Home nurses in St. Petersburg key to preventing people from going to hospital


Home Health Director Kirsten Testoni visits Natocha Lyons, 43, who is in home quarantine with COVID on November 24. (Angela Denning / KFSK)

While much of the country focuses on the emergence of the omicron variant of COVID-19, the CDC says the Delta is still responsible for most cases in the United States, including an outbreak in the remote community of Southeast Alaska in Petersburg.

In November, the city peaked which saw more than 7% of the city’s 3,000 residents infected. On the front lines of this epidemic was a team of home nurses, going door to door to treat patients.

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Kirsten Testoni is one of those home nurses. She manages a team of eight people.

“You come up with some sort of plan, but your day goes from zero to 60,” Testoni said.

Three years ago there were only two home care nurses in this office. The additional staff came from other departments: emergencies, clinics and long-term care. Lena Odegaard had worked in all of them. She said she enjoys home care because she can focus on one patient at a time, but it’s also a challenge.

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“There are so many things that you can’t control,” she said. “Whereas, when you’re in the facility, you can sort of restrict visitors and what people do to a certain extent. “

Sometimes there are patients who should go to the hospital but they don’t want to.

“We find this quite often in home care, especially during this pandemic,” Odegaard said. “Sometimes there is a bit of resistance. “

Often, nurses transport patients to hospital themselves or they can call an ambulance.

People are sitting in an office.
The Home Health office is located in an apartment opposite the Petersburg Medical Center. (Angela Denning / KFSK)

Stephanie Romine says home health is different from her many years of working in the hospital.

“You never know, you can come in and find someone on the ground,” Romine said. “You really don’t know what you’re heading into a lot. “

Many hospitals have home health services, but it’s different in a rural city like Petersburg, says Jared Kosin. He heads the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association.

“You’re going to have almost, in some ways, a more nimble healthcare system because everyone knows everyone else,” Kosin said. “When we are in a crisis like this, can we tackle this problem head-on before it becomes a bigger problem and requires hospitalization? “

During this latest Alaska Delta wave, keeping people out of hospital – not just local Petersburg clinics, but also preventing people from being evacuated to larger hospitals in Alaska – has been crucial. ‘Anchorage.

In addition, it is a more personal way of receiving care. This Petersburg team plans to maintain this level of home health care even when they are no longer caring for COVID patients.

Testoni this week visited a small house where three people are infected with COVID. She wore two masks, glasses, a hairnet, a blouse and blue rubber gloves.

A woman in full PPE has her hand in a plastic bag in the car.
Home nurse manager Kirsten Testoni prepares to treat someone with COVID at home. (Angela Denning / KFSK)

Natocha Lyons, one of the patients, opened the door. Lyons is 43 years old. She was wearing a black sweatshirt, her blonde hair pulled back.

“Sorry, my house is not cleaned,” Lyons said as Testoni arrived. “I have no energy.”

Last week, she had been to the emergency room twice.

“I was so bad and so weak that I couldn’t even get up to go pee at one point. I had to have my son’s help, ”Lyons said.

Home health took her back and forth to the hospital. She received oxygen, IV fluids, monoclonal antibody therapy and steroids.

“Without home care I would not have made it because I was too weak to drive myself, I was too weak to even walk, I was too weak to do anything”, said she declared. “It was very scary for me.”

Like many residents of Petersburg whom the home care team treated this month, Lyon is not vaccinated. And she hasn’t changed her mind even after two trips to the ER. But Testoni never pushes the problem.

“It’s not our role,” she said. “We don’t do that. We will take care of people whatever they choose. “

As she returned to the car, Testoni said her job was not to convince patients of anything. It’s to meet them where they are. And so far, that has been enough to keep them alive.

About Chris Stevenson

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