Traverse City Record-Eagle


October 7, 2010

Nurses help Goodwill Inn residents avoid ER

TRAVERSE CITY — Volunteer nurses are conducting health screenings for Goodwill Inn residents.

The nursing triage program began in June as a way to reduce the number of emer- gency room visits by residents of the homeless shelter and address health problems. For two hours every Thursday, nurses meet one on one with residents for 20 to 30 minutes. The nurses review medications, check vital signs and make referrals for medical care. The triage is a partnership of the inn, Munson Home Health and the Traverse Health Clinic, which provides access to medical care for the uninsured.

"We are not medically trained here at the inn, so we were having to send people to the ER in off-hours," said Elizabeth Post, inn manager.

About 90 people currently stay at the shelter, which has been at capacity all summer. Many residents lack medical insurance. Frequent moves mean others have used multiple doctors.

Karen Comella, a registered nurse with the health clinic, said the triage time is an opportunity for nurses to advise and teach, not prescribe or diagnose. Many residents have complicated health histories involving conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, rashes, cancer or mental illness. The nurses refer patients to the health clinic or other community resources, including urgent care as needed. It gives residents "a general game plan of where to start" to meet their health care needs, and the attention provides reassurance, Comella said.

Prioritizing the medical needs of the patient is a big part of the program, said Kristin Harrison, of Munson Home Health. Harrison wrote protocols for Goodwill staff and provided educational material to help employees know what health issues can be handled on-site and which problems require immediate care.

Registered nurse MaryPat Randall is among the roughly 10 nurses who volunteer at the triage. Randall said one of the first things she does when she meets with a Goodwill resident is to review their list of medications. Organizers said more nurses are welcome to join the volunteer effort.

"The nurses feel very valued, and that's important, too," Harrison said.

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