by Joelle Moran
Health in Home LPN Donna Johnston likes going to work everyday knowing that she’s directly touching her patients’ lives, making a difference. It’s this one-on-one aspect of home health care that Johnson values.
“You have the opportunity to make an impact on somebody’s life everyday,” Johnson said. “You get to build those personal relationships and realize that what you have to offer makes a difference.”
Unlike other health care settings, home health care involves environmental, holistic care, which can create an entire set of additional challenges for nurses and present opportunities to be creative, Johnston said.
“We have to address not just the illness, but the entire situation of the client,” she said.
Health in Home provides health care services to elderly and disabled clients, many that require long-term care due to a health decline or illness that will affect them for their entire lives.
Because Johnston works in patients’ homes, she can’t rely on the luxuries of technology and high-tech equipment to diagnose patients or make them comfortable.
This is where the creativity and ability to improvise come into play.
“You have to make do with what you can find,” Johnston said.
For example, if a patient’s bed needs to be elevated, Johnston would devise a way to prop it up, whereas in a hospital it just requires the push of a button. Or, if Johnston has a diabetic client that needs to eat healthy on a fixed budget, she’ll work with him to brainstorm what will fit into his budget and get as close to the perfect foods as possible.
Although this improvising can be challenging, Johnston jokes that the weather and traffic are the most common headaches of being a home health nurse.
Johnston said she always wanted to be a nurse, but life happens and her marriage and family took precedence over her career. After having a variety of administrative jobs - many health care-related such as in insurance and doctors’ offices - she realized she wanted more out of life.
“The universe was telling me it was time to go to nursing school,” she said.
Johnston earned her LPN in 2006 from the Denver School of Nursing and just started the LPN to RN program there as well. She’s on track to complete her RN in December 2010.
After earning her LPN, she worked at a nursing home for eight months and realized that the stress of having to care for too many patients was not the type of nursing she wanted to do. So, she went to work in home care for Above and Beyond, a home health agency that is no longer in existence.
While there, she worked in the field and had the opportunity to learn quality assurance and worked her way to administrator of that agency.
Johnston joined Health in Home in 2008 and says she has “found a home for myself in home care.” She also splits her time between the field - visiting about 20 clients a week - and in the office, doing administrative quality assurance work. She says she enjoys the challenges of home care, and it’s what keeps her going, knowing that every day is different.
“No day is exactly the same. Even though you have the same patients, new things come up, you learn something new or new ways of doing things,” she said.
The goal of home health care is to keep patients in their own surroundings, which Johnston says is doable the majority of the time.
“When they’ve lost a lot, keeping them in their home and giving them that sense that they’re in control of their home is huge to our clients,” she said. “I value the relationships I’m able to build with the patients and their families, assisting them with getting out in the community and maintaining their independence as long as they can and knowing that I have a vital role in that.”
Another rewarding aspect of home care, Johnston said, is seeing patients not only when they are ill, but also as they adapt to their illness and heal.
And as home health nurses work autonomously, they serve as the invaluable eyes and ears for doctors, often seeing what’s happening with patients sooner than a doctor.
“It gives you a little more freedom as a nurse, more responsibility. With that you can really get to know your patient and experience one-on-one nursing,” she said.