The Palm Beach Atlantic Volunteer Nursing Corps has blessed thousands of county residents suffering for lack of health care; and the VNC has blessed dozens of partner agencies, helping wherever help is needed. In doing so, the VNC also has blessed the volunteer nurses themselves, said Program Director Dr. Fontaine Timmer.
Every patient interaction becomes an opportunity for the nurses to reconnect with the reasons they chose to pursue their profession. “Nurses are so busy dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s during the workday, and yet they are very compassionate people,” Timmer said. “This is really why they went into nursing. This is so rewarding to them, and they leave feeling so accomplished.”
VNC participants include student nurses, active and retired nurses, and PBA School of Nursing doctoral students and faculty members. With more than 120 nurses in its registry, including many who are bilingual, last year VNC volunteers gave a total of 1,500 hours to the community. The program is underwritten by a grant from Palm Healthcare Foundation, and every service is free.
The three-year-old Volunteer Nursing Corps program focuses on quality of care, reaching the underserved and providing education for prevention of disease. Corps volunteers do not diagnose or treat. They educate and refer, making the rounds of senior centers, health fairs, low-income residences, shelters and other partner agencies. A volunteer nurse might give back-to-school physicals or help someone understand how to make a doctor appointment. In January, Timmer and 23 of her volunteer nurses spent a day at the Palm Beach Outlets, engaging with passersby and ultimately providing more than 200 risk-assessment screenings.
Sometimes, a volunteer nurse simply listens. “People love nurses. They trust nurses. Her eyes see the whole person, the social and economic background,” Timmer said. “Can they afford the medications? What’s keeping them from being compliant? We are meeting people where they are.”
Joe Pisz is the service coordinator for one of VNC’s community partners, the Villa Regina apartments, a HUD-subsidized low-income community for seniors. In only a few months, Pisz says, the nurses are already making a difference. “Doctors today are not able to spend much time with any patient, and seniors are no exception. The VNC nurses are able to not only check blood pressure, but they also help our residents understand medication and health instructions already given to them by their doctor. They are another line of defense that can help keep our residents from falling through the cracks in the healthcare system,” Pisz said.
At the Palm Beach chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, volunteer nurses have aided in efforts to coordinate physical and behavioral health. “They have reached out to us and maintained an excellent working relationship, participating in NAMI activities and providing educational workshops to NAMI constituents,” said chapter Executive Director C. Marsha Martino. “This is a very positive experience for a population that often feels not heard by the medical community.”
For the volunteers, all the logistics are taken care of, right down to making sure the nurses know where to park. “We coordinate everything for them,” Timmer said. “All they need to do is to tell us what area they need to volunteer in, whether that’s a shelter for women, or with kids, or with the elderly, or at a health fair. I do not send any nurse anywhere that I personally have not been. We want them to have a wonderful experience.”
Looking to the future, Timmer hopes area hospitals will create incentives for their nurses to get involved. She also hopes to begin work with Palm Beach County Fire Rescue’s mobile unit, to help bring health care screenings and medication checks into neighborhoods and homes.
“We’re preventing diseases,” she said. “Most of the people we see use the hospital as their primary health care provider. They’re not going to the ER if we can teach them and educate them. We can stop these diseases, which saves healthcare dollars.”