ALPENA – In an area where a significant portion of the population is over 65 and a doctor’s office can be an hour’s drive from home, home care workers are an integral part of the community’s safety and vitality.
Providing home health services to Northeast Michiganders is a rewarding – albeit industrious – career, said Billie Jo Karsten, a registered nurse who provides personalized care through MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena.
Karsten travels the entire Alpena region from Millersburg to Harrisville, bringing her medical equipment and caring behavior to residents who are at risk of falls, have weakened immune systems, or cannot leave their homes for other reasons to seek primary health care.
At each visit, she can bandage a wound, check an intravenous line, collect laboratory samples, or change a catheter.
During her visits, she also teaches patients and their families how to manage their symptoms and administer medication, remind them when to call for help, and make sure they are liaising with their doctors.
“With this job we see everything” said Karsten.
Born in Alpena, he never wanted to work anywhere but northeast Michigan.
The remoteness of the area can prove challenging – especially in winter or when trying to find a rural home that doesn’t have cell phone coverage to control the GPS – but it’s also why she feels so needed said Karsten.
When a patient lives an hour away from the hospital or even her nearest clinic, seeing a doctor for a post-operative exam isn’t always an option, she said.
“We get there,” Said Karsten. “They are only grateful that we can achieve them. Otherwise they wouldn’t care. “
Despite the challenges, Karsten said that home health care in Up North has benefits for both the patient and the provider.
When she goes home, she can see the people she cares about in her own environment – where she thinks patients can heal better than in a hospital. When allowed into her living room and bedroom, she can spot clues that can help offer more personalized treatment.
Patients in remote areas where she travels see the same person every time they visit and develop a relationship with their care provider that may be more difficult to establish in a larger, busier healthcare community.
“These people are never in a hurry” said Chester Szymanski, 97, during a recent professional visit from Karsten to his home in Alpena.
He compared domestic workers to doctors making house calls in the 1930s, even though those carers were always in a rush to be gone.
Karsten chatted happily with Szymanski while she worked, checking his oxygen levels and blood pressure, and changing the bandage on a wound on his foot to check progress.
“You like it when we come over, don’t you?” Karsten said and got the consent of her patient. “Well, here we are.”
While still at home, Karsten planned to see the doctor and confirmed Szymanski’s medication instructions. He thanked Karsten and another nurse for their help and sang them a song before waving them out the front door.
Sometimes domestic workers are the only outsiders patients have seen in a long time, Karsten said. The nurses are available 24/7, always ready to take the long drive to bring help to any northeastern Michigander who needs them.
The job is demanding, but she has no intention of leaving it – or the Alpena area, said Karsten.
“It’s a decent job” Said Karsten. “It’s not for everyone. But it’s for me “
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, [email protected], or on Twitter @jriddleX.
News Photo by Julie Riddle Patient Chester Szymanski asks questions while home health worker Billie Jo Karsten examines a wound on his foot.
News Photo by Julie Riddle While trainee Karen Friend is taking notes, domestic worker Billie Jo Karsten checks patient Chester Szymanski at his home in Alpena.
News Photo by Julie Riddle Healthcare Domestic Worker Billie Jo Karsten examines patient Chester Szymanski at his Alpena home.
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