Let's Celebrate Home Health and Hospice Nurses

by Susan Sender

Every day they visit patients in their homes. They drive from one house or apartment to another, sometimes facing traffic jams and snowstorms or even hurricanes, rather than stay in a single place. They do what so few healthcare professionals do anymore – they make house calls.

Home health and Hospice nurses are a breed apart, functioning differently from nurses in hospitals, physician offices, nursing homes and other practice settings. And we should celebrate everything they accomplish.

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We here at Amedisys know all about home health and hospice nurses. It was a registered nurse who founded our company in 1982. Today we employ more than 5,700 nurses. With 421 care centers in 34 states – and in partnership with 59,000 physicians and 3,000 hospitals nationwide – Amedisys delivers care to the doorsteps of some 369,000 patients in need every year. Every day we receive letters from patients and families expressing gratitude for the nurses providing their care.

But here’s what I’d like to say to all the nurses – and aspiring nurses – out there. You should seriously consider becoming a home health or hospice nurse. Let me tell you why.

First, never before in history have we so needed home health nurses. With Americans living longer than ever, they’re also sicker than ever. Some 60% of those age 65+ have at least one chronic condition such as COPD, congestive heart failure, cancer, dementia and diabetes, according to a 2017 RAND Health study – and 42% have multiple chronic conditions https://www.rand.org/pubs/tools/TL221.html.

Our patients are typically 75 years old, often the sickest of the sick, and thus the most vulnerable. They’re seeing multiple specialists and taking an average of 11 medications. Even so, older Americans want to “age in place,” meaning at home. They prefer the dignity that comes with living independently.

Second, you will have the opportunity to operate independently. Out on the road, you will have no immediate access to other healthcare practitioners “right down the hall”. You will be ready to adapt to any situation and solve any problem. You will be largely responsible, too, for communicating effectively with patients, physicians, primary caregivers, families and anyone else directly involved. Your care is the glue that holds it all together.

Third, delivering healthcare to the home as a nurse is about as personal as healthcare gets. You get in your car, pull your equipment out of the trunk and go into a patient’s homes, on “their turf”. You arrive at homes without knowing what you will find, or how your patients are going to be faring. There, you see how your patients are living – what they’re eating, whether they have a spouse or a pet as a companion, and what’s in the medicine cabinet (or more often, in a basket!). 

You then get to give your patients the most intimate, one-on-one attention. Visiting for weeks or even months, you get to know your patients on an entirely different level. You get to build a history together. You learn more than the baseline vital signs such as blood pressure and pulse ox. You also find out about the family – the ever-concerned husband, the anxious daughter from out of state. Your responsibilities often span the physical, the psychological and the spiritual. As you bring to the table your clinical excellence, you also deliver compassion -- a smile, a sympathetic ear, a pat on the shoulder. You build confidence, teach independence and empower them to take control of their own illness. You are a nurse but also guest, trusted advisor, teacher and friend all rolled into one.

It’s very intimate. Our patients may feel isolated and lonely, and are glad to have some company. A visit from a nurse can double as a social occasion. Patients may offer you a snack. They may talk about a favorite TV show. They may even show you photos of their latest grandchildren, or them in their youth (I’ll always remember the elderly woman who showed me a picture from her youth – she was a Rockette!).

Fourth, you get to see long-term results. After your care, and the care of the entire team, patients often move better, eat better, breathe better and speak better. They may now feed themselves, dress themselves, bathe themselves and get back to babysitting grandchildren. A woman once unable to walk may once again tend to the hydrangeas in her backyard garden. A man who lost the power of speech may now talk again with his next-door neighbor. Your Hospice patient and their family may seem more peaceful, more confident in their abilities and less afraid.

Thanks largely to you, seniors are now better prepared than ever to live safely and independently at home for perhaps longer than they expected. As a result, they’re more likely to avoid admission and readmission to hospitals and nursing homes. No wonder patients so often call you “angels.”

Forgive me for feeling a certain pride about all of this. I have many fond memories from when I “carried the bag” as a home health nurse. So I know how it goes. You stand on the doorstep to a home and ring the bell or knock. The door swings open to let you in. And that’s where it all starts.

For me, and for our nurses here at Amedisys, home health and hospice nursing is more than a job or a profession. It’s also a higher calling. You get to have a significant impact on your patients and their loved ones.

To join our family of caregivers, look for open jobs here: http://web.amedisys.com/find-your-why-with-amedisys-nursing

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