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Heavy snow doesn't stop Oregon nurse from reaching rural patients

Posted: Wednesday, March 01, 2000

BEND, Ore. (AP) -- Marianne Kehoe keeps a pair of snowshoes in the back of her Subaru, but she doesn't use them for fun.

''Everyone else is using their snowshoes for recreation,'' Kehoe said. ''I have to use mine for work.''

Kehoe is a home health nurse who spends her days traveling to patients' homes in rural areas south of here.

The places she visits get a lot more snow than the rest of the region, and many of the roads are private and don't get plowed much.

So sometimes she has had to park her car on the side of the road and put on her snowshoes to reach a patient.

''You need to be prepared to walk,'' said Kehoe. ''I always think, 'What if I had to walk today? How equipped would I be?''

Alongside her syringes and other medical supplies, Kehoe carries warm clothes, hat, gloves, chains and a cellular phone.

She also keeps a laptop computer so she can do most of her work on the road. She drives 70 to 160 miles a day, so it's important to have everything with her.

Kehoe is certainly not the only health care worker who has to prepare to battle winter roads, although few carry snowshoes.

Dozens of nurses, physical therapists, hospice workers and other caregivers have to reach thousands of people tucked away in the woods to the south.

There are lots of isolated housing developments with large senior citizen populations that many people don't know exist.

Visits from home health nurses and other caregivers are critical to help keep people out of hospitals or nursing homes.

Nurses can't take the day off just because the roads are snowy.

''You get to home health and you buy a four-wheel-drive, and then winter comes and you get snow tires,'' said Eileen Haas, a team leader for the local home health agency.

Home health nurses have to go prepared with chains, shovels and even kitty litter (for traction) to help them when the traveling gets tough.

''I get stuck at least once a year,'' said Betty Zoboski, a home health nurse in Bend.

All of this can make you wonder why many of these nurses choose to brave the roads, when they could instead be working inside a warm hospital building.

For Kehoe, the job is a good fit.

Kehoe loves the outdoors. In the summertime, she travels to Alaska and the Canadian Arctic to lead hiking trips for the Sierra Club.

''I'm very comfortable on the back roads,'' she said.

She also loves the independence her job offers. She admits it can get a little lonely on the road, but she enjoys developing relationships with patients and helping them in their own environment.

''There's a real spirit of independence with the people in the area,'' she said. ''It's a hearty bunch of people.''

And it's important for her to help people maintain that independence, even if it means putting on snowshoes and trudging through 3 feet of snow.

You only need to ride around with Kehoe for an hour to understand what she means. At one stop, she bandages a leg wound for Elsie McLeod, who will turn 92 next week.

McLeod lives by herself about 8 miles west of La Pine. She does all the work around her house and is anxious for her leg to heal so she can shovel her driveway.

''I can't sit still,'' McLeod said as Kehoe wrapped her wound.

McLeod is grateful that Kehoe is able to visit her frequently to take care of her leg because she can't drive herself to the doctor.

''She's a wonderful girl,'' McLeod said.

Kehoe said she feels that she's fulfilling an important need, and that's what makes all the hassles of the winter roads worthwhile.

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