Visiting nurses put your family first: Balance taking care of your family and theirs over the holidays

By Saundra Young
NABJ Black News & Views

When you or a family member are released from a hospital or other health care facility but still need continuing care, chances are you will soon be seen by a visiting nurse.

Elaine Gillard Hospice Nurse

“Going into these homes routinely to assess these patients and provide the care they need at home and give them the tools that they need to be comfortable at home is something that is very rewarding,” said 38-year-old hospice nurse Elaine Gillard. 

A wife and mother of two daughters ages 16 and 20, she has been a registered nurse (RN) for eight years, spending the last three as a visiting nurse in Staten Island with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) Hospice and Palliative Care.

According to Zippia, a company that has estimated statistics on visiting nurses, there are more than 16,000 visiting nurses in the United States.  Most are women and about 11 percent are African American. The average annual salary is about $55,000.

Visiting nurses manage specific caseloads on a weekly basis. They come to you, helping you make the transition from inpatient to outpatient.  They spend countless hours providing care in the comfort of your home.  Rain or shine, 365 days a year. And that means they are with you or your loved ones on Christmas.

Lifting up

“Seeing patients on the holiday gives them a lot of joy. Many of the patients I see don’t really have people coming out to see them on the holidays. Sometimes the families are very distant, patients may be living alone, or they have home health aides, and the families visit only now and then, so just to have someone coming in the home on the holiday as a companion, is a blessing.

“It lifts them up, it shows that someone cares. A lot of times when we’re in a home on holidays we end up reminiscing with our patients. When we help them reminisce about happier times and traditions, it uplifts them. It’s really something that I love to do. It doesn’t really take much out of my day because I still can go home to my family, but it’s a blessing to be able to uplift someone especially when they don’t really have anyone to do that.”

Gillard says she feels it’s her “duty” to be there for her patients no matter the day, and that it’s about balancing the time between her family and her patient.

“I feel like at the end of the day I’m still going to be able to go home to my family and enjoy festivities with them but taking a little bit of time out and creating that balance for others is not really a burden, it’s a blessing to be able to do it.”

Each state has their own Visiting Nurse Service. The VNSNY has been meeting the home health care needs of New Yorkers for more than 125 years.  They are one of the oldest and largest not-for-profit home and community-based health care organizations in the country.  On any given day, VNSNY has about 40,000 patients in their care.  They have over 1,500 registered nurses and licensed practical nurses in the community.  

Denise Simmonds Public Health Nurse

Public health nurse Denise Simmonds is one of them.  The 49-year-old wife and mother of three grown children lives and works in the Bronx.  She has been an RN for 22 years, 20 of them as a visiting nurse with VNSY Home Care.  She says she’s spent her fair share of Christmases caring for her patients.

“It’s different. When you first go out on the holidays you think everyone’s at home with their family and everything is well, and you come to realize that life goes on.  That not everyone has the pleasure of celebrating the holidays, that health and happiness and peace are not always the situation. As a visiting nurse there is always someone or a family depending on you to provide care and service.”   

She says patients are very welcoming to them on the holidays.

“There is that understanding that you’re giving up your time to come help them and that they need you. People say things like ‘whatever time you come, we appreciate it, thank you so much; we didn’t know how we would get through this without your help.’ This happens particularly when they’re first coming home from the hospital, so you don’t go out on a holiday with a heavy heart because when you go into a home and you get that appreciation from someone who doesn’t understand what to do, someone who needs you, it enriches your soul, it really does.”

Giving back   

When her children were younger, she always had a plan that included telling them she had a responsibility to give back.

“My children, although they were small, I let them know mommy’s got to go do a dressing for someone, someone needs mommy’s help. And they understood and they knew mommy would be back soon enough. The holidays worked out,” she recalled. “You make it work. You make Christmas Eve special, and you make a special breakfast and it’s “ok, I’ll be back!” you know, and while they’re entertained doing something else mommy’s back for activities at some point during the day.  Why do you do it? It’s the difference you make.”

Morgan Murray, CRNP (Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner)

Being able to pick her own schedule and not having to work on the holidays is one of the reasons Morgan Murray, CRNP (Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner), chose to be a travel nurse—that and her love of travel.

The 30-year-old board certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner has been a registered nurse for eight years and has a passion for traveling.

Travel nurses are typically registered nurses that have a minimum of a year’s work experience. They work short-term contracts at hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities filling in gaps where there are nursing shortages in a variety of specialties. Assignments generally last about three months.

A travel nurse since 2014, Murray, who lives in Maryland, loves the idea of being able to get up and go work someplace new every few months. She has never accepted an assignment on Christmas.“I prefer to not work on the holidays or weekends,” she said.

Looking at benefits

“Another benefit of being a travel nurse,” she continued, “Is telling a place when you will work. So, a lot of travel nurses either get block scheduling which means they work a certain amount of time in a row and are able to go back home in between those blocks or they might do self-scheduling.  So, part of being a traveler at this point and time when there’s a huge demand for nurses is that you tell a job when you want to work and being able to have that flexibility and autonomy.  And most people are not willing to go and leave their families for three months and not get Christmas with their children or their family.”

But Murray says before her travel days when she did work Christmas, they were easy days to work because a lot of the hospital administration or medical staff were off, choosing to spend time at home with their families.

Simmonds believes she _ or her kids _ never missed out on family time during the hours she was away on Christmas.

“It’s not just one day it’s the holiday season so my personal life, my community activities, you know, I got my daughter to Christmas plays and we got to do Christmas Eve in some capacity…We always find some way to make it special, some way to acknowledge holidays and realize this holiday is about giving back. I felt it was important for them to realize this, especially as they got into the young adult, pre-teen, ages.  It’s not about what you receive, it’s what you give and to be on the giving end is always a blessing. So, mommy will be back.”

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