By Sue Botos
Nursing may have changed since the days of Florence Nightingale, but the amount of dedication nurses give to their jobs has not. A growing part of that commitment involves patient advocacy, and Welcome House nursing Director Susan Collins sees this as a huge part of her day.
“You have to advocate to the best of your ability so clients can live the healthiest and most fulfilling lives they can,” said Collins during a recent interview at Welcome House, a 300-
employee organization dedicated to assisting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Collins, who came to Welcome House as assistant director of nursing in September, has been newly appointed to the director’s position.
The theme of providing support is nothing new to Collins, for earlier in her career she worked at the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center as a “safe and sound monitor.” In this field, Collins managed visits between children and noncustodial parents to ensure that the experience was safe and secure. She supervised and documented the meetings while making sure there was no interaction between the custodial and noncustodial parent.
A graduate of Ursuline College’s accelerated nursing program, Collins also is a volunteer member of the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team, which travels to the site of disasters to assess damage, then helps assist victims in securing immediate relief such as hotel accommodations, food and clothing vouchers. As part of this team, she worked at a shelter at Garfield Middle School in Lakewood during Hurricane Sandy.
No two days are the same for Collins, who, with her staff of seven nurses, serves 140 clients at 32 sites, such as group homes and supported living facilities. “You really have to think outside the scope of (traditional) nursing,” Collins said, adding that there “is a lot of triaging,” especially over the phone, to direct workers to the best course of action for a situation. “The support people, the families and workers are the eyes and ears. You really have to do your homework and talk to people,” she noted. Above all, she said, family wishes must be respected.
The care for physically and mentally challenged individuals is “changing by leaps and bounds,” according to Collins. Where heavy medication used to be the accepted norm, more attention is being paid to diet and how the interaction between drugs affects a person’s quality of life. She said that “trying to get everyone on the same page” is a big challenge. “Some clients can’t communicate, they can’t talk or see; so you have to rely on your observations and talks with caregivers,” she added. The goal, according to Collins, is to get the clients on as few medications as possible. A careful record of each person’s medicines is kept, so that each health care provider is aware of what is being prescribed. “This makes for a smooth transition from one office to another,” she said.
While advocacy is an important part of the job, Collins said, there is an educational aspect as well. Aside from encouraging healthier diets, Collins also helps clients maintain optimal health by teaching hygiene, such as flossing teeth.
Collins added that the ever-changing federal support for health care “drastically” affects the care of many clients. “It’s sometimes challenging to find adequate health care. It’s part of the job to find doctors that can meet their needs,” she said, referring to the fact that a number of individuals are on Medicare and Medicaid.
Collins hopes to expand her department to include more RNs as well as LPNs. “This job is extremely flexible,” she said, which makes it perfect for mothers of young children.
The best part of the job, according to Collins, is seeing the smiles on the faces of her clients. “You feel like a celebrity when you walk in (to a facility) and everyone says, “The nurse is here!’” she said.
Welcome House Executive Director Tony Thomas commented, “We always have to recruit people that not only just share your vision, but also see the need for changing the organization and expanding services in different directions. Susan is an exemplary example of this and has been an unbelievable addition to our staff.”
Collins looks at her profession as one that will continue to grow. “This is a whole different aspect of nursing, and I love it,” she stated.