Opinion Extra

Grimm: It takes more than historic floodingto keep home health nurses home

A home-health nurse draws blood from a patient for testing.
A home-health nurse draws blood from a patient for testing. AP

Among those most at risk as the Great Flood surged through South Carolina were the thousands of patients who require health care at home. They’re mostly elderly, suffering from multiple chronic illnesses, home-bound and often living alone. They’re generally the sickest of the sick, and the most vulnerable.

In the face of a natural disaster, they can be helpless. Their home-care nurses came to the rescue.

Nurses who care for patients at home function differently from nurses in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other settings. Because they bring care right to your front door, home-health nurses must be prepared to operate independently, without immediate access to physicians and other health-care practitioners a few doors down the hall.

They also need to be infinitely adaptable, no matter the situation, always ready to solve problems on the spot. They have to communicate effectively with family, friends, physicians, therapists and social workers about how the patient is doing.

Unlike nurses who care for patients in a single location, home-health nurses may average five or six personal visits a day, driving several miles from one home to another. Instead of logging specific shifts, they may need to be on call after hours and on weekends. Sometimes they encounter slow traffic, mean dogs and — yes — bad weather.

The rains that flooded South Carolina turned out to be bad weather raised to the nth degree.

But nothing stopped home-health nurses from making the rounds. They drove hours longer and miles farther to get around the roads and bridges that the waters forced to close. And if their patients had to evacuate or became homeless, our nurses went to the churches and shelters where they relocated.

Take Lisa Talbot, a licensed practical nurse who arrived at a patient’s house only to find the place on fire. As the house burned down, she followed a volunteer firefighter into the flames to help carry the patient to safety.

Joanne Martin, a licensed practical nurse in Kingstree, received an emergency phone call from a landlocked patient who was out of his medication. She arranged for a conservation officer to cross a river by boat to deliver the medicine.

For the past 17 years, Kelly Artigues, a registered nurse in Charleston, has cared for recent transplant patients, never missing a single day. Such patients risk organ rejection in the first two to three weeks after surgery and require at least two visits daily. As the storm slammed downtown Charleston, Kelly refused to evacuate. She disregarded her own safety and stayed put until emergency personnel could make sure every transplant patient was seen.

That’s just what home-health nurses do. We get in our cars and pull our medical equipment out of the trunk and go door-to-door all day. We arrive at homes and ring the bell or knock, and the door swings open to let us in.

Thanks to those house calls, many patients may eventually move better, eat better, breathe better, speak better and suffer less pain. They may be less likely to be readmitted to a hospital — and may live longer, too.

It’s going to take more than a flood to get the best of these nurses. Against all odds, they fought the flood, and emerged once again as everyday heroes.

Ms. Grimm, who lives in Mount Pleasant, is area vice president of operations for Amedisys Home Health and Hospice Care; contact her at denise.grimm@