The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association honored its longest-tenured employees Wednesday in a ceremony following the VNA’s annual meeting at The Haven in Hayden.
Registered Nurse Ann Irvin, the VNA’s nurse-family partnership supervisor, was among 12 employees recognized at the event. This month marks a significant milestone in the career of Irvin, who works from the Craig office.
“This is really extraordinary,” VNA Chief Executive Officer Sue Birch said to the crowd at Wednesday’s meeting. “For the first time ever (at the VNA), we have a 25-year employee.”
In 1985, before joining the VNA, Irvin was involved in patient care of a different kind.
“I was grooming dogs for my uncle who was the local veterinarian,” Irvin said. “Then, one day a VNA nurse contacted me to say, ‘You need to be a nurse. Why don’t you come and do shot clinics for us?’”
Irvin, who had already earned her registered nursing degree from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, agreed.
Thus began a quarter-century of service to community health care.
Her career has included immunizations, public-health programs, hospice care, house calls and home chemotherapy infusions, among other tasks.
Irvin has also witnessed the VNA transform from a home-visitation service to a community health center.
“The VNA has grown tremendously,” she said. “When I started, there were 10 employees. Now there are about 150.”
Irvin’s work also took on greater dimensions in the intervening decades.
“Over the years, Ann has been incredible,” Birch said at the event. “(Irvin) excelled with moms and babies, so (in 2001) she undertook the evidence-based program nurse-family partnership.”
The nurse-family partnership pairs registered nurses with low-income, first-time expectant mothers.
The nurses, through a pre- and post-natal course lasting two-and-a-half years, mentor first-time mothers to achieve three goals: improve pregnancy outcomes, child health and development, and family economic self-sufficiency.
Birch said Irvin’s work has had profound effects on the community.
“About 50 moms per year are directly impacted by Ann and her team of nurses,” she said.
Long-term data is not yet available for the program’s specific effects on Moffat, Routt, and Rio Blanco counties.
However, according to program literature, controlled trials in other communities have demonstrated 48-percent reduction in child abuse and neglect; 56-percent reduction in emergency room visits for accidents and poisonings; 59-percent reduction in arrests of children at age 15; 67-percent reduction in behavioral and intellectual problems in children at age 6; and 72-percent fewer convictions of mothers when children are at age 15.
That data is bolstered by a 2005 analysis by The RAND Corporation. The study found “a net benefit to society of $34,148 per high-risk family served, equating to a $5.70 return per dollar invested in nurse-family partnership.”
A high return on the investment does not imply, however, that it is an easy program to implement, Irvin said.
She said the number of first-time mothers who enroll in the program is low compared to the number of women who have been referred, and the attrition rate of women who do enroll is “very high.”
Despite meeting with 50 families every year, Irvin said 91 families have graduated the program since it started in 2001.
“They have to work very hard,” Irvin said of her clients. “They learn a lot. We expect a lot out of them. And they have to tolerate us.
“The program is hard on us, too. You become very involved —emotionally involved — in people’s lives. It can be very difficult to disconnect if someone leaves the program early or they graduate.”
Regardless of the difficulty, Irvin loves her work.
“You have to love it to do it,” she said. “You have to love pregnancy and moms and babies and toddlers. When (the VNA) brought this program here, I read about it and I said, ‘This program was written for me.’”
Gisela Garrison, VNA Community Health Center director, is in line with Irvin’s assessment.
“Ann is the perfect person for the role,” Garrison said. “She’s a very intense person, so she gets into things with her full heart. And her heart is a good heart.”
Despite the accolades, Irvin remains modest about her 25-year milestone.
“Eh,” Irvin said, “I guess I’m just stubborn.”