Still Making House Calls

When you meet Nina Summers, RN, you are immediately struck by her soft voice and unassuming manner. She doesn’t like crowds. Or general chemistry (more on that later). But each day, her quiet strength brings hope and health to patient after patient as she rolls down the roads of southeastern Washington.

As a home-health nurse at Walla Walla General Hospital (WWGH), the pace is not quite as hectic as it was during her 10 years on the general hospital floors. She typically sees five to six patients a day and spends 30 to 45 minutes with each. Along the way, she tends to catheters, performs assessments and provides skilled nursing care.

“I love having that one-on-one time with no interruptions,” says Nina. “It’s a privilege to treat my patients in their own environments … to get to know their families. They’re not just a diagnosis.”

Growing up in Othello, Washington, Nina was initially drawn to nursing by stories of her grandfather, a nurse, who she never knew. The tales of hospital life fascinated her, and by age 10, she was reading every nursing book she could get her hands on.

Although her general chemistry course nearly convinced her that she’d made the wrong choice, Nina stuck with it and earned her Bachelor of Science in nursing from Walla Walla College. After graduating, she worked on WWGH’s general medical and post-surgical floors and frequently floated to other units such as obstetrics and critical care. When the hospital implemented Ask-a-Nurse, she traded her scrubs for street clothes and spent the next several years providing referrals and triage advice to patients by phone.

The program was eventually closed down, and she found herself without a job. While some would have panicked, Nina saw it as an opportunity to explore a new career path.

“I had always been kind of interested in home care, and they had an opening,” Nina recalls. “I was very persistent.”

Her persistence paid off, and today her supervisor says he would trust her with his life. “Not only are her clinical skills and critical thinking top-notch,” says Bernie Hartnell, director of home-care services at WWGH. “She serves as the hands of Christ every day.”

One of those days will always stand out in Nina's mind. A 90-plus-year-old patient suffering from cardiac and respiratory problems was rapidly deteriorating. Her physician seemed to have written her off as a lost cause, but Nina was convinced that more could be done. She quietly persisted, and, after repeated phone calls, the doctor finally relented. Now in her late nineties, the woman is still going strong, thanks to Nina and some timely medication.

Nina candidly admits to praying for all of her patients. And this woman was no exception. “I know God leads me to make better decisions than I would on my own,” she says. “At the end of the day, it feels good to know that I’ve been able to help another family through tough times.”

October 01, 2005 / Feature