By Laura Krantz
A new regional public health nurse will help three local towns tackle a big problem: making sure residents take their medications properly, officials said Tuesday.
Thanks to a wellness grant administered by the MetroWest Regional Collaborative, nurse Alyssa Kaiser has been hired part time to run preventative medicine programs in Ashland, Hopkinton and Medway. The programs will range from mental health to concussion safety to fall prevention for the elderly, local health agents said Tuesday.
"I’m able to be creative and implement a lot of programs I don’t think just being a clinical nurse you’re able to do," said Kaiser, 30, recently graduated from the Mass. College of Pharmacy and Health Science’s Worcester campus.
She said she is eager to begin learning the major health needs of each town.
"What I’m trying to do is trying to take a look at all of the town sand trying to see what are the issues…in each one of the towns and what can we do to help solve that problem or prevent these issues?" she said. "I don’t think that has been addressed before."
The nurse is meeting with local officials this month. Once her work is in full swing, one of her main goals will be to encourage residents, especially seniors, to properly administer their medications.
"There’s such a large amount of the elderly population that becomes sick from either taking too little of their drugs or too much," said Stephanie Bacon, Medway’s health agent.
According to a 2010 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, as many as half of all patients do not adhere faithfully to their prescription medication regimens, resulting in more than $100 billion spent annually on avoidable hospitalizations.
The article said unorganized care as well as psychological issues, health literacy and side effects can lead to people not taking their medicine properly.
Kaiser said many adults, not only seniors, struggle to take medicine properly. They can receive dangerous combinations of medicines from two different doctors or have dietary restrictions that interfere with a medicine, for example.
"It’s a huge, huge issue," she said.
Kaiser will work with seniors, schools and sports groups on topics including mental health and abuse, disease prevention and nutrition.
She was at the Medway senior center Tuesday talking with seniors about medicine adherence, Bacon said.
Hopkinton Public Health Administrator Ed Wirtanen Tuesday said he is thrilled to have a nurse in an era of shrinking budgets and an uncertain future of public health. He said the town hasn’t had a nurse since at least 2008.
"We’re desperately trying to get a nurse," he said.
Bacon said Kaiser will also help the elderly prevent themselves from falling. For seniors, a single fall can cause health complications from which many never recover.
"Literally, a fall can be the end of their life," Bacon said.
Those who do recover often live in fear of falling again, she said. The nurse Tuesday gave out spike-type tools to put on the bottom of canes to help prevent falling in icy weather, Bacon explained.
Mark Oram, Ashland health agent, said people often set up pillboxes but don’t always adhere to the plan.
He said the nurse will also film public service announcements for local cable access channels in the three towns. The part-time position is scheduled to run through July but Oram said they have asked that it be extended through the end of 2013.
Source: MetroWest Daily News