Wednesday, April 25 , 2018, 11:45 pm | Fair 52º

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

Despite Obstacles and Challenges, the Future of Local Nursing Is as Bright as Ever

Noozhawk celebrates National Nursing Month with a look inside the complex world of these key health-care providers

Lynda Tanner, president and CEO of Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care, admits that “staffing is what keeps me up at night” but she’s encouraged by some of the health-care trends she sees. “Nursing started with physicians making home visits ... and so we’re kind of going back that way,” she says. Click to view larger
Lynda Tanner, president and CEO of Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care, admits that “staffing is what keeps me up at night” but she’s encouraged by some of the health-care trends she sees. “Nursing started with physicians making home visits ... and so we’re kind of going back that way,” she says. (Easter Moorman / Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care photo)

Health care is a topic that is always on our minds — but for the doctors and nurses who care for us in our most vulnerable moments, it’s their job.

And in honor of National Nurses Week, May 6-12, Noozhawk wants to highlight not only the impressive developments within this rapidly changing industry, but celebrate the women and men whose passion and dedication keep it — and all of us — running.

From the immense nurse shortage, to affected education programs, to developments in technology and improvements in care accessibility, nursing in Santa Barbara County is changing to keep up with not just the national demands, but with the needs of our own community in mind.

“Staffing is what keeps me up at night,” said Lynda Tanner, president and CEO of Santa Barbara’s Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care (VNHC).

Over the past 10 years, hospitals and clinics around Santa Barbara — and the nation — have been struggling to hire enough trained nurses to keep up with the rapidly growing demand for health care, especially since the adoption of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010.

There are a number of reasons for this. Tanner explained that part of the issue lies in the fact that nearly “50 percent of the active nurses across the country are over 50 years old ... they’re aging out faster than they’re coming in.”

And this raises two issues: How to fill the spots of retiring nurses, and how to care for the rapidly growing aging population (also known as the impending “Silver Tsunami”).

Lucky for us, Santa Barbara County is up for the challenge.

Part of the solution lies with our ability to help newly graduated nurses gain experience in the field so they can more easily land jobs at the hospitals and clinics that need them, because it’s not just about filling the positions, but about what Herb Geary, chief nursing officer at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, describes as a “skill dilution” issue.

“I can’t have a nursing unit staffed with eight nurses, and seven of them have less than a year experience,” he said.

Sansum Clinic nursing director Michael Yee prepares for a recent nursing class at the clinic’s Patterson facility. According to Yee, “well over half” of Sansum’s newly hired nursing staff have been trained through local education programs. Click to view larger
Sansum Clinic nursing director Michael Yee prepares for a recent nursing class at the clinic’s Patterson facility. According to Yee, “well over half” of Sansum’s newly hired nursing staff have been trained through local education programs. (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Local health-care leaders such as Cottage Health and Sansum Clinic — together with nursing education programs at Santa Barbara City College, CSU Channel Islands and others — are bringing a multitude of solutions and opportunities to the table.

Last year, Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital premiered its new “Transition Program.” As Geary explained it, the program is “for nurses who have worked for greater than a year and less than three (years) ... in a doctor’s office, a nursing home, an outpatient surgery center” and that, though “they have never worked in a hospital, as a new graduate, they have worked some place where they’re practicing nursing.”

He noted that the program was so successful in quickly orienting nurses to a hospital work environment that the organization will be offering the same opportunity again in July.

At Sansum, meanwhile, “well over half” of its newly hired nursing staff have been trained through local education programs, according to Michael Yee, director of nursing.

Nursing is not only experiencing changes in its employment and education opportunities; technology and accessibility of care are also pushing the limits of the industry, for the better.

“It’s an interesting time,” Tanner said. “The technology is huge ... (and) accessibility of care is getting super easy.”

At Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care, Tanner and her staff have been implementing a number of new technologies to make access to care for their patients not just easier, but more effective.

“There’s an app called Honor ... it’s like an Uber but it’s for private-duty nursing,” she said.

Developed by Honor Technology Inc., a Silicon Valley startup, the app allows patients, doctors or family members to put in a detailed request for care and have a private-duty nurse visit them in the comfort of their own home.

Then there is “​Telehealth,” which is essentially an iPad-turned-health monitor, allowing patients to monitor specific aspects of their own health from home and send it directly to their doctors.

Cheryll Willin, clinical director of oncology services for the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara with Sansum Clinic, says she would like to see Santa Barbara develop a model health-care system “between the neighborhood clinics, community physician practices, Cottage Hospital, Sansum and a Cancer Center.” Click to view larger
Cheryll Willin, clinical director of oncology services for the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara with Sansum Clinic, says she would like to see Santa Barbara develop a model health-care system “between the neighborhood clinics, community physician practices, Cottage Hospital, Sansum and a Cancer Center.” (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

“We get real-time information and ... we’re promoting wellness behaviors” as patients play a stronger role in their own care, Tanner said.

Yee noted that Sansum is “one of the first providers in Santa Barbara County to implement the Epic Electronic Health Record System (EHR), which has turned out to be one of the premier systems throughout the U.S.”

As more patients have the opportunity to receive care in their homes, this not only frees up space in hospitals, but increases the ease of access to care that people need.

“With Obamacare, we have many, many, many more people insured — and it’s a really good thing,” noted Cheryll Willin, clinical director of Oncology Services at Sansum Clinic’s Cancer Center of Santa Barbara.

“We have a sense of optimism that with more people covered, more people will have access to care — and being in health care that’s really important.”

As more patients begin flooding into local clinics and hospitals, physicians and nurses are finding new ways to streamline care. Willin said she is hopeful “that (Santa Barbara) would choose to create a model health-care system between the neighborhood clinics, community physician practices, Cottage Hospital, Sansum and a Cancer Center.”

“It could be an amazing model for care,” she said.

From the sound of it, we are well on our way. Yee expressed similar optimism and goals for future integration of the local health system.

“Sansum is currently cooperating with government agencies, local hospitals, other clinics and single-physician practices to integrate the electronic health record, utilization of resources and coordination of health care,” he said. “I would like to see this trend spread throughout the county and the state.”

And, on the topic of care integration, Geary explained the growing popularity of “a new buzz word called ‘population health,’ where hospitals work with community partners in trying to address population issues — whether it’s around childhood obesity or lack of access to fresh produce,” looking at problematic health trends in the community and working to solve them as a unified health-care system.

The common expectation in the nursing community, it seems, is that health care is making its way out of hospitals and back into the communities it is meant to serve.

“Nursing started with physicians making home visits ... and so we’re kind of going back that way,” Tanner said.

As the needs of our community continue to grow, “nursing is going to take on a lot of those roles,” she said.

Despite the rapid changes facing our national and local health-care system, one thing is certain: the need for nurses is not diminishing. Demand for qualified nurses continues to increase as schools and hospitals continue to improve their programs.

Easter Moorman, director of marketing at Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care, summed it up beautifully.

“When it comes to health care, it’s going to take team work, it’s going to take a village,” she said. “Everything from the clinic to the physician’s office to the home — it’s going to take all of us.”

And thanks to the nurses who serve our community 24/7 and the hospitals and clinics that support them, we are finding new ways to provide better care every day.

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

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