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Seniors find help just a phone call away

Jane McHale doesn’t worry so much about her health anymore. When she finds herself wondering or worrying, she just picks up her phone and calls Gayle Nielsen.

Gayle is a registered nurse who serves as Jane’s care coordinator at the Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Baxter Clinic. Gayle’s job is to help patients like Jane who live with medical conditions that sometimes get complicated and hard to manage alone.

“Gayle helps me so much, and it’s so convenient to call her,” said Jane, who recently turned 87. “If I’m having a problem, I call Gayle. She tells me what to do or gets me an appointment right away.”

Jane joined the Care Coordination Program 18 months ago after she had been hospitalized.

Her goal is to stay healthy and mobile so she can continue to live in her own apartment at the Good Samaritan Society’s Bethany Apartments in Brainerd. The retired schoolteacher values her independence and doesn’t want to be a burden to her family.

“I used to wait too long before I’d call the doctor or ask for help,” Jane admitted. “Now I know to call Gayle. She’s so kind and gentle. She’s well-educated and firm, too.”

Jane has many health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, macular degeneration, incontinence, three crushed vertebrae and polymyalgia rheumatica, an inflammatory condition that causes painful muscles and joints.

“Sometimes it can get overwhelming,” Gayle said. “My job is to help patients like Jane and their families to be confident in their ability to care for themselves.”

Before a doctor’s appointment, Gayle calls to see how Jane has been feeling and what she’d like to discuss with her physician.

That helps both Jane and Dr. Kristy Schmidt, her primary care physician, prepare for their appointment. Afterward, Gayle calls again to discuss any questions or concerns that Jane might have.

The nurse also makes sure Jane has been able to get any prescriptions filled.

“I see Gayle as a go-between for the doctor and myself,” Jane said, who also relies on Gayle to communicate with her doctor in between appointments.

Gayle follows the same routine for any specialist that Jane sees and helps ensure that everyone on Jane’s care team stays up-to-date on her health and medications.

Gayle said she acts as an advocate for her patients as well a resource person, connecting them to the right health care providers and community resources.

“Jane is very conscientious about her health and she’s willing to accept advice,’’ Gayle said. “She sees me as her medical liaison when she has questions or problems.”