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SIOUX CITY -- Chris Van Beek goes where the patients are.

It's not unusual for the registered nurse, who works for Mercy Home Care, to visit a patient in Spink, South Dakota, and then drive 50 miles east to visit another in Remsen, Iowa. Driving all those miles in sleet, freezing rain and snow is especially tough, but Van Beek knows how important the medical services she provides are to her patients.

"They're vulnerable. Even though they're in their own home, we're the ones they rely on," said Van Beek, who dresses wounds, starts IVs, draws labs, inserts chest tubes and educates patients about their diseases and how to manage their symptoms in the comfort of their homes.

The Maurice, Iowa, woman, who has been a registered nurse for 25 years, was recently named one of the 100 Great Iowa Nurses for her work.

Each year, the 100 Great Iowa Nurses program asks patients, coworkers, friends and family members to nominate an outstanding nurse for recognition. After undergoing a two-part review process, 100 Great Iowa Nurses are honored at a ceremony in Des Moines during National Nurses Week.

"Nursing is a demanding profession requiring an often misunderstood amount of compassion, commitment and strength, and for her to find it in her heart and soul to go above and beyond like she does despite her full work schedule and energetic family, truly makes her a special person," said Wendy Beavers, strategic account manager for Mercy Home Care, who nominated Van Beek for the honor.

Van Beek said her grandmother Elisabeth, a nurse who was born and raised in Germany, inspired her to enter the nursing profession. Her grandmother met her grandfather, an American solider, during World War II. 

"She was always compassionate, just hands-on," Van Beek recalled of her grandmother. "She was always ready to help fix or care for us."

Van Beek graduated from Briar Cliff University in 1993 with her bachelor's degree in nursing. She worked in public health in Sioux County and at the hospital in Hawarden, Iowa, where she was contracted to provide care for Mercy Home Care clients. Since 1999, Van Beek has been a case manager in Mercy Home Care's northern territory, coordinating patient care in the home setting. 

"In the hospital, it's more of a controlled environment. When you come to their house, you're a guest in their house, so they're on their own schedule," Van Beek said of her patients. "I get to meet the pets and the family."

Another big difference from providing care in a hospital, Van Beek said, is being on her own. Instead of going to a skilled nursing facility, Van Beek said more patients are moving directly from hospitals to their homes. These are the people she's providing medical care to, as well as connecting them with the tools and resources they need to remain in stable health.

"I'm the only one out there. (In the hospital) you have a backup. If somebody misses an IV, you can call somebody. You just can't miss," she said. "There's a lot of things that we do now that we never used to do. Much of the skilled care that they would get at a skilled nursing facility they get at home."

Van Beek's mission to help others extends beyond Mercy Home Care. In her free time, Van Beek participates in Wreaths Across America, which lays 450 Veteran Remembrance Wreaths annually in Sioux Center, Iowa. She's also a member of the Sioux Center American Auxiliary Unit 199 and medical coordinator for Midwest Honor Flight, a nonprofit organization that transports veterans from Northwest Iowa, Southeast South Dakota and Southwest Minnesota to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials that honor their service and sacrifice.

Van Beek learned that she was being honored for her work when a letter arrived in her mailbox. She took a picture of the envelope and sent it to Beavers, who urged her to open it.

"I just feel like I'm doing my job," Van Beek said. "I was honored I was selected. It's exciting."

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Health and Lifestyles reporter

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