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Deb Myers on breaking down barriers and putting the patient first

Posted about 2 months ago

Deb Myers, APRN, RN-MS, FNPc, has been a nurse for 53 years.

Myers kicked off her nursing career in 1969 at fifteen years old, serving as a nurse’s aide. She earned her ADN at Carl Sandburg College, then started working at St. Mary’s Hospital in Galesburg, Illinois, where she developed an interest in heart failure. While there, Myers would drive up to the Quad Cities with three fellow St. Mary’s nurses just to take courses towards her bachelor’s degree. After 18 years of weaving in coursework while raising a family, she earned her BSN and then an MSN-FNP from the University of Illinois Quad City Campus.

With 25 years of experience working with cardiac patients, Myers went on to work in family practice. Then, OSF in Peoria came calling: they asked her to develop an outpatient heart failure program for them.

A cardiac program ahead of its time

Myers had long pushed for newer and more effective programming in her workspaces. At OSF, she finally had the chance to build a program from the ground up. Myers set up two cardiac care clinic sites and built a multidisciplinary team of pharmacists, nurses, dietitians, and cardiac rehab specialists to care for heart failure patients. She was one of the first advocates for telehealth in her hospital, too.

Many patients only see specialists when in the hospital. For Myers, the goal is to keep them out of the hospital via preventative care—telehealth has increased the odds of achieving this goal. Her early work with telehealth began in 2000 when Myers set up monitors to remind patients to take their blood pressure, pulse oximeter, and weight while at home. The data was sent back to a computer at her office, where she and her team monitored the care seven days a week, allowing her clinic to provide more individualized, comprehensive, preventative care.

This early telehealth work was innovative, foretelling many of today’s conversations around health care and COVID. “I don’t think people realize how many patients—such as older patients or patients with dementia—struggle to come in,” says Myers. Today, telehealth has grown, allowing nurses and nurse practitioners to bring the care to them. For Myers, this has included hospice patients and patients with dementia, mobility limitations, or lack of transportation access. During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has been essential to caring for vulnerable patients who have been unable to leave home for medical care.

Breaking down barriers

Whenever she meets an obstacle to providing patient care, Myers faces it head-on. At her clinic in Peoria, she learned that some patients couldn’t come to her office because of challenges such as a lack of transportation, gaps in Medicare coverage, and building accessibility. She coordinated with local partners to provide bus service for elderly patients, and she arranged for scholarships so that elderly patients could have access to cardiac care despite their lack of insurance coverage. Myers even had roadside curbs physically moved to make her building more accessible. “Sometimes, you just have to break down barriers,” says Myers.

That’s just what she did, time and time again. Over the period of six months, Myers went from clinic to clinic, trying to convince others that her idea for a telehealth program—bringing care to people’s homes—would work. Impressed by her expertise, stakeholders greenlit the project.

Though the team’s outcomes were impressive, the program was unfortunately shut down in 2006. Myers says, “Our program wasn’t meant to make money. It was meant to keep people out of the hospital—which we did.” Dealing directly with the realities of hospital profit would eventually lead Myers towards more involvement in organizations such as ISAPN.

Working with legislation is another way that Debra continues to advocate for patients and health care providers. “It’s important for nurses to get involved and learn about legislation that affects them—not just at the bedside,” says Myers. “We are a big part of the future of health care.”

Putting patients first—even after retirement

Since leaving OSF in Peoria, Myers has continued to develop programming for patients who needed in-home services. She joined the Unity Point Cardiology team in 2006. For the next 14 years, Myers provided care to cardiology patients and eventually divided her time with Unity Point Senior Services to develop a House Call Service. She also joined Compassus hospice to provide nurse practitioner face-to-face visits. Since officially “retiring “ in 2018, she continued all these roles on an as-needed basis. Myers currently serves as the ISAPN west-central region chairman.

Her care and dedication are known in her community, too. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Myers was contacted by her grandson’s school: with the added safety measures due to the pandemic; they needed more hands-on deck. Myers stepped in. “It just goes to show how important nurses and nurse practitioners are to our community. We can step in where we are needed.”

A legacy of care

For Myers, it’s always been about putting the patient first. For over fifty years, she has been making her impact on the field of nursing amid transitions in technology, the turn of a century, and a global pandemic that has already changed the health care industry.

Both of Myers’s children have followed in her footsteps, working in health care: her son is a paramedic, and her daughter is a nurse practitioner. Myers’ husband of 49 years, Tom, has been an essential partner in this journey.

When talking about what advice she would have for her younger self, she says, “Take any education that is offered you”—whether that’s in the classroom or on the hospital floor. “I think the broader your knowledge and education, the more you’re going to enjoy what you’re going to do. And the more beneficial you’re going to be to the patient.”