She's There in Sickness and in Health
Keeping Grafton healthy is the major role of public health nurse Trish Parent.
In these days of state budget cutbacks, health care woes and municipal offices doing more with less, the concept of Grafton having its own public health nurse reflects the town's dedication to its residents' well-being.
Although she may not go door-to-door in a cloak with a medical bag dispensing care to townspeople like "Lady of the Lamp" Florence Nightingale, Trish Parent is dedicated to giving as much individualized care as she can to the residents of Grafton and Upton, the other community she serves.
Grafton's public health nurse, overseen by the town's Board of Health, goes way back. Parent says the first public health nurse in town, Pam Crawford, started in the mid-1980s. The town's commitment to community health has remained steady, Parent said. "There has been a nurse constantly, except for almost a year right before I was hired," she said.
Why a public health nurse? Why do some towns have one and some do not?
Many towns subcontract to visiting nurses associations or hospitals for public health needs, Parent said. But Grafton gravitates toward more personalized, individualized care. Sutton also has a public health nurse, Parent said, who also divides her time among several towns in Central Massachusetts. Ashburnham, Auburn and Ware, among other towns, also have public health nurses,
Parent, 51, has served as the Upton town nurse for the past 15 years, and has been in the field of nursing for about 30 years. A contracted position, Parent works about 22 hours each week in Grafton. She is a resident of Milford. Before working as a public health nurse, she worked on a medical/surgical unit at Milford Regional Medical Center, which gave her a broad spectrum of experience in the health care field.
Some public health nurse responsibilities are required by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, such as distributing vaccines, administering immunizations, tracking and investigating communicable diseases and running immunization clinics at appropriate times. Parent is busy with seasonal flu clinics in the two towns where she works. But other services are based on need in that individual town.
A public health nurse can be a health education advocate, help ensure food and air are safe, test for tuberculosis, visit home-bound seniors, give referrals, run blood pressure clinics and do consultations for day care centers. A public health nurse may be the first line of prevention, educating families about healthy eating, safety in the workplace or anti-smoking information.
But in days of economic downturn, the nurse can also be a last-resort provider of medical care for those without health coverage if need be. "We don't ask, they don't tell," said Parent.
Public nursing makes good fiscal sense, according to the American Public Health Association Web site. "A healthy public gets sick less frequently and spends less money on health care; this means better economic productivity and an improved quality of life for everyone." Prevention is crucial, Parent agrees. Her motto has always been, "Public health is your health," she said.
How is Grafton doing in its efforts to ready for flu season? What has H1N1 taught us? How is Grafton ahead of the curve in maintaining public health? Find out next Thursday in the second part of this story.