Veteran nurse coaches colleagues to prevent skin breakdown in elderly patients

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Few nurses know the pain of pressure ulcers as well as Complex Continuing Care’s Theresa Parker, RPN at Chatham-Kent Health Alliance. Theresa’s mother, an amazing woman, died from complications of bilateral pressure ulcers. It was avoidable and Theresa vowed, “No other person will die from a pressure ulcer if I can help it.”

The Late Career Nursing Initiative provides Ontario nurses over the age of fifty-five with dedicated time away from the heavy lifting of their normal routine. When approached, it was no surprise Theresa chose the passion of her heart ‘pressure ulcer prevention’ and who better to show younger staff the new best practices? Theresa remembers all the outdated methods that have tried and failed over her 32 years. She remembers using heat lamps to dry out wounds. And she remembers the day the rubber donuts were removed from the unit. Nurses used these now outdated methods because they believed they were helpful and would restore skin to health.

Theresa tells younger nurses about how ‘best practice’ is the best available knowledge of the day and today nursing best practice is heavily based on research. “Before I retire, I can make a difference. This is my legacy to nursing, my mom, and my daughter Heather, a registered nurse and clinical instructor.”

What a difference Theresa’s made! Stepping out of her comfort zone, Theresa worked with Chatham-Kent Health Alliance’s advanced practice leader, wound and dkin specialist and clinical manager in the rollout of the Braden Scale and a new selection of specialty mattresses. She co-authored an experiential learning package for nurses to use with patients and their families so they can understand their role in preventing pressure ulcers. She monitors and coaches to maintain high compliance for Braden Scale use and surface selection. Using these keys to success, Theresa’s most recent audits resulted in no new pressure ulcers for her home CCC unit. Theresa smiles at the journey.

“After the first day, I thought I am way out of my league here.” With encouragement from her daughter Heather, she stuck with it. “Then I thought, I can’t believe they are paying me for this, but after a while I realized how much work a project can be! I gained an appreciation for how many steps managers have to go through to put a new process in place. I think everyone on the front line should have an opportunity to work on a project like this.”

This experience recharged Theresa’s nursing career with the climatic moment being a presenter of this project at the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario’s Healthy Workplaces in Action Conference in November. Prior to the project, Theresa was looking forward to her retirement days. She and her husband Mike have long looked forward to days of golfing and boating together, but because of her renewed enthusiasm for nursing, she has decided to remain a casual employee post-retirement. This initiative has helped one more nurse remain in the profession at a time when every nurse is needed.

The effects of Theresa’ positive attitude on nursing and her embracing of new best practice information has yet to be realized. This month Theresa will ‘hand over the baton’ to RNAO Best Practice Champions on her unit. Theresa has met with four best practice champions from the Complex Continuing Care and Medicine units where she shared her passion for wound prevention. Her ability to ignite passion for embracing best practice knowledge has been an inspiration to the Rehab/Complex Continuing Care program.