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My day among angels

Last Modified: December 23, 2016


This post was written by Courtney Leach, Digital/Social Media Manager.

We talk a lot about servant leadership at Parkview. I had a vague, acceptable understanding of what the term meant – certainly our CEO Mike Packnett demonstrates these ideals – but I can say now that I didn’t value the impact or muscle of servant leadership until the day I documented below. Suddenly, it had a face, a voice, an application far greater than any I’d assumed. I don’t think we can truly grasp the power of generosity until we see a tribe of people who use it as their compass, as their main driving force, every single day. I don’t think we can define compassion until we witness a healer’s hands being used to guide change and educate women, children and men who haven’t experienced that well-meaning touch in years, or possibly their entire lives.

In 1997, Parkview recognized the need to provide resources beyond the walls of our facilities. In the years since, this vision has come to life through an exceptional group of 16 caregivers, who have worked to infiltrate the areas we serve and beyond with education, medical care and consultation, and an effort to gain the trust of populations who have struggled to find the support they need to survive and thrive due to an array of challenging situations. The vast majority of these services, resources and outreach are delivered free of charge, through Parkview Community Health Improvement.

Six days before Christmas, I was given the humbling gift of spending a day walking in the shoes of our team of Community Nurses. This is what I saw.  And how it changed me.

8:30 a.m.
Community Nursing offices, New Vision Dr.

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”

? Barack Obama

I started my day, appropriately, with Carmen Moore, RN, BSN, CLS, manager, Parkview Community Nursing. Before I’d even unpacked my notebook, she began my education. “The 46806 area has the highest infant mortality rate. We really want to increase the number of African American moms, and moms overall, who are breastfeeding,” she said. And that was it. In less than one full minute in her office, I’d caught Carmen’s contagious passion for our underserved populations and community pains. A common occurrence, I imagine.

While her home base is on the Parkview Regional Medical Center campus, you won’t necessarily find her there. “I don’t want to be chained to my computer,” she said. “People are my calling. I plan for the future and make sure the boat is going in the right direction but, really, everyone on this team is a leader in the community.” Carmen, who’s been a nurse since 1981 and with Community Nursing since 2003, says working in home healthcare opened her eyes and connected her to what can happen outside the hospital.

She often teaches CPR, breastfeeding support and safe sleep classes, and drops by Stop Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) and the area homeless shelters to pitch in. There were many themes to this day, and certainly one was the team’s respect and appreciation for their hands-on leader and her vision.

Carmen then took me to Jan Moore, RRT-NPS, community outreach respiratory therapist educator. Jan works closely with Deb Lulling to provide the community CPR, asthma and tobacco cessation resources. “Our services are entirely free,” she said. “We go to places like Charis House and work with people in public housing who are trying to comply with the new tobacco ban. It’s tough because you have a lot of folks who are working through addiction, and smoking is the last item on their list. But even if they don’t use the information we provide right away, they’ll have it for when they are ready.”

The team developed an award-winning asthma protocol as well, in which any members of the system who come through the ER with asthma symptoms are reported and assisted. “We call them and make sure they get resources if they need them. We have them journal their symptoms, offer help regarding medication information. Maybe they need a doctor or a pillow encasement. We want to help with all of that.”

If you want to begin to grasp the scope of education Jan and Deb have developed, just ask about the programs they’ve implemented. A is for Asthma (for students K-first grade), Open Airways (for students third-fifth grade), Kickin’ Asthma (for middle and high school students) and Gaining Control Over Asthma (for all parents) occupy her days, and these are just the programs they’re currently overseeing. Jan spends time in the schools offering one-on-one education for students with asthma and makes herself available via phone any time for people with questions regarding asthma or tobacco cessation. Any time. (This would also be a common theme.)

Before I ventured off campus, I spent some time chatting with Mary Ann Wissman, RN, MSN, community based registered nurse, who organizes and oversees community health fairs. “I’ve worked for Parkview for 41 years,” she said in a slow, sentimental tone. “People think because they don’t have insurance, they can’t get a health screening,” she continued, “and those are the people we most want to serve.”

Mary Ann finds that going out into the different populations is the perfect way to solve the transportation issue and meet people where they are. “Everyone is so gracious and open to the education.” The events often cover a gamut of screenings, including cholesterol, HDL, glucose (no fasting required) and blood pressure. Through partnerships with Francine’s Friends and the Parkview Center for Healthy Living, it isn’t unusual to find mammography, bone density, vision, stroke and safe sleep services available as well.

“Whether you’re coming because you’re lonely or because you are curious about your health, we’re glad to see you. We truly care and want to help.”   

10:20 a.m.
The Courtyard apartments, 530 Home Avenue

“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”
– Winston Churchill

It was a particularly frigid Monday. Schools had been delayed. Cars were hesitating. The air in the city was sharp and unforgiving, but the sun was shining. Over the frizzy wool of my generous scarf I saw a friendly wave from just inside the doors to The Courtyard. It was Aisha White, RN, MSN, CLS, community based registered nurse, assuring me I was in the right place.

Since 2013, The Courtyard has offered housing to men and women, ages 18 – 25, who were part of the foster care system at one time. On this particular day, all 36 units were occupied and a holiday gift exchange was being held in the kitchen.

Aisha is available to the residents here every Tuesday. (She also spends a few days a week at SCAN.)  “It takes a little while to gain their trust,” she said. “It’s really one visit, one connection, at a time.” I met Jimniece, who’s lived in the units for the past three years with her son. She’s expecting another little one soon, which opened the door for Aisha to supply safe sleep education to the young mother. Another resident, Jaquesha, has been at The Courtyard since August, when she moved to Fort Wayne for a fresh start. “My son is one and he has a lot of health problems,” she said. “Aisha helped me with breastfeeding and finding a pediatrician.”

While Aisha says the majority of residents come to her with basic health questions, such as how to take a temperature and when a little one needs to go see the doctor, she also helps people find insurance and community resources. Early next year, she will be introducing a healthy habits program, where participants are invited to attend a health fair, work on weight loss, get nutrition advice and further their overall well-being for six months, with follow up after that. In fact, team members of Community Nursing are hoping to provide the program at several different locations in 2017.

“It’s amazing,” Aisha said. “I’ve never worked for a place that cares so much about the community. You don’t know what that means until you’re in it. Some days I ask myself, ‘Is my heart coming through enough?’ But then a person I see at SCAN or here will give me a hug or tell me they took my advice, and I know I’m doing OK.”

11:15 a.m.
The FACE Center, 230 E. Douglas Ave.

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
? Mother Teresa

The Family and Community Engagement (FACE) Center was born from a cry for centralized care to address the great need among the Fort Wayne Community Schools student population. The beautiful new building is a beacon for those lost in the shuffle of unspoken languages, limited resources and a lack of access to mental and physical health care.

Community Nursing’s roots are in the schools. In the department’s infancy, the caregivers were sent to support the growing number of students and their mounting need for medical attention. But the tactics needed to change, and in June, three community nurses moved into the facility. “This is really an enrollment center,” Natalie McLaughlin, RN, BSN, nationally certified school nurse, health coordinator, said. “We wanted to provide screenings, and if you’re going to provide screenings and be that kind of a resource you need to have a referral ready. Being in this building allows us to do that.” The nurses can facilitate lead, vision and hearing screenings, check immunization records, help with insurance, connect families with a primary care physician or necessary therapy for a physical or mental issue (at school or in home), and educate families on other community resources.

Because I’d missed her in the office that morning, Michelle Bojrab, MS, RDN, CD, community outreach dietitian, was kind enough to meet me here as well. I had a lot of questions regarding the unique obstacles in her lane. Primarily, how she tackled the challenge of telling these men, women and children to eat healthy, when they likely had very limited access to fresh food. I assumed her job might be the most limited of all. I was about to receive a lesson on the power of creative problem-solving.

“We definitely emphasize the importance of nutrition and physical activity. With certain programs, like at Charis House, we take them to the YMCA twice a week and talk to them about stress management and what food to avoid. But it’s also just about providing basic skills and cooking lessons. A lot of times they get something like an artichoke at the food bank. If they don’t know how to prepare an artichoke, they aren’t any better off. Many of these low-income families are shopping at the corner convenience store. I talk to them about prepackaged meal makeovers and try to meet them where they are.” While there are services like Community Harvest Food Bank’s Farm Wagon, which stocks whole, healthy choices, Michelle has also found ways to collaborate with local markets to teach basic budget shopping concepts to make their dollars go as far as possible. She has plans to implement more programs through Parks and Recreation, the Family Health Center on Paulding Road and the Charis House in the coming months.

In the few hours I spent with Michelle, Natalie and Zaida Ortiz, RN, community based nurse, the list of priorities the small but mighty team has their sights on righting climbed and the threads that run from nurse to nurse became apparent. The team held a diabetes expo for parents and teachers. They’re working with teachers to combat pediatric obesity. They’re working on smoking cessation education for families. They’re trying to keep the FWCS food pantry and clothing bank stocked. They’re talking about infant mortality and how to lower the frightening statistics. They’re working with the school system on a mental health program. They’re distributing free lice shampoo. My pen was sputtering out of ink.

Reading my vanquished expression, Natalie spoke in her comforting nurse tone. “But you know, we’re right where we need to be,” she offered. “The center is such a good idea because we can talk to the parents. We can ask them what they need and how we can help. We can assess and give answers right away and, you know, kudos to FWCS for having a place where that’s possible. Any information we gather goes to the school nurses, so it helps them better care for the students. And it’s all free!”

Where I was seeing an insurmountable summit, it was clear these women were seeing a chance to chart new paths. Their eyes danced as they enthusiastically outlined new programs for wellness and skill development, and demonstrated their state-of-the-art vision screening equipment. “We’re building what we offer based on where we see a need,” Natalie said. “We’re helping someone in this community every single day.”

2:03 p.m.
Vincent Village, 2827 Holton Ave.

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”
? John Bunyan

I have a home. It’s very likely you, too, have a home. I have a family. It’s very likely you also have a family. I have never had to worry about my daughter having a bed or my heat turning on. But for the men and women who bring their children to Vincent Village, the threats of sub-zero evenings and empty dinner plates are a common affliction.

On Tuesdays, Amanda Hakes, RN, BSN, community based registered nurse, teaches wellness classes to the residents. But it’s her Wednesday craft and stress reduction classes at Vincent Village she truly treasures. “I find simple crafts, usually with things you can find anywhere, like mismatched socks,” she said. “They work on them and chat and, when they really start a dialogue with each other, things come out and the healing happens.” After this session, Amanda provides health assessments. “I have set days, but I also flex, depending on when they need me. And I’m always available by phone.” Amanda also spends a great deal of time at The Rescue Mission, complementing team member Chris Howell.

Along with basic medical advice, Amanda helps residents with insurance, finding a doctor, addressing mental health concerns, counseling and connecting them to free FACE resources. “Our ultimate goal is to reduce ER visits,” she said. “We want to educate them on good health habits now so they can make better decisions along the way. We’re talking to them about everything from how to take a temperature to cyber bullying.”

Amanda’s rapport with the staff and the guests was obvious, as was the fact that that trust didn’t come easily. “When they smile at me, or say thank you, that’s success to me. This is the most frustrating-rewarding job I’ve ever had, without a doubt.”

We walked over to the recently renovated Sally Center, where Amanda started sorting donations and preparing for the Community Nursing Christmas party. When Community Nursing has a gathering, everyone’s invited. There would be a snowman craft for the little ones and warm pasta and salad for the team and residents. Their gifts to each other were donated sheets for the homeless and milk money so the men of the Rescue Mission could have a cold glass with their dinner some night. This was their kind of party. It was a generosity jubilee and the guest list was modest but magical.

3:05 p.m.
Breastfeeding Support Group and A Baby’s Closet, First Christian Church, 4800 S. Calhoun St.

“Generosity is the most natural outward expression of an inner attitude of compassion and loving-kindness.”
? Dalai Lama XIV

I was running a few minutes behind for meeting Carmen and Aisha at the church. By this point, I was feeling the weight of the day’s events and its sobering revelations. I pulled up outside the awe-inspiring structure and walked around to the side. The door was locked. “Are you trying to find A Baby’s Closet?” a kind woman asked. “Yes,” I replied. “OK, honey, you want those stairs over there.” She smiled and, maybe because I’d spent hours witnessing the impact of selfless souls and hers felt similar, or maybe because I was feeling vulnerable, or maybe it was the consuming appreciation I was feeling for my own blessings and family, but I started to cry.  

The cold grabbed my tears away as I entered the lower level of First Christian Church and found myself in A Baby’s Closet. Stocked with items donated through Associated Churches baby showers, A Baby’s Closet allows mothers to collect coupons every time they make a responsible parenting choice – such as attending a safe sleep class, or taking baby for a well-child exam ­–  and redeem them for necessities, big and small. They can find diapers, wipes, car seats, clothing and other essentials.

I was relieved to find a handful of sweet little faces waiting in the weigh-in room at the breastfeeding support group. Diapered bundles of joy were finding their voices and cuddling up to their mothers. Carmen and Aisha were working the room; chatting about their week and congratulating them on nourishing their child. “We provide them with nursing pads and other supplies. Whatever it takes, we want to keep these ladies breastfeeding as long as possible because we know it’s better for baby,” Carmen told me.

I walked over to Aisha, who I’d spent time with earlier in the day, and mentioned the effect the day was having on me. “I think it’s so great they set up your day like one of ours typically is,” she said. I assessed the subtle throbbing in my feet and the ache in my heart. This is their everyday.

Carmen joined us and I took the opportunity to touch on a topic I’d considered at each of my visits. “Do you ever worry about your safety?” I asked. She met my eyes. “You know, at the beginning of every year I have Chaplaincy come and pray over our hands,” she said. “I have to believe that God is watching over us and protecting us. We cannot walk in fear.” I glanced down at her hands, then reached out and touched her shoulder. This was a woman who walked with purpose and peace, and her tribe did the same.


5:05 p.m.
Safe Sleep Class, Parkview Hospital Randallia

"Try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud."
- Maya Angelou

The sun was already disappearing when I found a spot along Randallia Dr. I was meeting Heather Henry, RN, BSN, community based registered nurse, for my final stop of the day, a safe sleeping class. I walked in to find a flustered woman in scrubs. Not grumpy or disheartened, just flustered. Her Pack ‘n Plays, which each participant gets for free at the end of the class and which are stored in the loading dock, were being held captive up until just minutes ago by a cautious coworker. The computer wouldn’t turn on. Participants came early.

None of this mattered to Heather, who smiled and lightheartedly charmed her way through the paperwork portion of the class as she hustled around for solutions to the fussy technology. When she isn’t providing education to the community, Heather spends time at SCAN, performing home visits, often with Aisha. “It’s nice that we have each other for that,” she said. “She’s so great.’

Over the next hour or so, Heather shared the tough statistics, personal stories and hands-on demonstrations. Her hope, and the hope of all of the community nurses who lead these courses, is to save babies. To lower the startling number of children lost in their first year. To have someone walk out of the room armed with at least one piece of knowledge they didn’t have when they came in.

As I watched Heather passionately present, my experience nearing its end, I thought about the person who fought for the grant to get these free Pack ‘n Plays. I thought about the men at the Rescue Mission sipping glasses of milk and smiling, maybe for the only time all day. I thought about the look on Natalie’s face when she told me about the shortage of underwear, socks and boots in the FWCS clothing bank this time of year. I thought about the Amish and Hispanic and other underserved populations who gained true information about their health because a health fair showed up at their church, at their library, in their building. And I thought about the women who’d been my guides, standing in a circle, a priest praying boldly over their capable hands.

This department is truly a network of angels. The respect they have for each other and the fire they share for this community is unrivaled. Every request was to fill a need in someone else’s life. Every task was to fuel the greater good. Every plea was genuine and crucial. No words were wasted.    

I went to bed that night feeling shaken but resolute. I asked both what can I do and how can I do nothing? There are quiet, desperate corners of this city that almost no one wants to see, or help or think about. But though we don’t venture out, I promise you, there are those who do. Whether they work for Parkview or they’re volunteering their time or talents, there are those who make a true impact in the lives of others every single day. If I learned anything from my day with Community Nursing, it’s the importance of being a steward of this human race.

And now I invite you … Be a mentor. Be a light. Be a rainbow. 

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