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PORTSMOUTH – Community nursing is a special calling, and often serves a region’s most underprivileged, uninsured, and low-income populations.

Greater Seacoast Community Health is a collaboration between Families First, Goodwin Health and Lilac City Pediatrics. SOS Recovery Services also works through GSCH.

Coreen Toussaint, RN, is the nurse clinical leader at Goodwin Health, and has been working there for eight years.

“I manage the day-to-day clinical practices for the nurses, the medical assistants and primary care,” said Toussaint. “I also have training in prenatal care, and I help with our school-based clinics. We offer a wide variety of services and that is what I like about community nursing. There is always something new to offer, to learn.”

Community nursing is so much more than a visit to a doctor. Toussaint said they help their patients with transportation and with finding the funding they need for the services they need.

“It is the most rewarding thing I have done with my career,” said Toussaint. “We work directly with the doctors and the patients. In 2016, when we started doing medical assisted treatment for substance abuse cases, I was the initial nurse with the program. I love that we do that.”

Sally Vanderploeg, RN, is trained to do medically assisted treatment (MAT) for substance abuse. She said community nursing is a calling for her and she cannot imagine doing anything else.

“My primary area is to work with the homeless health care program,” said Vanderploeg, who works out of Families First in Portsmouth. “I was originally a labor and delivery nurse and when I decided the hospital setting wasn’t for me, I went back to nursing school. I did my clinicals at Boston Healthcare for the Homeless and I fell in love. I really love the patients we have. We get to know them, and I will take care of them whether they have insurance or not. When I was first in Boston, I was told not to talk to the homeless, not to give them money. I think they come to us in a safe setting, with a level of trust and I see them as real people, not a statistic.”

Vanderploeg is a classically trained musician and said she used to go into shelters in the Boston area and play for the people there.

Vanderploeg’s job relied heavily on a couple of vans that traveled into the neighborhoods she serves. She said that is not happening at the moment because of COVID-19, but she is doing her best to keep up through telehealth and video calls.

“Not everyone I serve has internet access, or even a computer,” said Vanderploeg. “We are doing what we can until we can get fully back to work. Most people do not get the opportunity to talk with this population, but you can learn about lives and help them. I think I grow from that and I can’t wait to get back to normal operations.”

The COVID-19 epidemic is challenging to a community health practice. Toussaint said the doctors are doing more telemedicine for primary and behavioral health, but the nurses are still seeing patients.

“Especially with our most vulnerable patients, we need to be here,” said Toussaint. “We can do some education and we can give lab results by phone, but these people often just need to be seen, and we will always be here for them.”

Vanderploeg said her patients receive primary care, prenatal, dental, substance use disorder treatment and other services they would not have without community nursing. She said she is empowered to help them and that is definitely her calling.

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