April 14, 2020

The next line of defense: Visiting nurses provide critical post-care

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
Laura Maldonado,  RN wound care specialist.
Caption: Juan Hernandez (left) is fit tested for a new n95 mask by his fellow member of the Westchester Federation of Visiting Nurses Laura Maldonado at the VNS offices in White Plains. Photo provided.

Visiting nurses in Westchester took on their first coronavirus patients on Monday, traveling to monitor 33 new patients just released from hospitals and rehabilitation centers.

“We’re the next line of defense,” said Valerie Fitzgerald, president of the Westchester Federation of Visiting Nurses. “Once these people get well enough to get out of hospitals, they need follow-up at home. Thousands of patients are going to need help.”

Before accepting patients, Fitzgerald spent the previous weekend working with the employing agency, the Visiting Nurse Service of Westchester, to ensure that every nurse treating a COVID-19 patient was to be fitted with an N95 mask.

“Trying to get equipment is difficult,” she said. “Our agency is going above and beyond. As a nurse, I’m impressed.”

Department of Health personnel perform fit testing for masks. They trained some Westchester FVN nurses to provide the fit testing using a rental machine, Fitzgerald said. The testing is done, as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to be sure the mask fits properly and can do its job of protecting the wearer from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating the face.

In addition to securing N95 masks, the agency has purchased equipment needed for each COVID-19 patient. Each one has to be treated with, and left with, his or her own blood pressure cuff, thermometer and stethoscope, since the visiting nurses cannot use their own equipment or reuse it with another patient.

“We’ve had (agency) directors in stores, trying to get cuffs,” said Fitzgerald. “We finally got some from a durable medical company.”

The 70 members of the Westchester FVN cover 1,100 square miles, including parts of Putnam, Duchess, Westchester and Rockland counties, said Fitzgerald, who works as an intake nurse.

Fitzgerald said the agency was seeing a decline in patients because people were too worried about having someone from the outside in their home during the pandemic. Most patients are treated for wound care, post-surgery, COPD, injuries from accidents, IV feedings, health monitoringor other chronic conditions.

Jeffrey Ruetz, president of the Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, Albany Visiting Nurse Association, said there has been a decline in patients since hospitals have stopped performing elective surgeries. He said nurses continue to self-screen daily before starting work, and no staff has been confirmed with COVID-19.

Due to hospital furloughs, some agencies are seeing an increase in employment applications, Ruetz said.