to give the profession a greater voice in health matters.

The gifts recognize nurses across disciplines, in inpatient and outpatient settings, at various stages of their careers, and representative of Los Angeles.

We’re grateful to UCLA Health for partnering with us on Off the Chart: Rewarding Nursing Greatness to recognize 10 extraordinary UCLA nurses,” stated Victoria Mann-Simms, Ph.D., president of the Simms/Mann Family Foundation. “We are inspired by their dedication, creativity and courage and hope that shining a light on their expertise during this national healthcare crisis catalyzes others to join us in supporting the vital contributions of nurses.”

This isn’t the family’s or the foundation’s first foray into philanthropy in support of clinical care at UCLA. For nearly 30 years, UCLA Health has been home to the Simms/Mann Center for Integrative Oncology, which provides holistic mind / body / spirit support for patients and families facing a cancer diagnosis. In 2019, the Simms/Mann Family Foundation made a new $18-million commitment to ensure these supportive services remain free to patients.

“I am deeply grateful to Vicki and Ron Simms and the Simms/Mann Family Foundation,” commented UCLA Health President Johnese Spisso. “The Off the Chart: Rewarding Nursing Greatness, Powered by the Simms/Mann Family Foundation lets nurses know their care and compassion are recognized. I salute the Foundation for recognizing our outstanding nurses and their role in healthcare – and building on their philanthropy in such a wonderful way.”

Nursing as a profession faces a crises: a dire shortage of staff, burnout from the pandemic, and a long pipeline to train more people for the profession. The gifts seek to demonstrate the profound respect nurses have earned; encourage retention in profession; and inspire more young people to take up the nursing profession. Honorees were selected for demonstrating leadership, empowerment, creativity, decisiveness and potential.

“As passionate advocates for the nursing profession, the Simms/Mann family truly recognizes the vital role nurses play in all settings, whether it be a clinic, the bedside or even the board room,” said Karen Grimley, PhD, MBA, RN, FAAN, chief nursing executive of UCLA Health and assistant dean of the UCLA School of Nursing. “Off the Chart recognizes the problem-solving, advocacy, clinical expertise, and compassion nurses bring to the job every day. A heartfelt thanks to the Simms/Mann Family Foundation for honoring their work.”

UCLA Health’s inaugural Off the Chart honorees are:

Lindsay Brant, BSN, RN, CCRN, EOLD, MFACritical Care Nurse, Cardiothoracic ICU and End-of-Life Doula

An outstanding and multi-faceted ICU Nurse, Lindsay Brant brings many disciplines and traditions to caring for people. She was one of the first clinicians to complete the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy program, where she received comprehensive training in various forms of holistic healthcare, including yoga, Reiki, essential oil therapy, and contemplative care. This program equipped her with a diverse skill set to engage the mind, energy, and spirit of each patient when healing the body.

Lindsay's understanding that death is a natural part of the life process empowers her to help patients express their thoughts and wishes at the end of life. Her compassionate care during this stressful and intense experience brings comfort and peace to both patients and their families. It's no wonder that with her holistic approach to medicine and tendency to turn towards suffering, Lindsay chose to become a Death Doula. She is smart, funny, and open to new ideas and ways of approaching challenges. She believes in and practices the power of service. As a member of Nomads Clinic, Lindsay Brant is an active leader in global health, providing care and practical support to the high-altitude Tibetan communities of Nepal. She is a citizen of the world with a love for learning, growing, sharing, and healing.

Amy Castillo, BSN, RN-BC, Clinical Nurse, Healthcare Worker Safety Advocate

Alarmed and concerned by the increasing number of assaults on nurses in the workplace, Amy Castillo took a data-driven and creative approach to improve the safety of her colleagues and workplace. Amy designed The Gray Dot, a straightforward impactful symbol, visually alerting staff of high-risk situations prior to entering a room. Amy’s symbol started the conversation about healthcare worker safety and this project is set to go system wide. Amy has courageously and tirelessly advocated for workplace safety. Recognizing the leadership capacity potential in her colleagues, Amy inspired and mobilized her nursing team to achieve an outstanding completion rate of 70% for Crisis Prevention Intervention Training. She has created a strong team spirit and a culture focused on safety.  

Active in direct clinical care, Amy not only takes great pride in her professional responsibilities, but also harbors a deep desire to inspire positive change in the lives of those around her. With patience, understanding, and individualized approaches she guides and leads nursing students and colleagues, and in doing so, is shaping the professional practice and lives of our newest and most seasoned nurses. Amy is an excellent clinician and an example of the limitless potential of nursing to save and improve lives.

Kelly Hopkins, BSN, RNC-NIC, C-ELBW, Clinical Nurse, Neonatal ICU

Neonatal nurses are superstars, working diligently and perceptively to care for our tiniest and most vulnerable patients. They provide essential, evidence-based, lifesaving care to newborns and families during the critical first days and weeks of life. Kelly Hopkins’ commitment to improving the health and well-being of these fragile infants is truly inspiring. She possesses a unique combination of medical expertise, keen observation, and patience. Kelly's recent contribution to improving the process of using fluidized positioning devices in a unique way to help ventilate premature babies while on their abdomen, has had a significant positive impact. As a result of her efforts, infants have experienced improved oxygenation, and remained in a neuroprotective position, which in turn has led to a decrease in the need for intubation. This remarkable achievement highlights Kelly's commitment to patient safety and care while ensuring the best possible outcomes for those in her care.

Her innovative thinking and dedication to continuous improvement are a testament to her professionalism and expertise. Kelly's commitment to infant care will undoubtedly have a lasting impact and inspire others. Her future goals include educating and inspiring the next generation of NICU nurses as a clinical instructor.

Kayla Kafka, BSN, RN, Radiation Oncology Nursing Supervisor, Brachytherapy

Kayla's dedication to advancing the field of brachytherapy nursing is truly remarkable. She collaborated with the American Brachytherapy Society and played an instrumental role in developing their first-ever nursing continuing education course and curriculum, thereby advancing the field as a whole. Kayla owns every part of her service, ensuring the highest quality treatments are delivered in a timely manner in the busiest brachytherapy program in the country. In 2022, she presented her project “Radiation Therapy and Implanted Cardiac Devices: Education for Radiation Therapists and Nurses” at the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO).

Committed to the highest levels of clinical competency, Kayla is regularly scrubbed in on cases, coordinates with navigators and patients, and always listens and leads with kindness and curiosity. Despite the daily challenges, she remains steadfast in her commitment to technical excellence, learning, teaching, and leading. Managing people is never easy, but Kayla does it with grace.

Christopher Lee, BSN, RN, MEDSURG-BC, Clinical Nurse, Medical-Surgical Unit

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Christopher quickly volunteered to become a COVID safety champion and worked with the unit leadership team to ensure readiness in COVID care. Christopher supported his nursing colleagues through education and recognition and worked extra shifts to reinforce unit operations. Although in the early stage of his career, Christopher exhibits a remarkable level of wisdom and insight into the needs of the nursing profession and effectively channels this intuition to drive his own self-directed growth. 

He takes action in caring for caregivers and leads efforts to enhance nurses’ recognition and well-being through his work with the Support Through Appreciation and Recognition (STAR) Committee at UCLA Health. As a member of the STAR Committee, Christopher plans nursing celebration events at the unit and health system levels and promotes meaningful nurse recognition. He continuously solicits feedback from clinical staff members regarding recognition practices and brings new ideas for implementation back to the STAR Committee. Christopher is a creative and innovative thinker, taking meaningful action to propel change and progress. He is admired for his clinical leadership and patient advocacy and empowerment.

Mithun Mahinda, BSN, RN, CCRN-CMC, Clinical Nurse, ICU

Collaboration and teamwork often lead to better outcomes than working alone. In collaboration with two leads from the New Knowledge and Innovation Council, Mithun Mahinda has taken his clinical insights and wisdom from his adult in-patient practice and developed the New Knowledge and Innovation collaborative, a unified approach to replace the three previously siloed councils. Through this collaboration, the NKI has made significant strides in improving clinician workflows by implementing innovative technologies and informatics solutions. Additionally, Mithun takes every opportunity to support and teach his colleagues. He is focused on the student’s experience and ensuring they leave their rotation with a strong foundation of knowledge and skill.

Mithun embodies the art and science of nursing and is patient-centered in everything he does. He is a fierce advocate for his patients and uses every tool and measure to ensure they receive exceptional and compassionate clinical care.  Mithun stands out and steps up to be a true leader, role model, and fulfill the added expectations of sharing and mentoring nursing students.

Iris Mayoral, BSN, RN-BC, Clinical Nurse, Neuropsychiatry

Iris Mayoral maintains laser focus on improving clinical care for the geriatric and medically complex inpatient psychiatric population she serves. Her clinical work is a testament to her exceptional problem-solving skills and courageous approach. She confidently and skillfully identifies areas for improvement and takes the initiative to thoroughly investigate root causes, carefully considering input from all stakeholders. With a patient-centric mindset, Iris proposes innovative processes and solutions to enhance both patient care and the staff experience. She is a tremendous resource for both her patients and colleagues who benefit immensely from her dedication, experience, and support. Iris embodies transformative thinking and encourages nurses to question current practices, think creatively, and trust in their ability to make lasting innovative change.

Iris has a relentless drive for improvement and is constantly seeking new learning opportunities to enhance her knowledge and skills. She has completed the UCLA Health Frontline Leadership Project; served as Chair of the RNPH New Knowledge, Innovation, and Research Council; and recently completed the UCLA Nursing Informatics Fellowship. Currently, Iris is involved in the UCLA Nursing Innovation Sprint with the Biodesign Laboratory while completing a graduate nursing program on the way to her doctorate.

Valentina Obreja, DNP, AG/AC NP-BC, CCRN, PHN, EBP-C, Clinical Nurse, Cardiothoracic ICU

Valentina Obreja is an innovator transforming Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) from a desperate last resort into a promising chance of survival. ECMO -- also known as extracorporeal life support -- is a technology, therapy, and complex piece of medical equipment that externally pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood when their heart and lungs need support in healing. Valentina has dedicated her career to improving the care of patients receiving ECMO therapy. The dedication of her dissertation is evidence of Valentina’s greatness, and it reads “Never give up!” to her ECMO patients.

Following graduation from the Faculty of General Medicine at West University in Romania, she pursued a Master of Science degree in Nursing, and a Doctor of Nursing Practice. Valentina subsequently achieved national certification in evidence-based practice, which speaks to her commitment and future work in ensuring that the delivery of healthcare and decision-making are based on the best available evidence, patient preferences and values, and clinical expertise. Valentina’s spirit of inquiry is infectious, and she leads by example.

Kemi Reeves, MSN, RN, GNP-BC, Gerontological Nurse Practitioner

Kemi Reeves' devotion is to the health, care, and dignity of older adults. She understands this stage of life requires a special kind of attention that is rooted in patience, compassion, and a deep understanding of the unique challenges and health issues that older adults face. Through her work, she strives not only to care for patients, but also to educate them and her colleagues, demonstrating a deep commitment to the field of nursing.

Kemi’s commitment to equitable, person-centered care extends beyond geriatric clinical care; she creatively builds structures and processes that promote equity, diversity, and belonging. The mindset of never being satisfied with the status quo allows her to see opportunities where others see obstacles. Under her leadership, the Unity in Diversity Council was developed to foster a shift towards active kindness and warmth. Kemi launched the inaugural Unity in Kindness Day featuring a note-writing activity where participants expressed gratitude and pledged to spread kindness. Notes were hung on a brass ring, fostering community and encouraging compassion. It was such a resounding success that it is now a highly anticipated annual event. Kemi is dedicated to cultivating positivity among colleagues, within her organization, and with patients, leveraging her infectious energy and optimism to foster an environment that encourages growth, collaboration, and a shared commitment to excellence. Her enthusiasm and her drive to leave the world a better place than she found it make her a person to watch.

David Yamada, RN, Clinical Nurse, Union Representative

The position of Chief Union Representative is an unpaid role without an official set of guidelines or instructions to follow. Despite this, David Yamada has dedicated great effort and hundreds of hours of his personal time to the role. He is committed to establishing a supportive work environment that prioritizes the well-being and safety of nurses, knowing that it ultimately leads to better experiences and outcomes for patients and communities. David’s ability to embrace the interests of multiple parties to build consensus benefits everyone, and his approach has been a calming influence on union members and employer management and leadership.

As a clinician, David approaches nursing from several vantage points. He is expert at building rapport with patients and makes a difference one on one, helping them heal. Oftentimes he can be found sitting with a family member engrossed in a long conversation delving deep into topics such as goal-setting, self advocacy, and stress reduction. When presented with the complex, difficult, and sensitive end-of-life conversations with patients and their families, or preparing for an organ transplant, David is an invaluable resource to clinical staff. He goes above and beyond in every situation. At a time when clinical work environments are experiencing tremendous stress, David Yamada strives optimistically and graciously forward.

Related Content


Media Contact

David Sampson
[email protected]