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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 8:34 pm | Fair 53º

2018 Salute to Nurses: A Noozhawk Partnership with Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care

Amid Crises of Wildfire and Debris Flows, Hospice Nurse Betty Griffin a Steady Presence

Challenge of twin disasters offset by Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care’s commitment to safety and well-being of its patients and team

Betty Griffin Click to view larger
Betty Griffin, a nurse and director of hospice for Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care, was tested by fire and flood over the past several months, but she and her team actually were prepared for the worst. “These disasters challenged our community as a whole, as both the fire and flood were unprecedented,” she says. “Through it all, I think we learned we have a great emergency plan and that we are so thankful we were prepared.” (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

“I woke up in the early morning on Jan. 9 to a loud sound — like a train was on top of my house,” recalled Betty Griffin, reflecting on the moment that Montecito’s flash flooding and debris flows tore apart the community.

“I knew it had happened. I was safe, but immediately started to worry about our patients and families.”

As the director of hospice for Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care, Griffin and her team spent hours upon hours preparing for the worst — and hoping for the best — throughout the duration of the Thomas Fire and resulting disasters that devastated vast portions of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Early on, as word began to spread about the rapidly increasing severity of the Thomas Fire, VNHC’s management team made itself fully aware of the potential dangers that lay ahead, and took steps to ensure that the nonprofit organization would be ready to act.

“The fire became very real as it started to get close to Santa Barbara and the first voluntary evacuation order came out,” Griffin told Noozhawk. “If the fire jumped the freeway, we recognized that this would become a challenge.”

So, when the Thomas Fire — which would become the largest wildfire in modern California history — did eventually maneuver its way past firebreaks, firmly establishing its hold on Santa Barbara County, VNHC already had well-organized emergency protocols in place to protect its patients and staff members throughout the afflicted areas.

With nearly 38 years of nursing experience behind her — 20 of that dedicated to hospice care — Griffin has a deep, personal appreciation for the role that hospice nurses play in our communities every day, and the life-changing impact that they have on patients and their families.

Griffin got her start in nursing while living in Kansas, where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Fort Hays State University before going on to practice as an RN and visiting nurse.

However, her dedication to nursing only become more pronounced when her own family found themselves in need of assistance from a hospice nurse.

“I have wanted to be a nurse since I was a child,” she explained. “I (had been) a nurse for about six years when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. We lived in Kansas, so hospice in the home was not a common thing there. She would go for her radiation and ... a hospice nurse would visit her at the hospital.

“Later ... I had the opportunity to meet my mother’s hospice nurse (and) I was so impressed with her kindness — how much she cared for my mom; not just my mom but all of us, especially my dad.”

Griffin said the nurse’s impact on her family was profound.

“I was so very grateful for what she did for my family, I decided then I would (become) a hospice nurse,” she said. “Every day I do my job wanting to do for families what the hospice nurse did for mine, and in honor of my parents. I do this work every day.”

And Griffin’s resolve to provide care to her patients only became more evident as the Thomas Fire drew closer. During any emergency situation, VNHC’s main goal is to be able to continue providing quality care to its patients, no matter the obstacles. As the director of hospice, it’s Griffin’s job to make sure that happens.

To do so, she needed to be constantly up to date on the status of the fire, and later the debris flows, in order to understand just how it was affecting both her patients and her staff members.

“Successfully providing home hospice care is a team effort — I need my team to meet this goal,” Griffin emphasized.

One of the more unique obstacles encountered by VNHC and its emergency team during the Thomas Fire was that — because it provides medical care not just in a few centrally located buildings, as hospitals do, but in hundreds of different locations spread out across the county, including homes, hotels and even shelters — it had to find a way to keep track of and maintain access to all its patients.

To do so, Griffin and her team at VNHC worked closely with several other local organizations that make up the Santa Barbara County Disaster Healthcare Partners Coalition, including the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department and the California Highway Patrol among others, to coordinate rescue efforts. At one point, VNHC even gained approval for an escorted caravan to carry out emergency evacuations.

“We are #805stong and #VNHCstrong,” Griffin continued. “These disasters challenged our community as a whole, as both the fire and flood were unprecedented.

“Through it all, I think we learned we have a great emergency plan and that we are so thankful we were prepared.”

Noozhawk contributing writer Kellie Kreiss can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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