Elizabeth Mitchell

Elizabeth Mitchell

Kitchen Confidential

Elizabeth Mitchell thanks her home care nurse for uncovering dietary dangers—and ultimately improving her health.

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Home care nurse or detective? Kelly Simmons says “both!” when asked about her role in helping patient Elizabeth Mitchell.

At age 78, Elizabeth is a trim, active retiree who lives with her husband in a senior apartment complex on Chicago’s South Side. “I love my life,” she says. “We have lots of friends here, and I enjoy walking each morning, playing bingo and spending time with my family.”

But when persistent headaches interfered, Elizabeth turned to her doctor, Golbarg Moaddab, MD, an Advocate Medical Group physician on the staff of Advocate Trinity Hospital. Dr. Moaddab explains that Elizabeth, like many senior adults, has a number of conditions that require careful monitoring. “She has some cardiac issues and has struggled with high blood pressure. When she complained of bad headaches, she was admitted to Trinity Hospital so we could help get her blood pressure under control.”

Home Care Proves Best

After a brief hospitalization, with her headaches improved, Elizabeth was referred to Advocate at Home, the home care division of Advocate Health Care, for continued care. That’s when Kelly Simmons, RN, met the Mitchells. “I could see from the start that Mrs. Mitchell was a person who wanted to do everything possible to get well and stay well,” Kelly says. “My job as a home care nurse included checking vital signs, monitoring her condition, checking to make sure she was taking her medications as prescribed, and communicating her progress to the physician. As we do with all of our patients, I also assessed the home environment for any issues that might impact her safety.”

A Hidden Culprit

Kelly soon learned that Elizabeth was frustrated. “She was faithfully taking her medications, but her blood pressure continued to be a little high,” she says. “She complained that she just wasn’t feeling ‘like herself,’ and wasn’t able to enjoy her usual activities. On a hunch, I asked about her diet, wondering if perhaps some high sodium foods could be the cause.”

Kelly began investigating. Together with Elizabeth, she pulled items from the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator, looking at labels and asking about which products were used in preparing meals. “I thought I was eating right, but Kelly explained that table salt isn’t the only culprit to worry about,” Elizabeth recalls. “She pointed out that a number of the products I had been using, including some of the flavor enhancers, contained high amounts of sodium. She also emphasized the importance of including fresh fruits and vegetables in our daily menu.”

Making Changes

Elizabeth responded, immediately adjusting her cooking habits and diet. “I noticed a difference in just a few weeks,” she recalls. “I take my blood pressure every day at home, and I soon noticed that it was going down. I felt better, too.”

Her progress also led to a reduction in her blood pressure medication dosage, which Dr. Moaddab says is a real benefit. “Making lifestyle changes to help manage chronic conditions means less dependence on medications,” she says. “It also gives patients a sense of control that is good for their spirits.” Dr. Moaddab emphasizes that Elizabeth’s experience exemplifies the important partnership between Advocate physicians and Advocate at Home. “Home care is often a good choice for patients coming out of the hospital and for those who need help managing chronic conditions,” she says. “We recognize that most patients do best in the comfort and convenience of their own homes. Our home care team works with us to make sure our patients get well, stay well and avoid hospitalization as much as possible.”

Kelly adds that her experience with Elizabeth demonstrates why she loves home care nursing. “I get to know patients and their families and see how they function in their daily lives. Sometimes, as in the case of Elizabeth, that familiarity can even help improve care. I feel privileged to be able to do this work.”

First published: Fall 2014