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DPH Nurses Take Center Stage at CDC Symposium

December 13, 2013

Originally published May 20, 2013

Public health has changed the way Sandee Simmons approaches her patients as a registered nurse.

Simmons, who began her career as a pediatric nurse in the hospital setting, is now nurse coordinator for Children's Medical Services (CMS) in South Health District 8-1, based in Valdosta.

"Those kids came in sick to see me; I sent them home with medicine. 'Here is your prescription. Go follow up with your physician.' I had no idea if anything ever got done. I saw them again in two months and I asked, 'Are you sick again?'"

Simmons delves a little deeper these days.

"Now that I am in public health I actually realize that they may not have access to those medicines," said Simmons. "They may not have access to get back to that physician. So now when I do work at the hospital when they need me, I ask the patient if they are going to be able to get the medicine."

Simmons' story was one of many shared during Public Health and Health Care Collaboration: Nursing Innovations and Opportunities, a nursing symposium held last week at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Hundreds of nurses gathered to share success stories and lessons learned in the field of nursing, covering topics ranging from telemedicine to organizing makeshift community hospitals during natural disasters, and to honor those who've excelled in the field.

Simmons joined a panel of professionals at the symposium to discuss her vision for telemedicine in the South Health District: To ensure there is a comprehensive system of specialty healthcare services for children and youth diagnosed with chronic medical conditions from birth to age 21, despite where they live.

Her efforts to bring telemedicine to South Georgia began in 2007. At that time, CMS collaborated with the Medical College of Georgia and Georgia Regents University for onsite pediatric specialty clinics, a new way of providing services to patients who otherwise would not get care, Simmons said.

Over time, doctors faced scheduling obstacles due to patients' transportation problems.

"In rural South Georgia, any pediatric specialist is located three-and-a-half hours away and there are no good roads and all back roads," said Simmons. "Some of my patients don't like all the traffic and don't like the big city. To get the patients to Atlanta or Augusta, CMS provides case management. It is difficult at times. They don't have transportation or if they have a car, the car may not work or the car is running low on oil or gas expenses. It is difficult to get [CMS] patients to specialty care."

Not only did families have travel issues, but sometimes physicians did, too, said Simmons.

"In Augusta, we lost one of the pulmonologists who could not get there every month so we had to think of other ways to get care to our patients."

The pulmonologist suggested Simmons look into telemedicine to address the problem. Simmons did just that and was "in awe and amazed" after sitting in on a telemedicine visit. Soon, her district was working with the Georgia Partnership for Telemedicine and the Medical College of Georgia to establish telemedicine in south Georgia.  

Simmons knows telemedicine is helping the district's pediatric and adolescent patients. During a pulmonary evaluation, Simmons and the doctor listened to a child's heartbeat and heard a loud and unusual murmur. They immediately referred her to the cardiac clinic for further evaluation.

"She has a rare form of pulmonary hypertension. This is not a good outcome for this child but at least there is access to care," said Simmons.

Registered nurse Kathy Woods, Children 1st coordinator for Cobb-Douglas Public Health 3-1, also took the stage at the symposium as the recipient of the 2013 Public Health Nursing Practice Excellence Award. Woods was selected because of demonstrated leadership as a champion in her public health district for safe sleep advocacy and injury prevention for the birth to five populations. She researched areas of greatest need, developed and delivered risk-reduction strategies and created opportunities to increase awareness of safe sleep for infants.

Woods has collaborated closely with the SAFE Kids program to receive safety equipment to distribute on home visits free of charge to clients. This year, Woods' advocacy helped ensure Children 1st received a $3,750 foundation grant for safety supplies and a $2,500 Cribs for Kids grant to continue to replenish their supplies. Her public health leadership in child injury prevention has saved the lives of babies and children due to her unwavering efforts.

Woods, a 15-year veteran, was humbled by the recognition.

"I truly love what I do every day as a public health nurse," she said.