By Karen Schmidt
“Success is measured in small steps.” That’s how Marcia Gordon, RN, characterizes her work as the staff nurse at Mary’s Place Day Center in Seattle, a drop-in center for homeless women and children. From evaluating foot care needs and tending to cold symptoms, to sitting for an hour listening patiently to a guest’s fears and concerns, Gordon uses a diverse range of skills and ample compassion.
“My primary role is to see the guests [as the women and children who visit daily are called] one on one and attend to their health needs,” Gordon said. Concerns among the daily guests are similar to those at a doctor’s: headaches, a need for reading glasses, wound dressings. Often the need is for someone to listen. Gordon also encourages healthy habits and health knowledge through short, weekly talks. Each Tuesday, guests can either attend her talk or complete a chore at the center. About 150-160 guests visit the center each day.
Since Gordon’s position covers 15 hours of nursing care weekly, she depends on volunteers to fill in the rest of the center’s 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday schedule. Of the 22 volunteer nurses on the roster, eight consistently provide services; some help weekly, others every other week or once a month.
“At times, [nurses] are the guests’ only health advocate,” Gordon said. “We give them the opportunity to talk in an unhurried atmosphere, listen to their needs, answer their questions.
“The wonderful thing about Mary’s Place is that these women find that [there is] someone who will listen to the issues they’re dealing with. They can get easy access to us, and they learn that we’re someone they can trust.”
Renee DeVinck, RN, discovered that volunteering at Mary’s Place was “a huge stretch” at first. She had retired from nursing, but wanted to give back to the community. “I’m not a psych nurse, and many women have mental health needs that often go along with homelessness,” she said.
A former mother-baby nurse, DeVinck especially enjoys working with the children and pregnant women offering them newborn and prenatal education. She appreciates both the challenge of volunteering, and the satisfaction of her involvement.
Gordon and the volunteers aim to connect each woman to a primary care provider who can follow their care outside Mary’s Place. Though this effort often falls through for a multitude of reasons, Gordon doesn’t give up.
Recently she was successful — after years of trying with one guest — to convince her to get medical care for a broken foot. Gordon worked with another community outreach organization to provide transportation to get the woman to her appointment, but it ultimately was up to the woman to show up to be transported there.
“Before she left here, she rested with her foot up while we jerry-rigged her shoe, used some moleskin for comfort and gave her a donated walker. I don’t know if she’ll make the appointment, but I feel this was a success because she felt safe and valued and cared for,” Gordon said.
Executive Director Marty Hartman, BS, believes the nurses are critical in restoring dignity, rebuilding self-esteem and moving women forward to housing and hope. “Whether taking temps, holding a hand, helping make appointments or listening to the pain and struggle, the nurses remind guests that they are not alone,” Hartman said. •
Karen Schmidt, RN, is a freelance writer.
FOR MORE, visit http://www.marysplaceseattle.org.