Laura Murphy: The VNA’s Community Health Nurse

Laura Murphy is my first cousin. For the community of our extended family, she has provided attentive listening, information, referral, nursing services, and sympathy, especially to our sister-mothers and our fathers during their final years.

But for Ms. Murphy, who was born and raised on the Vineyard, the blend of personal ties and professional care is the norm, as it is for many practitioners on the Island. A patient may be the mother of your daughter’s teacher, the son of the person who cuts your hair, the niece of your best friend from kindergarten. As the Vineyard Nursing Association’s Community Health Nurse, for the towns of Chilmark, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven, and West Tisbury, Ms. Murphy’s job is to make sure that everyone is tied to this community for health-care promotion and management efforts.

Ms. Murphy was a nurse-midwife off Island for 20 years before coming back to the Vineyard in 1999. In her first ten years working for the VNA, she was a care manager for patients living at home with acute illness. During those years, she developed special interests in wound healing, pain management, and palliative care.

In her new position as community nurse, which she started last summer, Ms. Murphy now focuses on wellness, disease prevention, and education.

For healthy beginnings, one day she may make a home visit to a newborn and her family. “The prenatal classes taught by Nancy Hugger and the great support of the maternity nurses at the hospital are really where that community connection starts,” Ms. Murphy says.

In October, Ms. Murphy became certified as a lactation counselor. At her newborn visits, along with the always-critical scales and stethoscope, she also brings along assessment skills and suggestions to help new moms and babies get a healthy start.

On another day, Ms. Murphy may be found doing free blood-pressure screenings at different town locations. She sets up a table at the front of Vineyard Haven Cronig’s — greeting customers before they hit the heart-healthy produce aisle.

In the calm and beautiful conference room at the Chilmark Public Library, she does these checks and consultations under the watchful eye of the two oxen in “Hilary at Brookside Farm,” a large oil painting created by her father, the late Stanley Murphy.

“I love doing the blood-pressure visits,” Ms. Murphy says. “I see such a variety of people and it’s really fun and social. But I also almost always find someone who does need attention. Either they didn’t know it was high or their medications aren’t having the expected effect. Then I can encourage some commonsense changes, suggest follow-up care with the medical provider, and/or schedule a visit in one of my clinics.”

Another part of the VNA’s community nurse program, the free Town Nurse Clinics link people to disease prevention and health management services. People can call and schedule a private visit during once-a-month sessions at each town.

“The visits can be for in-depth consultation on how to manage blood pressure or other medical problems,” Ms. Murphy says. “Or what to do about an elderly parent who’s going downhill. I may also see people who don’t have immediate access to other healthcare. It’s a lot about problem-solving together, making connections. Just trying to make things better.”

“Laura provides a wonderful service,” says Rose Cogliano, assistant director of the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging. “She really represents everything good about nursing. She’s discrete and respectful and caring and knowledgeable. She can pick up on things and be a great bridge between the client and the physician.”

Ellen Reynolds, outreach worker at the Up-Island Council on Aging, echoes the sentiments. “She’s a wonderful resource, and especially important for our people who aren’t covered under Medicare or other programs,” she says. “She can be that link to make sure no one falls through the cracks.”

Ms. Murphy’s busy calendar also includes some of those in-home visits to patients not receiving other services, presentations to groups on specific health topics, and being part of VNA screening and vaccination efforts.

Ms. Murphy takes obvious pleasure in her contacts with this broad Vineyard community. “At a blood-pressure screening, I might see someone I’ve known all my life, and then next a summer visitor I’ve never seen before. I might have an appointment with a retired couple together who want help understanding the wife’s medications, or with new parents who just need some reassurance. The goal is to make sure everyone is included.”

But she also fits in time for health as entertainment. “How many muscles does it take to frown?” Ms. Murphy asks during a presentation on the wonders of the human body for day-program participants at the Tisbury Senior Center. No one knows. The answer is 47. “How many muscles does it take to smile?” she asks, and then answers herself. “Only 17,” she says, hoping to help more people smile.

For a schedule of free blood-pressure checks, or to make an appointment for a free one-on-one visit with the community nurse, call 508-687-7132 or visit vineyardnursing.org.