Alliance Visiting Nurse Association continues to offer needed service
A lot can change over half a century. While the Alliance Visiting Nurse Association (AVNA) has gone through a transformation over the past 50 years, Bill Ecrement, RN and 20-year AVNA veteran, said one thing hasn't changed -- the patients.
Ecrement said working with the patients will always be the same, but their needs have become greater in recent years.
"The hospitals are now discharging them more quickly, so they're sicker when they come home and they require more things," he explained. He added the patients are having financial issues now more than ever and they see patients who don't have the proper medications or even food in the home.
That glimpse inside the homes and lives of the patients is what makes AVNA unique, as well as the in-home care the organization offers.
Donna Schlarb, RN, said doing nursing care in the home is a needed service. Some of the things they provide include IVs, wound care, nursing care, injections, and physical, occupational and speech therapies.
"We follow the patient when they come out of the hospital or at a skilled nursing facility," Mary Beth Goodwin, RN, added. She said patients would have a much greater chance of going back into the hospital after discharge without the care AVNA staff provides in the days and weeks following their hospital stay.
"I think our whole goal is to continue the recovery at home," Tina Domer, RN, agreed. "To keep them out of the emergency room and keep them home longer."
Sue Cosma, RN, said treating patients in their homes makes their job different because in the hospital everyone is in the same environment, but out in the real world people's situations vary. "In the home you could be in a million-dollar mansion or in a tent or under a bridge and we would still see them to make sure that we educate them to keep them out of the hospital," she said.
Cosma said being in the homes allows the staff to be the eyes and ears of the physician to "report to them exactly what's going on in the home."
It also allows them to offer therapy that will help them specifically function in their home and offer assistance by a social worker to further help patients with their needs.
Domer said it's a different environment when nurses are in the hospital trying to teach and a patient is nodding in agreement because they just want to go home. "When they get to their homes it's completely different. You see why they fail here or they don't get this service," she said. "They have family members taking care of children and grandchildren and financial difficulties. This is what happens in the real world."
The job of a visiting nurse is not without its challenges. In addition to traveling around a 30-mile radius in several different counties and sometimes having difficult access in rural areas, they often don't know what they'll be walking into when making a visit.
Several staff members recalled different stories of what nurses encountered over the years. One nurse was chased by a turkey, one hit a cow with their car and another went to leave the home only to find a goat in her car eating her lunch.
"I think about the one farmhouse I went to, and when I knocked on the door the lady at the home came running out, grabbed a hoe and cut a snake in half right in front of me," Schlarb said.
But while there are often adventures and challenges, Ecrement said the job is very rewarding. "Every one of us in here could tell stories about patients that we became close with or how many times you've walked out of a patient's home and you think to yourself, 'Wow, I think I got more out of this visit than what I gave the patient,'" he expressed.
He said the job of a visiting nurse -- as opposed to being in a hospital setting -- is more like what they expect nursing to be -- spending time with their patients and getting the opportunity to truly care for them.
"I think the reason why we're all in here (AVNA) is because of the autonomy and the one-on-one patient care and the good, meaningful relationships that we develop with our patients," Cosma said.
Goodwin added that it's nice to be able to see the progress from when they get out of the hospital to improving, healing and becoming independent again.
To celebrate 50 years since the organization became Medicare-certified, AVNA held an open house May 25 at its office located at 885 S. Sawburg Road, Suite 106. Cosma said several former patients came to the open house to thank them for the care they had been given.
"Home health is one of those things that people don't think about until they need it. And when they do (need it), it makes a big difference," said Eric Murray, vice president of ambulatory services.
To learn more about the services provided by AVNA, call the office at 330-596-6400 or visit www.achosp.org.