March 24, 2022

Courage & Compassion Awards: Robert Snyder, Nursing Manager, and Mick Nesmith, Senior Director of Primary Care

In celebration of our individual and collective resilience, creativity, and service, six outstanding individuals were chosen to receive a Courage & Compassion award from Cascadia. This honor is intended to recognize those coworkers whose superpowers were a source of strength and hope in the last two years. The recipients of the award were selected via an open nomination process and an independent review by a number of our peers from across the organization. It was a competitive process, and it demonstrated how extraordinary Cascadians truly are.

Robert Snyder and Mick Nesmith

My favorite thing is that after two and half years working together, when we part ways Robert always says something like, ‘I appreciate you, thank you.’ And it’s just. . .genuine. It means the world to me.

—Mick Nesmith

It’s like with surfing: So much of it is about being in the right place so when you see your wave coming you can say, ‘Yeah, that’s mine and I’m ready for it.’ Mick worked hard to put herself in that position when COVID came: She saw the wave coming toward her and said, ‘Cool, this is my wave.’ And so much got done.

—Robert Snyder

It’s a funny thing, the way gravity shifts a little bit when certain people are in a room. Chairs change their swivel, and there’s a sense of edging closer and closer to the subject. Some people just have that thing, that ability to command attention.

Robert Snyder, Cascadia’s Nursing Services Program Manager, and Mick Nesmith, Cascadia’s Senior Director of Primary Care, have that quality independently of each other. Even with a mask on, Robert is expressive when he speaks, projecting his voice in a way that hints at his creative background in music production and event planning. Warm, effusive confidence without intimidation. And Mick, affable and quick to laugh, draws everyone in with a demeanor that suggests she’s looking forward to becoming friends.

But it’s when they’re together that it becomes clear why Mick and Robert were nominated and awarded as a pair for the Courage and Compassion award this year. Certainly, they earned the designation for a number of reasons, their “inspired and inspirational bravery and caring,” according to Alberta residential counselor Tim Streeter, among them. It’s the unique working dynamic that comes out when they’re together, though, that really explains what makes their teamwork so effective.

Robert is in the middle of recounting how he came into nursing leadership from behavioral health case management when Mick arrives to join the conversation.

“I miss you!” Mick declares at once upon seeing Robert. They catch each other up for a while about work, all with a deep undercurrent of camaraderie: They finish each other’s sentences without actually having to interrupt the other; they allude to events in vague terms and never have to elaborate.

A lot of those memories have to do with going from site to site providing both clients and staff COVID testing and vaccines. Mick and Robert are quick to point out that the COVID Response Team was always a group effort, that although they’re a dream team, it couldn’t have been done without the abundance of work Cascadia’s teams and programs put into making vaccination and testing efforts possible.

The organization-wide effort paved the way for Mick and Robert to spend countless hours of the days, nights, and weekends “putting themselves at risk to assure the health and well being of their peers and our resident clients,” Tim noted.

The acknowledgement is touching for the pair. “The sites I’ve been spending time at through vaccination and testing efforts have been so appreciative of our time,” Robert says. “I’m so grateful to be recognized, and with Mick, since more often than not it would be the two of us in tandem.”

Nodding, Mick adds, “It’s just amazing that what I thought we were doing really is what we were doing. You don’t always know what your work looks like from the outside. I’m glad we were able to do good for Cascadia.”

The process of providing COVID vaccines and tests to Cascadia sites highlighted for Robert the uniqueness of his and Mick’s position during the process.

“It’s this really specific place of providing care not just to clients, but to staff as well. It changed the dynamic a little, and it put everyone on an even playing field,” he says. “Residents could see staff and look to them while getting a test or a shot, and it blurred the provider/client distinction a little, you know? Like, everyone is getting a Q-tip up their nose!”

Laughing, Mick adds, “Yeah, the way we interact on our own is exactly how we act when we’re onsite, giving vaccines or COVID tests. We bring people into that dynamic, and that adds a whole different level than medical just showing up and being clinical.”

“Absolutely,” Robert agrees. “We get in that place, it’s always really joyful and we have a good laugh with everyone.”

When the topic of how they show courage and compassion in their work comes up, Robert gets excited. “I’ll go first!” he says, because he’s got a lot to say about how Mick works at Cascadia. He sets the stage for the early months of 2020, remembering what it was like as a new manager.

“You’d been with the agency for two months, everyone is in deer-in-headlights mode and you just step right up and help teams respond in such a meaningful way. You’ve been so unfaltering in your confidence,” he says. “So, yeah, I think courage is self-evident.”

Robert continues, “It’s so evident that you deeply care about the people you work with and the clients we serve. It’s amazing that you have found a way to be of service. Compassion is clearly such a motivating force in that.”

Part of what fueled Mick’s courage in taking on the many challenges of the pandemic was a career full of experience behind her. She came into Cascadia shortly before the pandemic hit, having recently quit her previous job in search of one that would make her feel like she was giving of her time and skills in a meaningful way. After spending time in Kenya helping to coordinate a medical mission trip aimed at providing surgery to Kenyans with cleft lips and cleft palates, she knew she couldn’t simply return to the life she had previously been living.

“The thing is…I feel you end up places when you’re supposed to be there,” she said. Although she joined Cascadia to utilize her skills in a way that reflected her larger priorities, the onset of COVID-19 two months after her start date made emergency planning a priority over what she was specifically hired for: strategic planning in medical care settings, solving challenges with patient populations, optimizing care teams. For some, this pivot in organizational needs may have been disappointing. But not for Mick.

“Well, here’s why it’s all about timing,” Mick says. “I also had a whole lot of experience in team-building and emergency response, so I’m pretty fearless. There are things that scare me, but a health crisis isn’t one of them. I wanted to run into the fire of managing it—I thought, ‘We’re only going to see one of these!’” (At this, Robert knocks his knuckles against the desk.)

“Robert has such a deep compassion and a level of understanding and ability to support people, to see the best even when they may be at their worst,” Mick says. “He has a really, really huge heart and a really kind way of reminding me to see differently, too.”

And, through example, Robert has been a teacher for Mick, too. “Robert stretches himself really thin, but can also keep himself healthy so he can be as good as possible when he is doing his job.” She’s referring to Robert’s commitment to a regular schedule, to dedicated paid time off, to a work/life balance. It’s something that Mick, admittedly, has never really had for herself.

“He is very careful with his time,” Mick says, “but when he’s at work, he’s at 110%. It has taught me so much about another way to be. I also think it’s hugely courageous. There are a lot of people that feel like taking that time would mean that they could fail, something could falter, but Robert is committed to being at his best. It’s been a game-changer for me.”

Robert, apart from being an accomplished RN with plans to pursue the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner track, is a devoted creative. He knows that the best version of himself is one that sees the importance of both his art life and his work life.

“It’s not so much about how I pay the bills, but it’s important that I do something that feels in line with my values, feels authentic, feels like I’m offering a service and being helpful,” Robert explains. “Which can also help me more broadly to live a life that I want to live.”

“I feel so grateful that something that is so important to me as an individual, my approach to my work and my life, can be positive for you, as well,” Robert continues. “That we can learn from one another in that way. It’s just beautiful.”

Robert and Mick are in a similar mindset when it comes to their hopes and enthusiasm for their futures and Cascadia. A new way of looking at interdisciplinary collaboration sparks hope for the pair as they look ahead to a post-Omicron Cascadia.

“When COVID hit, Cascadia came from siloed worlds and learned how to collaborate across those worlds,” Mick says. “I’ll give an example. We had a bigger risk in residential with COVID, so we needed to home in and make sure we were taking care of things. So many different programs ended up working with residential even though it wasn’t their own, and I think we showed that crossing programs makes us so much stronger.”

Mick’s enthusiasm about seeing teams and programs work together so effectively is tied into Cascadia’s ongoing goals for integrated healthcare, which Robert has on his mind as well.

“We’re in a substantial lull with COVID right now,” Robert says, knocking on wood again for good measure. “So I think we’ll have more time to focus on longer-term strategic thinking, rather than having to be reactive to urgent, emergency COVID needs.”

A full nursing team is going to help with that, too. “The nursing team on the behavioral health side is as fully staffed as we’ve ever been since I’ve been with Cascadia,” Robert says. “Compare that with where we were eight months or so ago, when we were down about two-thirds of our nursing roles.”

Robert continues, “One of the takeaways of these last two years and change is that collaboration becomes mandatory when you have to respond to something so big. There’s no one Pandemic Response Manager, you know? Everybody folds it into their roles with folks who might have been operating in other silos. Having had a taste of that, I don’t know why we wouldn’t carry that spirit forward.”

“It’s really awesome as we move away from so much time spent on COVID response, when we talk about nursing and staffing,” Mick agrees. “Primary Care and Behavioral Health nursing have worked so closely, and without any strife or ego. It happened organically.”

Mick adds that “by being kind, supportive, and appreciative of each other, we’ve been able to do this work without worrying that we’re stepping on toes. We call all do this together much more effectively together than apart.”

“Oh,” Robert says, a thought occurring to him. “It would also help with exhaustion. I feel excited about everyone being a little less exhausted.”

The 2022 Courage and Compassion Award recipients are: 

Amy Driscoll, Program Manager, David’s Harp
Daren Mitchell, Treatment Specialist II, Orchid House
Janis Cleveland, Director of Nursing
Mick Nesmith, Senior Director of Primary Care, and Robert Snyder, Nurse Manager