While not walking away with the main prize, this year's finalists were all worthy of recognition.
NURSE OF THE YEAR
Merrilyn Hewett is known as the woman who transformed aged care in the tiny rural town of Port Broughton, South Australia. When Hewett became director of nursing at Barunga Village in 1997, it was a 24-bed low- care facility with 16 independent living units. Today it is a 52-bed high and low-care facility. The facility offers specialist dementia care, respite care and 14 independent living units. A 45-home retirement village is nearing completion.
Hewett’s clients embrace adventure with four-night houseboat stays and 360km round trips to the zoo. Residents who spent their working lives on farms take part in crop inspections and sheep droving. Those who miss cooking help prepare vegetables for the evening meal.
“If you can minimise pain and depression - they are the two biggest challenges - you can have a lot of fun,” Hewett said.
Barunga Village’s success is built on Hewett’s creativity and determination.
When the commercial kitchen that made the meals wouldn’t prepare lambs fry and bacon, Hewett built her own kitchen to ensure residents got the type of food they wanted.
Hewett has worked hard to develop a culture where residents’ needs are always the focus.
Louise Orme was nominated for her work with Perth Primary Care Network’s Street Doctor program, a GP clinic on wheels that takes healthcare services to the streets.
Orme’s nomination stood out because it came from a client undergoing treatment for mental illness. The client wrote the award application herself and secretly arranged for Orme’s Street Doctor colleague to second the nomination.
“I feel like a winner already. I know what a great effort it was for that person to nominate me, the trouble they went to, despite their own health problems, and I am blown away. My feet haven’t touched the ground.”
The moving nomination statement credited Orme with saving the client’s life by staying back late at the Street Doctor van one night to talk.
“I knew there were times when that person needed support and I did what any nurse would do. I’m not extraordinary. I’m not groundbreaking. I never knew I made such a difference,” Orme said.
Originally from England, Orme moved to Australia six years ago. After working in prison healthcare and accident and emergency care, she joined Perth Primary Care Network’s Street Doctor to help people who were disadvantaged and marginalised by society.
Churches of Christ nurse Rebecca Burgess had only been in her job for seven weeks when the tiny township of St George faced inundation from the floods.
In March 2010, Burgess had only two days to arrange an evacuation plan for 35 residents. Working with the local council disaster team, some clients were moved to the local hospital, on higher ground, while remaining residents were airlifted to Brisbane.
Packing clothes and medication, photocopying care plans, ensuring residents were clearly identified and advising residents’ families was just part of the job.
“During the first evacuation we spent hours on the tarmac waiting for the plane and we were worried the airstrip would be cut off,” said Burgess.
“The important thing was just to remain calm and in control to reduce residents’ anxiety. It was my job to ensure the residents were not fearful.”
The evacuation was repeated in January 2011, as the Balonne River again threatened the town.
“For the second evacuation we were loading residents on to Lear jets every three hours from 10 at night. The last group flew out to Brisbane around eight in the morning. I was left to watch the facility, lift up the furniture and feed the animals.”
Judy Frecker, a Clinical Nurse Consultant - HIV/AIDS for the Royal District Nursing Service (RDNS), helped a family where both parents were HIV positive navigate the healthcare system and receive the care that they needed. The client said of, “She is the voice when I don’t have one.”
Frecker was nursing at Fairfield Hospital when the HIV epidemic first hit Australia. She still remembers her first AIDS patient. There was no treatment. She could offer nothing but supportive care, as the young man’s condition deteriorated and he died.
Decades later, she is again working with HIV-positive patients and the outlook is much brighter.
“The biggest change is that now you can give people hope. When I speak to someone who is newly diagnosed with HIV, I tell them that there are treatments. They can continue to plan for their future,” Frecker said.
“When I came back to HIV nursing I knew the prognosis was much improved. What surprised me was that the social stigma was still there. This often has the biggest impact on people’s lives.”
The HIV team can wear plain clothes and the CNCs drive unmarked cars to protect people’s privacy during home visits. Many clients come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and most choose to keep their condition secret to avoid discrimination.
“My job is to support and advocate for people who are infected and affected by HIV. Working with people in their own homes over many years creates a close bond,” Frecker said.
Frecker works with clients, their families and other health professionals to deliver quality care at home. She advocates, provides education and referrals and helps people manage their medication and health needs.
Innovation in Nursing
A program that has helped 25 HIV-positive women deliver healthy babies, with zero transmission of the disease, earned Karen Blyth her place among the finalists. HIV clinician and midwife, Blyth has led the development of care for expectant mothers who are HIV positive. The innovative nursing model brings together the resources of The Alfred, The Royal Women’s Hospital, Monash Medical Centre and the Royal Children’s Hospital. “Our message is a message of hope,” said Blyth, a Clinical Nurse Consultant. “The outlook for HIV used to be acute illness and a dismal outcome. But with better treatments in the last 10-15 years we have seen a big shift in thinking. In Australia, HIV is now a manageable chronic disease. HIV-positive people can live a normal life with the right support and having babies can be part of that life.”
When local midwife Angela Cutting saw the need to increase pre-school immunisation rates in rural South Australia, she came up with a strategy that was as simple as child’s play. “We went to the local early learning centre and turned a corner into a mini medical clinic with a bed, doctor and nurse dress ups, immunisation leaflets, plastic syringes, bandaids and bandages,” Cutting said. “We did lots of role play to demystify the work of doctors and nurses. We explained that immunisation hurts a little bit but it stops you from getting sick and that getting sick hurts for a long time. To get the message through to parents, grandparents and other carers, Cutting prepared brochures and fridge magnets for kindergarten enrolment packs.
Suzanne Rosenberg was an emergency nurse for many years before undertaking midwifery training. She quickly realised emergency department staff needed more information and equipment to support pregnant patients and their babies. “As an emergency nurse you need to be able to identify a problem and act on it. Before I did midwifery, I didn’t always know when I was looking at a problem,” Rosenberg said. “Pregnant women present at emergency all the time. My aim is to help emergency department nurses recognise the problems, know who to contact and have the equipment they need.” Rosenberg was working in emergency at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and as a midwife in King Edward Memorial Hospital when she decided to tackle the issue. Managers at both hospitals supported her vision.
A working party was set up at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital to oversee the project. Ms Rosenberg provided training on what to look for when assessing pregnant women. She also created kits to help emergency staff manage deliveries, caesarean sections and breast-feeding issues.
Graduate nurse of the year
Flinders Medical Centre emergency nurse, Lucy Houghton, sign language skills saved a patient from a potentially serious allergic reaction. “I was doing a double check before administering penicillin when the patient told me he was allergic, using sign language. He had been asked about allergies previously, but it had not been picked up due to the language barrier,” Houghton said. “I studied AUSLAN and can sign fluently so it was great to use those skills at work.” Houghton also won praise for her work with a mother who arrived at hospital with a seriously ill 10-day-old baby. “The baby was being tested for meningitis and was really sick. There were so many doctors crowding around to look after that baby and this brand new mum had no one to look out for her.” Happily the baby survived.
Marissa Zaknich is a mental health nurse who thinks outside the square to deliver holistic care. Broken Hill Health Service nurse includes dance, music and exercise in the Mental Health Unit treatment program. “I believe mental health treatment should encompass all aspects of a person’s life, including their physical, emotional and, in some instances, spiritual health,” Zaknich said.
With several years experience in nursing, Zaknich undertook a postgraduate diploma in mental health nursing in 2010. This further education enhanced her skills and knowledge of mental health. She is currently training in drug and alcohol education and assessment, and suicide risk assessment. Often Zaknich involves her patients’ families in treatment, so that she can gain insights to create an effective care plan.
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