ICC’s Inventors to Watch: Leanna Huffman

ICC’s Inventors to Watch: Leanna Huffman

Nurse Manager, Center for Connected Care
Idea Submissions to ICC: 2020
Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Tell us about your background, education, etc.

LH: I became a nurse later in life, at 35, after realizing it was time for a change. Prior to becoming a nurse, I did promotion work for a building supply company and was a computer software instructor at a local adult education training center and for preschool-aged children in local preschools. I am currently a Nurse Manager with Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Connected Care, and working to finish my MBA with a Nurse Informatics specialty.

What brought you into medicine?

LH: I enjoy caring for and helping people. I enjoy dynamic, fast-paced environments and felt nursing was a perfect match. I also like that nursing has many different specialties and environments to work within, and I have worked in many different environments in my 14-year career. When I was deciding to go to nursing school, I had a conversation with my cousin who said, “The time will pass whether you are doing anything with it or not,” – I live by that to this day.

Tell us about you as a person.

LH: I was raised by a single mom and am definitely the strong woman I am today because of her. As a child, my family and I lived with my aunt and uncle on a little horse farm. I rode horses competitively from age 9 to age 16 and won various awards. I am married with two daughters, 23 and 30, and one granddaughter who is 3. They are all four the light of my life!

What did you submit to our office? Can you detail the project a bit?

LH: My invention is a pill crusher. If you have ever seen in the store, there’s a plastic pill crusher that you put pills in the reservoir, the lid goes on, it twists, it crushes, and you can pour your crushed medications in a cup to take them easier. But you have to clean the device a million times when you’re using it in the hospital with many patients on various medications. The other options to crush medications in hospital units are larger levered devices – an automatic and quiet, but bulky, ‘Silent Night, and a version that is very manual and very loud. Both require a lot of manipulation with the medication. None of the above are ideal for nurses in their everyday situations.

I thought, “There has to be a better way.” So I mocked up, alongside a friend with a 3D printer, a modified pill crusher to eliminate some of the issues seen with conventional techniques. My version of a pill crusher is safer for the patient, safer for the clinician and the med pass, and quicker for the clinician and the med pass.

Hopefully one day it’ll be pocket-sized, and every clinician, or even patient, can have one if we get the price down low enough.

What’s been your experience ‘flexing your innovative muscle?’

LH: In between my time at Mercy Health and Cleveland Clinic, I lived in Raleigh, North Carolina for four years. We decided to move, so we loaded up the family, and we did. The pill crusher idea, literally and figuratively, just sat in a bedside drawer until I saw press about Cleveland Clinic’s High-Line™ solution. So I stumbled on your website and said, “Oh my gosh – there’s a whole department out there to help me!” So that’s where this phase of the process began. It was kind of like a Shark Tank moment, and I am not a Shark Tank girl, so I was a nervous wreck. But it’s been fun, not only overcoming that fear, but getting to the other side where someone is seeing value in my idea. So here we are.

What does being innovative mean to you?

LH: My experience with innovation was having the creativity to combine two different components to make a task easier. But I think this is relevant for all innovations. At the end of the day, a solution has to provide value, it has to make something better or safer for clinicians or patients. I don’t want to forget that.

How does your field lend itself to innovation?

LH: I believe all nurses are constantly thinking of different ways to do things that are quicker and safer. They’re always quick on their feet. In home health specifically, they’re very creative because you never know what you’re walking into, right? People live their lives in different ways to find comfort. You could be walking into the most pristine, lovely house you’ve ever been in. Or you could be walking into a similar house that you saw on Hoarders the night before. So you’ve just got to be flexible with where you put your nursing bag and where you set up your supplies, and you have to be bold enough to ask, “Is there another light source that we can use?

Can you bring a lamp in from the other room?” Because they live there, but they’re not trying to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish. When you’re in a hospital, you have a little table to pull over, and you have an overhead light, and you lay out all your stuff in a sterile space – there are no cats walking around to contaminate your space. So home health nurses, in general, have to be innovative in their practice every day to get the job done efficiently in a safe and sanitary manner.

Give us your take on Cleveland Clinic’s new mission statement: Caring for life, researching for health, and educating those who serve.

LH: It’s pretty simple – but I don’t think it needs to be complicated. Caring for life. I mean, we have done that in an amazing way for 100 years, but especially in the last 12 months, right? COVID-19 forced us to reevaluate what was meaningful to us and provide our most empathetic care. Unfortunately, we helped a lot of people through the end of their journey. We, as a community, also cared for each other’s lives. Through masking and social distancing, we took care of each other. Now with vaccinations, we’ve taken our care to the next level. So I think caring for life is just that. I’m a nurse, so it’s in me for whatever reason.

Researching for health. I think we will always strive to figure out how to do things in a better way, in a more healthy way. I mean, the pill crusher and the solution to keep the IV lines off the floor to eliminate all touches of COVID-19 are just two great examples of that. And through the work of your office, that research has the power to impact actual patient lives.

Educating those who serve. I’m a nurse manager – I educate on the daily.

How do you educate your staff? What sort of practices keep them engaged and innovative?

LH: I never want anyone to come to me with an issue without a solution. It can be the craziest solution, but I prefer everyone have a thought process about a possible solution before they approach with an issue. They are the one who experienced the issue, so realistically, they should have the most information to be able to solve it. Then together, we can iterate on it. As their manager, I’m able to help them fix it, but they’ve pre-emptively spun their wheels, and they often come with an idea that I can green-light all on their own.

Sharing what you’ve experienced is also a huge part of leadership. It might not be current, but sharing stories from a past life and what helped in those situations is great insight. I have been one of them, and I think there’s a respect that’s culminated there when you share stories and learn about each other. Understanding how the person you’re talking to receives information is also important in my experience. Sometimes it needs adjusted between employees to help them be their best.
Huffman’s resilience with her pill crusher solution and eye for continuous improvement in nursing and home health care practices makes her an inventor worth watching. Currently, Huffman is working alongside Innovation Manager, Amanda Wochele to prototype her invention through the inaugural Nursing Innovation Fund. Contact wochela@ccf.org for more information on Huffman and opportunities for collaboration. Read more about the Nursing Innovation Fund in our forthcoming 2020 Annual Report.

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