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Published on July 25, 2016

Public health nurse is a lifeline for the Outer Cape

Public health nurse is a lifeline for the Outer Cape

A photograph on the wall of George Hitchcock’s cramped Wellfleet apartment shows him bronzed and muscled on the deck of a fishing boat, alongside a 650-pound Mako shark he captured off George’s Bank.

But that was before he suffered a stroke five years ago and his health continued to deteriorate.

By the kitchen sink, Hitchcock, 68, has 14 different medications lined up for his nurse, Dee Yeater, RN, who goes about organizing them into clearly identified compartments for the upcoming week. They help him control everything from his blood pressure to acid reflux to trouble breathing.

“I don’t know what I would do without her,” he says of Yeater, a public health nurse with the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod. “She’s my muse.”

Yeater is a lifeline for many on the Outer Cape. On this day, she is off to Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown.

Along the way, she will stop at the town’s senior centers, checking in with outreach directors and workers. She’ll also tend to the healthcare needs of Hitchcock and another client – a 93-year-old woman.

Welcome to the world of the public health nurse, a job that knows no time boundaries.

From Assessing Home Safety to Coordinating Care

On one early Sunday morning, Yeater received a frantic message from a friend of the poet, Provincetown’s Hilde Oleson, who was complaining of severe pain in her eye. Yeater coordinated with Oleson’s primary care provider to get her to Cape Cod Hospital for evaluation and treatment for what turned out to be shingles of the eye.

Most of the towns on the Cape contract with the VNA to provide public health nursing. The nurses do everything, from conducting blood pressure and health counseling clinics, to organizing health fairs to flu clinics and communicable disease surveillance.

One of VNA’s most valuable services is visiting frail elders who are identified by Council On Aging outreach workers.  The public health nurse can assess for home safety and management of the client’s chronic conditions, and can coordinate services to help them remain at home.

“This is the part of my job I love the most,” said Yeater. “It’s why I became a nurse in the first place. It takes me back to my roots.”

Yeater’s role as a public health nurse – at AGE, she’s reached a time in life when many of her peers have retired – speaks to her passion for the profession after a career that might surprise many of her current patients.

For many years, Yeater was executive director of the American Red Cross on Cape Cod. Then she was recruited by the Red Cross to become its national senior associate for Disaster Health Services, working out of Washington, D.C.  That assignment came in the wake of the 9/11 disaster.