It’s OK if you don’t know where to go. Really, it is. It’s OK if you can’t recall what they told you about your incision when you were leaving the hospital. And it’s OK if you don’t really remember whether you were supposed to call for a follow-up appointment or the doctor’s office was going to call you. You were taking medicine and had just had surgery, and looking back, everything that was happening then does seem a little hazy. Jennifer Ross, RN, understands completely, and that’s why she is here to help you, your family and everyone else who undergoes surgery at the UC Neuroscience Institute at University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
Mrs. Ross, who prefers to be called Jenny, is a Nurse Navigator for UCNI, one of four institutes of the UC College of Medicine and UC Health. Her job is to help patients navigate their treatment path before their admission to the UC Medical Center, during their hospitalization, and in some cases after they go home. Whether she is answering questions or helping patients and families navigate logistics, she is only too happy to be of service. “I tell patients and families that I have all the time in the world,” she says.
Funding for Jenny’s position comes from UC Health and from a generous donation from the Harold C. Schott Foundation.
On a typical day, Jenny works with half a dozen surgical patients and their families in the hospital, while coordinating with many more patients who are about to have surgery or have been discharged. During a recent week, she followed more than 20 patients who had been treated for stroke or other neurovascular disorders. In addition, she coordinates with UCNI’s growing volunteer corps, which provides hospital amenities ranging from crossword puzzles to friendly conversation, and she works with the UC Brain Tumor Center’s Patient Advocacy Committee, which oversees Katarina’s Care Bags and the Allies for Hope and Healing mentoring program.
Patients who are scheduled for surgery typically come in contact with Jenny the day before, when she gives them a call to ask whether they have any questions or concerns and to make sure they know when they are supposed to arrive and where they are supposed to go. She also confirms that they have a realistic expectation of how long they will be in the hospital. “They may think they’re going to be in the hospital a day, when I know they will be discharged in three,” Jenny says.
In some instances, Jenny will meet a patient well before the surgery. If a doctor summons her to the patient’s pre-surgery office visit, she will head over to the UC Physicians Office Building, meet the patient there, and then give the patient a tour of the hospital unit where the patient will recover following surgery. “Sometimes patients from out of town are a bit nervous about being in a big hospital,” she notes. “Seeing the actual unit, with our caring staff at work, can be reassuring.”
On the day of surgery, Jenny takes on extra-special duties. While the patient is in the operating room, she goes to the waiting area and meets the patient’s family. She does “a little hand-holding and reassuring,” while updating families about what will likely happen the rest of the day. She tells them how long their loved one will be in the PACU (post-anesthesia care unit) after the surgery is over, what area of the fourth floor the patient will go to next, and how the family is to get there.
Jenny also assists certain patients with their transition to after-care. If the patient has suffered a stroke or intracranial hemorrhage, or if the patient is considered at risk of not getting sufficient support at home, she follows up with the patient a week after discharge to ensure that the patient is getting the assistance he or she needs from family members.
“There can be a lot of confusion when patients go home,” Jenny says. “They get a lot of information in the hospital, but then they have to go home and digest it. When I make that follow-up call, they start to think of those last-minute questions. They may have a prescription for physical therapy and occupational therapy, and they have no idea what to do with it. I call the patients and touch base to make sure they have a primary care physician and to make sure they are taking their medications and getting the follow-up laboratory tests they need.”
Jenny calls those patients again about three months later, making her usual checks but also looking for additional issues. If she notes anything out of the ordinary, she refers the patient to his or her physician.
When the position of nurse navigator for patients with stroke and brain tumors became available at the UC Neuroscience Institute, Jenny knew the job was perfect for her. “Talking to patients and helping them understand their care was my favorite part of being a staff nurse,” she says. “This is what I was meant to do. I can talk to anybody.”
Jenny knows she is having an impact every time she hears the words, “I’m so glad you checked on me.” She gives patients her phone number and encourages them to call if they have questions or problems. “I’m here to help find the answer for them,” she says. “I’m a link in the treatment chain that patients really need.”
— Cindy Starr