There’s never been a more challenging time to be a nurse. Nurses are heroes. No matter what, they take care of us in our most vulnerable times. Despite the stress, uncertainty and health risks posed by COVID-19, nurses have remained committed to meeting the needs of their patients and the community. If there was ever a time to recognize nurses, it’s now. For the third year, Independence Blue Cross (Independence) is honoring the contribution of nurses in the Philadelphia region through our Celebrate Caring campaign.
When you think of a nurse, you may think of the person taking your blood pressure, helping in recovery after a surgery, or perhaps handing you your newborn baby for the first time. And while nurses absolutely fill all of these roles, they also do so much more.
Independence Registered Nurse Health Coach Lisa Lokuta is a Jill-of-all-trades. When you talk to her about her day-to-day conversations with members, the ways in which she helps runs the gamut: consulting with the pharmacist when a member can’t afford a prescription, helping a member with diabetes get a glucometer, or connecting a member with a social worker after he lost his job and was living out of his car. Her ability to pivot depending on member needs is impressive.
During the 33 years that Lisa has been a nurse, she has worked in a hospital, as a home health nurse, and in various departments at Independence. As Lisa tells it, “Three years ago I became a registered nurse Health Coach at Independence, and that, by far, has been my favorite role. I get to talk to members every day and reach them wherever they are — at home, in the hospital, wherever.”
A New Role to Fill: Navigating Members Through a Global Pandemic
One more role nurses filled this past year? Helping members navigate a once-in-a-generation global pandemic. As Lisa tells it, “I’ve talked to many, many members who’ve had COVID-19. I’ve even had some members who’ve had it twice.” In the beginning, Lisa says that much of the focus was on social distancing, wearing masks, and knowing the signs and symptoms of COVID-19. She heard from members who had every conceivable COVID-19 symptom.
In particular, she saw the challenge of the cognitive impact that COVID-19 had on many people. “There were members who had memory issues from COVID-19. Some members have been in the hospital on a ventilator since October,” Lisa says. For families in that situation, not only are there many unknowns, but there are also many balls to juggle. In those situations, Lisa helps both the member and the caregiver, whether it’s with HIPAA forms, arranging for home health care, or helping to facilitate transportation home from the hospital.
And Lisa knows how important it is to support caregivers as much as possible. “As the primary caregiver for my mother, I know how crucial it is to take care of yourself as well. Ask for help when you need it and don’t neglect your own mental health.”
A Conversation Shift
But Lisa is seeing a shift in the conversation around COVID-19, “The promising news is that the focus of many of my conversations has moved on to the COVID-19 vaccine. Many people don’t know where to start, or they have misleading or inaccurate information. So, I’ve had to dispel a lot of rumors. Luckily, I have reliable resources to direct them to: the CDC, their state’s Department of Health webpage, or the Independence COVID-19 website.”
Helping Members Make the Transition to Telemedicine
Another big change that Lisa has been seeing over the past year is that many members are taking advantage of their virtual care benefits. The pandemic saw a huge rise in telemedicine users, many of whom were first-timers.
Lisa was hearing from many members who were delaying routine visits because they were either unaware that they had telemedicine benefits, or they were unfamiliar with the technology. So, Lisa began helping members navigate virtual visits with their providers, directing them to the MDLive app, and reminding them that it’s available with a $0 cost-share.
Prioritizing Mental Health
Independence registered nurse Health Coaches have been conducting depression screenings for members since before COVID-19. But as Lisa emphasizes, “Now, it’s even more important than ever. Everyone is overwhelmed and isolated.” She has found that people are pretty honest about their mental health. “Even if they seem upbeat, if you ask a few questions, they open up. These feelings are often just below the surface, and it helps for them to talk to someone.”
Lisa gives members tips on how to take care of their mental health and also directs them to Independence’s behavioral health services through Magellan. Members aren’t always aware of their behavioral health benefit, so they are appreciative when Lisa directs them to these services. And because Lisa makes it a point to make sure no one falls through the cracks, after she directs a member to Magellan, she will always follow up. “I’m always looking for ways I can fill in the gaps in care,” she says.
Lisa’s top recommendations for prioritizing mental health are:
- Go for a walk.
- Get out in nature.
- Spend time with a pet, spouse, or other loved one. (If you spend time with someone outside your household, make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing.)
- Try exercising at home. There are plenty of YouTube videos, apps, etc. that offer exercise videos.
- Download a meditation or mindfulness app.
- Practice yoga.
- Limit your news intake.
- Check out the Know Your Mind resources.
Passing on Healthy Habits
Many of the coping techniques Lisa recommends are ones that she practices herself. She walks before work and practices yoga. As the mother of 18-year-old twins, she also tries to teach her kids healthy habits. Like many kids, they’ve had a year of virtual learning which has been challenging. “I’m always trying to teach them the importance of mindfulness and coping techniques. When they go off to college, I want them to have resources and healthy coping mechanisms to deal with any challenges they may encounter. I’m not sure they listen to me, but I’ll never stop trying!”