Visiting nurses confront snow challenge

Jessica Coen, RN, with the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut, gets ready to visit one of her patients Thursday in New London.
Jessica Coen, RN, with the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut, gets ready to visit one of her patients Thursday in New London.

New London - Some days, a snow shovel is the most important tool a visiting nurse can carry.

Ask Jessica Coen of Groton, who has been caring for patients with the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut for the past two years. On Thursday afternoon, after clambering through slush and over snowbanks to reach a homebound patient on Brewer Street - a narrow, one-way lane near downtown - Coen recalled her rounds on Wednesday, the day after Tuesday's nor'easter dumped 2 feet of snow on the region.

"I had a patient in an apartment building where the driveway wasn't shoveled," she said, rubber boots peeking out from underneath her pink scrubs. She carried 10 pounds of medical supplies plus a computer in a backpack, the better to keep her balance on the slippery walk from the place she found to park her car, a block away, and her patient's home. "Yesterday I had to go through hip-deep snow, and then I had to shovel to get the front door open. You do what every home-care nurse does - the best you can."

Mary McMahon, clinical director of the Waterford-based agency, said several VNA nurses worked extra shifts on Sunday and Monday to make sure patients were seen before the storm, and contacted family and friends of patients who could take them in if there was a power outage. For patients forced to cancel doctor's appointments for follow-up care after surgery or another condition, VNA nurses made time in their schedules to go to those homes and provide the bandage changes and wound cleaning needed.

The agency has about 900 patients on its roster throughout southeastern Connecticut, and each nurse sees about six per day, McMahon said.

"We have a list of all our patients who would need to be evacuated, those who are on oxygen and made sure they had backup tanks," she said. "We did a lot of coordination with our nurses and aides and therapists calling patients to make sure they had enough food and flashlights."

Now, even though the storm has passed, the additional challenges it brought to the VNA caregivers haven't.

"They have to climb over snow banks, and walk long distances in the deep snow because parking everywhere is difficult," McMahon said. "One nurse was driving around for a half an hour to find a place to park."

In addition to shovels and boots, nurses these days also take along containers of calcium chloride for icy sidewalks and stoops.

For homebound patients, McMahon added, a nursing visit is even more important before and after a blizzard, when friends or family may be unable to get to them to check in. Coen said she makes sure her supply bag is well stocked with "a little bit of everything" so she'll be prepared in case a patient needs something unexpected.

"You really have to have all the supplies on hand, so you don't have to waste time going back to the car," she said.

Just before she arrived at the home of the patient on Brewer Street, a van from A 2 Z Home Medical Supplies in Niantic pulled up in front of the house.

Carrying three large cardboard boxes, the driver knocked on the front door, opened it and put the boxes inside.

Coen said the medical supplies were supposed to have arrived Wednesday, but shipments were delayed because of the blizzard.

j.benson@theday.com

Twitter: @BensonJudy

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POLL

How would you rate your town's performance before and after the blizzard?

A - I had enough information to be prepared and I was able to move around in town due to efficient snow plowing.

51%

B - OK before but I thought my town was a bit slow in clearing the roads.

24%

C - I didn't feel informed prior to the storm and I was stuck at home for more than a day following the snowstorm.

2%

D - I'm expecting improvements for the next storm.

12%

F - Enough said.

11%

Number of votes: 340

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