Care at Home: Visiting Nurse Provides Personal Touch with Patients

By Steve Cukovich, Business Matter, Butler County

When patients get to receive care in the comfort of their own home, it provides them the best chance of having a comfortable and speedy recovery, according to Hannah Patton, an LPN with the VNA of Western Pennsylvania.

Patton said a major reason why home care is a better option for patients is because of the decreased risk of infection compared to care provided in a hospital setting, where medical professionals see many patients on a day-to-day basis.

“I think home care is very important because patients are safest at home,” Patton said. “Your chances of infection are reduced by almost 50% when you are re-covering at home compared to a hospital. There are a lot of diseases at the hospital that can cause bacterial infections.”

When recovering in a hospital setting, a patient has a 7 in 100 chance of getting an infection, she said, while at-home patients have about a 3 in 100 chance of infection.

Patton, a Butler native, said she usually spends between 30 to 45 minutes with each patient she visits, and she provides them with a variety of services depending on their circumstances.

A lot of her time is spent educating her clients on how they can help themselves when she is not around to help improve their conditions.

“For example, with new diabetes patients I’ll talk about diets to follow,” Patton said. “Then, depending on their limitations, what they can do to exercise.”

Patton visits between six to eight patients throughout Butler County each day, primarily providing wound care to people such as Donald Knapp, of Renfrew.

Knapp, 91, said Patton has been visiting him three times a week for a wound he suffered the day after Thanksgiving when he was splitting logs with his son.

“I was trying to go around the log splitter and I fell, and when I did, I kicked my right leg and that’s what opened this up and that took the skin off because I have thin skin,” Knapp said.

Patton said if Knapp’s wound continues to heal as it has, he should be able to be discharged from her care in April.

This, however, might not have been made possible without some back-and-forth battles with Knapp’s insurance company.

Knapp was sent home from the hospital with Drawtex, a dressing that helps the wound heal from “the inside out.”

Drawtex helps the wound heal the  way it’s intended to, but the amount the hospital supplied to Knapp when he was discharged was not nearly enough to get him through the process.

“(The insurance company) said it wasn’t approved,” Patton said. “Then the insurance company called me, and I said this wound is not going to heal if he doesn’t get the proper dressings.”

The insurance company said Knapp needed prior authorization for the dress-ing, and after several calls to the insurer and medical supplier, Knapp received authorization for the dressing.

Patton said instances such as this are all too common in her line of work, which in turn is one of the biggest challenges she faces on a daily basis.

“You do have to do that push-back with the insurance companies or you will not get what you need and then the patient suffers,” she said.

Knapp sees the victory as a “win-win” for all parties because his wound will heal faster and, in turn, Patton will need to make fewer visits to change his bandages.

Patton said the next step in her career is to get Wound Care Certified, which she is in the process of doing with the help of the Visiting Nurses Association and Lutheran SeniorLife.

After that, she will look at going back to school once her children are further along in school to get her registered nurse certification and become a nurse practitioner.

In addition to visiting patients, there also is some behind-the-scenes work as well.

“I’m usually seeing patients between 30 to 35 hours a week,” Patton said. “Then I’m also doing about seven hours of paperwork on top of that. I’m probably working 40 to 45 hours a week.”

Patton said the shortage of nurses is evident just about everywhere, but one of the misconceptions is that it started with the COVID-19 pandemic. She said short-ages were an issue well before that.

“In nursing school they told us by about 2030 the number of patients will in-crease by 10% because the (Baby) Boomers are starting to get old,” Patton said. “I don’t think there are less people coming into the profession, just not enough to meet the demand.”

However, Patton said being a visiting nurse is “very rewarding,” and she finds joy in being personable with every patient she sees.

“I like patients like Donald,” Patton said. “We usually are just joking around and having witty banter, while also caring for the things he needs. The patients are why I do this job.”