JoEllen Koerner ’82 M.S. tried to quench her untamed curiosity by driving 180 miles a day twice a week to earn a master’s degree in nursing from South Dakota State University. While she admits that curiosity is alive today, those trips created a connection to the College of Nursing.
Now serving as the chief nursing officer with CareSpan Networks Inc., Koerner has been instrumental in having the College of Nursing use CareSpan’s virtual clinical platform since December 2015.
“I learned Nancy Fahrenwald, a friend and colleague, was working on a HRSA telehealth grant while I was working with CareSpan in setting up its clinic in the cloud,” Koerner said. “I said I wanted to launch it at SDSU because it’s a land-grant university, it’s my alma mater and a quality university. Also, I knew Nancy would make it happen and South Dakota was the perfect use case for the product as it’s rural, sparsely populated, aging and has nine Native American reservations.
“I owe my wonderful career, in large part, to the master’s education I got at SDSU, as do many others,” she continued. “I have always felt that education is the key to opening ever-widening doors of opportunity … and when a school embodies the culture and values that resonate with your own, a deeper knowing and commitment are cultivated.”
Fahrenwald ’83, who served as the college’s dean from 2013-18, saw how CareSpan would enable nurses to meet the health needs of underserved communities regardless of time or distance.
“Because of my own commitment to a future where there is access to quality health care for rural and underserved populations, I must shine a light on the heart of a woman who leads, cares and serves, to benefit these population of South Dakota and beyond,” said Fahrenwald, who is now the dean at Texas A&M’s College of Nursing. “The work of transforming access to health care happens when the right teams of leaders stay the course in their pursuit of the greater good.
“Along with JoEllen, I believe that access to primary health care, and even some specialty care, is solvable through patient-centered and technology-based approaches,” Fahrenwald continued. “JoEllen is a scholar of nursing who envisioned a future where health care could be delivered cost-effectively by certified nurse practitioners and physician specialists. Through her current work with CareSpan, that vision will become a reality. I believe her leadership in building a ‘virtual clinical in a cloud’ will impact the rural and underserved across the globe.”
Mary Anne Krogh ’85/’11 Ph.D. has been impressed with Koerner’s determination and passion to serve all, particularly South Dakotans.
“JoEllen is truly a visionary when it comes to meeting the challenging health care demands of a rural state, such as South Dakota,” Krogh said. “Her pioneering work through CareSpan’s digital care network will solve the access to care needs for people across the state.”
Koerner was inducted in the South Dakota Hall of Fame in 2016 for her career in patient care as a nurse, educator and manager.
“I am so excited by the evolution of the field. Technology and connectivity are extending the borders of our capacity,” Koerner said at that time. “Nursing continues to expand the scientific understanding that forms the foundation for our work. We are increasing our ability to generate and manage information leading to population health management. Our unique blend of caring presence and intelligence generates trust, making nursing professionals ideal advocates for social policy changes that impact the health of all of society. What a wonderful time to be a nurse.”
Before her work at CareSpan, Koerner was president of the Global Nursing Academy in Boulder, Colorado, senior vice president of patient services for Sioux Valley Hospitals and Health System, vice president for program development at InteractiveThink Inc., executive director of the South Dakota Nursing Board, nursing department director at Freeman Junior College, a physician assistant for Rural Health Clinics, and P.A. and nurse manager at Sioux Valley Hospital.
Koerner also served as president of the American Organization of Nurse Executives and earned the AONE Lifetime Distinguished Service Award for Patient Care Research and Education. Her career initially focused on patient care and leadership development, then shifted to virtual education and workforce development for society’s underrepresented sectors.