By Kim Walter
Two Shenandoah County nurses were recently recognized for their outstanding work, but they shared more in common than just a profession.
Beth Ashley, a home health nurse from Woodstock, and her daughter Brooke Ashley-Burk, a nurse and Valley Health Transition Coach from Maurertown, were two surprised recipients of the Diseases Attacking the Immune System (DAISY) award Wednesday at the Valley Health Home Health offices in Winchester.
The award was established in 2000 by family members of Patrick Barnes, who died at age 33 from complications of an auto-immune disorder.
"The care Patrick and his family received from nurses while he was ill inspired this unique means of thanking nurses for making a profound difference in the lives of their patients and patient families," explained Kathy Tagnesi, Vice President of Nursing. "These unsung heroes are seldom recognized for the superhuman work they do."
Nominations for the award come from co-workers, physicians, family members and even patients. In the Valley Health system, this was the first time the award was given to a mother and daughter.
Ashley-Burk had nominated her mother following one particular event last summer. Ashley had gone on a regularly scheduled home visit to find a patient covered in feces.
"I had her check her blood sugar because she's diabetic, among a number of other things, but that was OK," Ashley said. "At that point, there wasn't technically a reason to call 911."
Ashley then got the woman's clothes into a washer, and then maneuvered her into a shower. From there, she took the woman's wheelchair outside to hose it off despite having to do so in a thunderstorm. When Ashley checked on the woman again, she was in and out of consciousness, but still not due to her diabetes.
"This woman is a diabetic, an amputee, has some mental disorders ... she has everything," Ashley said.
Since the event, the woman is no longer a home health patient, and Ashley said she hopes it's because the woman is doing better.
"She and her family were very grateful," she said. "I guess I had a moment of panic when I first walked in the house ... you never know what you're going to get with this job. But I just did what I had to do."
Ashley-Burk read her recommendation for her mother, noting how she goes "above and beyond the call of duty."
"She is the reason I wanted to become a nurse, and I know firsthand how much she cares ... she's my mother," she read, smiling.
Employees in the department clapped, but award committee members announced that there was another award recipient in the room.
"Shut up," Ashley-Burk exclaimed. "You guys got me!"
Ashley-Burk was recognized for the work she did right after starting a new position with home health as transition coach, which entails helping vulnerable patients manage their health and avert medical crises after discharge from the hospital.
Just a month after starting the newly created position, Ashley-Burke tried getting in touch with a man who hadn't shown up to get his medications.
"I tried calling, but it turns out the guy didn't have a phone," she said. "I waited a day, but then I decided to just stop by his house. I found a way in, and he was there and hadn't had medications for several days after leaving the hospital ... he said he couldn't afford it and didn't have a way to get to the pharmacy."
After checking his blood pressure to find that it was high, Ashley-Burke decided to go pick up and pay for 14 days worth of medications for the man.
"If I hadn't stopped by when I did, he would've been right back in the hospital due to heart failure," she said.
Ashley said part of the reason working in home health is difficult, is because of the lack of insurance coverage for discharge patients.
"They used to go to a rehab or skilled nursing clinic for a week or so after leaving the hospital," she said. "But now, we see them two or three weeks earlier, so we're dealing with a whole new set of complications."
"Sometimes, I go home after a day like the one I had, and I figure no one will really know or understand all the stuff I went through or had to get done," Ashley added. "So, it really is nice to be recognized ... I had no idea someone would think of me."
Along with a certificate stating the appreciation for their actions, each nurse also received a sculpture called "The Healing Touch," which is hand-carved by artists of the Shona Tribe in Africa.
"This award is important," Ashley-Burk said. "We do a lot, but we love what we do. It's very flattering to know someone else noticed you doing a good job."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org