by Traci Chapman, staff writer
For Rhonda Chronister, nursing goes far beyond health care – it is a fluid thing, something that changes with each patient she gets to know and every need that individual might have.
“Of course, nursing and making sure their physical and medical needs are met is the first thing we consider, but for many of those people we see, it goes far beyond that – there are other issues, other problems that might be, if not causing the physical issue, at least making it worse,” Chronister said.
That’s what led Chronister to her most recent posting in her 35-year nursing career – Central Communities Health Access Network.
“I love this so much because we get to talk to people, we develop a relationship with the families, we know who they are, and they know we’re here for them,” Chronister said.
Central Communities Health Access Network – CC-HAN – was founded to help SoonerCare patients improve their health, and their healthcare options, while also focusing on challenges many of those patients and their families face.
“That’s one of the beauties of this,” Chronister said. “It begins with nursing, with the healing and the medical care and making sure our patients are healthy, but then it goes so much further – and that gives you such a feeling of satisfaction, to be able to help people in so many ways.”
Those ways include guiding families who might need food or even gas money to make it to their doctor’s appointments, or it might be a patient’s brother who has mental health issues or his grandmother, who’s about to lose her home, Chronister said.
“There is something gratifying knowing that whatever the need is – I’d say 99 percent of our clients are successful in getting their needs met,” she said.
Chronister’s main emphasis since joining the program in 2013 has been implementing an asthma improvement program, focusing mainly on the youngest of CC-HAN’s patients – currently about 36 of them take part in the program, Chronister said.
“It’s about education, about getting supplies – we have donated supplies like nebulizers and other equipment,” she said. “We get them stable, work to keep them out of the emergency room, keep them out of urgent care.”
CC-HAN started the asthma program after founders Karen McKeever and Rosemary Klepper noticed the need because of the many ER visits due to asthma. Once the program started, it quickly grew, in great part because of Chronister’s investment in it, McKeever said. “Rhonda has been an angel from heaven – everyone loves her, and she works so well one-to-one, not only with the patients, but also with their families and with the medical providers,” she said.
Those interactions have translated into “amazing” success, McKeever said – patients are avoiding emergency situations and younger patients are staying in school, rather than falling behind. The program has done so well, Chronister is going to begin work on another area, one close to her heart – behavioral health.
“There is a huge gap in services and help for these patients, and they need someone to help guide them through – to get them the treatment they need, make sure they stay on their medications, make sure they make their appointments,” Chronister said. Even as Chronister works to transition to the new program, she and McKeever have already started the behavioral health groundwork, they said. Focusing on the lowest scoring patients on the Motivational Index, the pair has been working to set up a network that can make all the difference to those who are suffering the most, setting up the proper treatment options and preparing to help patients who might, at first, be reluctant.
“These people are proud, they don’t want to have to ask for help, they don’t want anyone to know they’re maybe not making it,” McKeever said.
“It’s our job to talk to them, to let them know we’re here to help them and listen to them, not judging them,” Chronister said.
Listening to Chronister talk about her CC-HAN experiences – and hearing McKeever describe her co-workers’ dedication to her patients – is really not surprising when looking at her background. From the beginning, Chronister has worked with the most vulnerable, over the years making a difference for thousands of patients, those who know her said.
She started as an LPN in 1982, working at Colonial Estates Nursing Home. With her graduation from Seminole State College and RN degree in hand eight years later, Chronister worked for six years as a nurse manager at OakCrest Hospital. It was there she would begin working in mental health care, over time expanding her knowledge and nursing skills until she in 2002 became Director of Nursing at Center of Family Love in Okarche.
“I loved it there, it was a wonderful experience, and I loved the residents,” she said of the time she spent at the facility dedicated to developmentally disabled adults.
In 2005, Chronister moved to Russell Murray Hospice in El Reno, working with end-of-life patients and helping to make their final time a quality one, she said.
“I have had an amazing career and life, and I am so blessed to be able to do what I am now, with who I’m able to do it with,” Chronister said, looking at McKeever. “We are making lives better, and there’s nothing better than that.”