Community Care in the Time of COVID VNA nurses hit the road with educational campaign

April Brazinsky | Photo by David Royal

As a nurse, we have the opportunity to heal the heart, mind, soul and body of our patients, their families and ourselves. They may forget your name, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
— Maya Angelou, author, poet and civil rights activist

By Aparna Sreenivasan

April Brazinsky and Andrea Zoodsma never worked the same day twice. As registered nurses with Monterey County VNA [Visiting Nurse Association] Community Services, they provide school nursing services, work site wellness, do CPR certification and administer flu shots, among other duties. “I tell April that you never know where this job is going to take you,“ said Zoodsma.

Then COVID-19 hit. And they had to reinvent themselves. “We had to revise our model to meet the need,” said Zoodsma, 63, director of community services at VNA.

Best known for hospice and home care, the Community VNA nurses are accustomed to traveling all over San Benito and Monterey counties, serving diverse socioeconomic groups as well as providing travel consultation and immunizations.


Public health nurse April Brazinsky tests whether medical social worker Ann McKechnie

David Royal

In early March, international travel ground to a halt. “VNA was the only clinic that provided travel services,” Zoodsma said. “Now there is a refrigerator full of travel vaccines that won’t be used anytime soon.”

With four permanent employees and many more per diem employees, Zoodsma has had to scramble to keep people on the job. On one hand some need the work; but on the other, some may not want to work and potentially expose themselves and their families to the coronavirus.

Brazinsky, 47, immediately began honing her knowledge about COVID-19 for educational purposes. She and Zoodsma keep ahead of the curve by attending webinars (like the recent one with Dr. Anthony Fauci at Stanford University) and keeping up with the current literature.

“We constantly provide updates to our staff and those we reach out to — it’s positive,prevalent — we know we are making a difference in our community,” she said.

The two interact with people every day, whether it is providing education to groups like the Boys and Girls Club of Monterey, the Community Housing Improvement Systems and Planning Association (CHISPA), physician and dental offices, or to COVID-19 testing at the Castroville library. They also provide mask fitting services and curbside assistance at the Ryan Ranch facility.

“Protecting yourself and other people shouldn’t be a political issue; it should be the same as wearing a seatbelt” April Brazinsky, RN

Educators must treat every organization different, said Brazinsky. For example, talking with the Gathering for Women is very different than CHISPA or a physician’s office. “It’s impressive how many local businesses have reached out to us,” she said.

People tend to trust the public health nurses, Zoodsma added.

The constant possible exposure to COVID-19 does cause some concern. Brazinsky lives with two teenage boys, her husband, and her elderly parents. “I worry about bringing something home to them,” she says. Zoodsma says she has a 94-year old father and two children who live across the closed Canadian border, and she worries about their isolation as well as her comfort level visiting her dad.

Hence the two are meticulous about their own personal protective equipment, which also serves as an example during their presentations. There aren’t enough N95 respirators for essential health care workers like themselves. So they each have five masks.

“We park them — after one wear, the mask sits for a week,” said Brazinsky, who daily wears an N95 respirator, a face shield, a plastic gown, booties and gloves.


April Brazinsky checks in with a drive-up patient before administering a shingles vaccine

David Royal

Both say they believe that delays in test results and continuing misunderstanding about the importance of face coverings continue to be a problem. And, said Brazinsky, “we are seeing with the testing that there are a lot of asymptomatic carriers.” But, she added, people “must have an inkling (that they are infected) because they are getting tested.”

Brazinsky said that people  should get over the stigma of wearing masks. “Protecting yourself and other people shouldn’t be a political issue; it should be the same as wearing a seatbelt,” she said.

The VNA’s Ryan Ranch facility is known for its flu clinics which, as the season nears, is the next challenge the organization will face. Flu immunizations will need to be administered in a safe environment, said Brazinsky. The current plan is to put together drive-through and curbside vaccine clinics at the Ryan Ranch facility.

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About Aparna Sreenivasan

Aparna Sreenivasan is an Associate Professor of Genetics and Molecular Biology at California State University Monterey Bay, and a science writer. She lives in Pacific Grove with her husband and two children.