There’s never been a more challenging time to be a nurse. Nurses are heroes. No matter what, they take care of us in our most vulnerable times. Despite the stress, uncertainty and health risks posed by COVID-19, nurses have remained committed to meeting the needs of their patients and the community. If there was ever a time to recognize nurses, it’s now. For the third year, Independence Blue Cross (Independence) is honoring the contribution of nurses in the Philadelphia region through our Celebrate Caring campaign.
Tina Odim has worked in various departments throughout Independence for 25 years. But when she joined the Care Management department as a Registered Nurse Health Coach two years ago, she knew she had finally found her ideal role.
When Tina talks about her job, you can hear the enthusiasm in her voice. “I know I’m making a difference in someone’s life every day. No matter how big or small, I’m making an impact. Today, I made 14 calls to 14 friends, and talked to them about how to be healthier and set goals together. I can honestly say, I really enjoy what I’m doing.”
And Tina doesn’t just talk the talk, she also walks the walk. Whether it’s through personal touches, such as sending a sympathy card to a member who lost her husband to COVID-19, helping a senior navigate a telehealth appointment, or connecting a member with a local food bank, Tina helps members through the ups and downs of their personal health journeys.
Sharing Her Personal Health Journey
Like many of the Independence members she speaks with, Tina is on her own personal quest for better health. She has faced some challenging health situations in the past and wanted to make some changes. As Tina explains it, “Part of my story as a Health Coach is turning my own personal story around. I share with members that even though I’m here to help them, I can relate to their challenges. I’m not perfect.”
A few years ago, she set some personal health goals. In addition to her desire to lose some weight, she also wanted to lower her high cholesterol, which was hereditary. Under her Independence benefits, she met with a Health Coach and a dietitian. The Health Coach recommended that she increase her cardio activity, so Tina followed her advice and took up running. “At 59 years old, I ran my first Blue Cross Broad Street Run (BCBSR). Since then, I have run five BCBSRs. I even ran it by myself in 2020 when the pandemic forced the race to go virtual.”
She also joined Black Girls Run, a community of Black women who make fitness and healthy living a priority. As Tina tells it, “Black Girls Run is a sisterhood of women who encourage each other to take steps to live a healthy lifestyle. Even though group runs are on hold right now due to COVID-19, we still communicate and support each other by posting pictures of our virtual runs and reminding each other to keep moving.” Tina is proud of the fact that she worked hard to lower her high cholesterol and was able to discontinue medication.
But like most people, she has her ups and downs. 2020 was a tough year for everyone, and Tina wasn’t able to exercise as much as she would have liked. Her gym was closed, and she wasn’t able to run outside very often. Recently, her cholesterol increased again, and she had to go back on medication. But she is open about this, too. In fact, she even has a Facebook page where she shares her victories and setbacks in an effort to inspire others. She shared her recent setback with her Facebook followers. “There will be bumps along the way. That is part of the journey.” Tina is also the first to say that everyone’s journey will be different. “My personal journey includes medication.” It’s important to Tina to share her story with members and let them know that no one is perfect. This really resonates with members who feel a shared camaraderie with their Health Coach who has her own personal health struggles.
A Quest for Better Health
Over the past year, people have spent a lot of time at home. Tina noticed that with many members working remotely, and social activities and travel on hold, they decided to use this time to focus on getting healthier. “I was hearing from people that because of COVID-19, they wanted to try and be as healthy as possible. So, they set up gyms at home and started going on daily socially distanced walks or runs. They took up yoga, bought resistance bands, found online exercise classes, and started cooking healthier dishes at home. And many are more consistent with their maintenance medication.”
Tina works with these members to set goals. She’ll ask what they want to achieve, set a date to check in, and provide resources for them to get started. And she has seen many successes over the past year: members have lost weight, lowered their blood pressure, and exercised consistently. She praises each member’s successes because she knows the hard work that was put in.
Supporting Members Through COVID-19
On the flip side of things, Tina has also helped many members navigate COVID-19 during this past year. Many people are navigating recovery or lingering symptoms. Others have lost loved ones, or are just now processing their experience with the virus. One member who Tina spoke with had COVID-19 and lost her husband to the virus. Another member was diagnosed with COVID-19 and cancer at the same time. Tina has helped many members recovering from a hospitalization due to COVID-19. She provides support through rehabilitation and the transition back home.
As Tina recounts, “It has been a very scary time for many people. I have spoken with members who had to call their family and say, “I don’t think I am going to make it.” Many members have survived after being on ventilators and want to share their stories. Those who have survived want people to take COVID-19 more seriously and take precautions.” Needless to say, the emotional toll has been heavy.
Mental Health Resources
To help members navigate the emotional weight of the pandemic, Tina frequently refers them to Independence’s behavioral health services through Magellan. People are facing a variety of mental health challenges: grief, stress, anxiety, depression, isolation, and loneliness.
She has spoken to many health care workers who are afraid to go back to work. They talk to Tina about their fears of contracting COVID-19, the toll of dealing with lingering COVID-19 side effects, or the trauma they endure working with COVID-19 patients. And through it all, Tina is there to listen and provide resources. She often directs members to the Independence COVID-19 website, which is a valuable resource for all things related to COVID-19.
These days, many of the conversations that Tina is having with members about COVID-19 revolves around the vaccine. Members are excited about the vaccine, and they are happy to find out that Independence covers it. “I’m so thankful that we have so many resources to share with our members. And members have told me how grateful they are that the vaccine is covered because it takes a big worry off their shoulders,” says Tina.