Community Partnerships Support Lanai’s Sole Public Health Nurse
As the only full-time public health nurse on the island of Lanai, Unit 9 member Linda Mau is well-known among residents and keeps a full schedule. But as busy as she is, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Mau’s position had been vacant for about three years after the previous longtime nurse retired, and Mau and a few other nurses from Maui were traveling back and forth to Lanai to help with basic health services. The community was very vocal about filling the position. “Everyone has been warm and open to me from the get-go. Many residents thanked me for being here,” said Mau, who has been happily ensconced as the island’s public health nurse since October 2012. “The community looks out for one another.”
From student immunizations for the island’s only school and monthly TB testing to prenatal and well-baby care, elder case management and home health care, Mau’s job involves caring for individuals from every demographic on the island. While most nurses care for one patient at a time, public health nurses care for an entire community. They provide direct health care services, increasing access to care, helping people improve their health and educating them about health issues. Like Mau, who teaches chronic disease management workshops and caregiver workshops on the weekends.
It’s an ideal job for Mau, who has help from her paramedical assistant, Gina Alonzo. “I love working with people,” she said. “Every day is different.”
With Lanai’s small size and limited health care resources, Mau said “we need to think outside of the box.” She recounted one case of a man with dementia who lived alone and continuously forgot to take his medications, putting him at risk for kidney failure. Mau and Emergency Medical Services worked together with his physician, who initiated the partnership, and came up with a system where they would each make regular visits to check up on him and remind him to take his medications. Case management, she added, is a role everyone on the island performs to fill those gaps in services. Another example of people working together is the Lanai Aging Network Coalition, whose efforts created Hospice Hawaii Lanai and Arcadia Home Health (Ke Ola Hou O Lanai).
Since she has been on Lanai, Mau — utilizing her 30 years of nursing experience — has already helped make strides in improving access to care and providing well-needed programs and services. Her work with seniors, in particular, has gotten noticed. Last year she was recognized by the Hawaii State Department of Health and the Fall Prevention Consortium for her “dedication and passion for helping prevent senior falls in her community.” Lanai’s senior population makes up about 25 percent of the island, and Mau has been focusing on fall prevention safety for them through tai chi, the graceful Chinese martial art that involves a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner and accompanied by deep breathing.
“Tai chi has proven to be effective in preventing senior falls,“ said Mau, who took it upon herself to learn tai chi and is now a certified instructor. “It’s generally safe and requires no special equipment, can be done inside or outside, alone or in a group class. Seated tai chi is even safer.”
Mau has also helped to build the island’s capacity in terms of emergency preparedness. An active volunteer with American Red Cross, Maui County Health Volunteers (Medical Reserve Corps) and the Community Emergency Response Team, she has conducted recruitment workshops and set up Red Cross training to prepare for natural disasters and assist in disaster relief. Mau proudly reported that seniors have made requests to have emergency readiness workshops in preparation for the hurricane season.
Currently with heavy construction on Lanai and temporary closure of the island’s two main hotels, Mau noted a change in the dynamics of the community and rise in socio-economic issues. Nevertheless, she continues to enjoy her work, which offers her opportunities, challenges and rewards.
“Our mission says it all: Public health nurses listen and respond to community needs based on our professional knowledge and relationships with individuals, families and communities,” Mau said. “In all respects, public health nursing is busy everywhere. It’s busy but never boring.”