“In a crisis, you need that leader:’ Extraordinary Nurse Practitioner is an essential leader throughout COVID-19 and beyond 

Palma Abalo and Kathryn Nichol
Kathryn Nichol, Vice President, Quality, Best Practice, Research and Education and Chief Nursing Executive (left) and Palma Abalo, Nurse Practitioner (right)

“Courageous is the first word that comes mind,” says Kathryn Nichol, Vice President, Quality, Best Practice, Research and Education and Chief Nursing Executive at VHA Home HealthCare (VHA).

She’s talking about nurses on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic like Palma Abalo, a  Nurse Practitioner (NP) with VHA who’s been the primary care provider throughout COVID-19 for residents at Pine Villa, a supportive transitional care site in Toronto providing services for older adults who no longer require care in a hospital.

Pine Villa was developed as a partnership between SPRINT Senior Care, LOFT Community Services and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, working closely with the Toronto Central LHIN. This program is also supported by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

 

Palma Abalo
Palma Abalo, NP

Primary members of the team include personal support workers, practical nursing staff, case managers and recreation therapists.

Together, the team brings expertise from hospital, mental health and addictions, and community support services to improve patient care and well-being. VHA provides the Nurse Practitioners for Pine Villa, and in 2018 Palma was brought in as the very first Nurse Practitioner.

Over these past months, when there has been so much concern and uncertainty, the clinical leadership of NPs like Palma has proven to be more valuable than ever.

“The population at Pine Villa is medically fragile as well as potentially socially vulnerable, and residents live in close proximity within one another,” shares Kathryn.

 

“Having a nursing leader like Palma embedded at embedded into Pine Villa with the right mix of clinical care and infection prevention and control knowledge is brilliant,” she added.

In the first wave of COVID-19, Pine Villa saw two separate outbreaks of the virus, but thanks to strong leadership and a rapid response early on, the spread was quickly contained, and no additional staff or residents were infected.

“Everybody took the initiative to make sure they understood the virus well and knew how to work through it,” says Palma.

In addition to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, Palma provides clinical guidance to clients residing at Pine Villa who are affected by a wide range of medical complexities and co-morbidities, and provides guidance on issues ranging from primary care functions to mental health and palliative care.

“I love being a nurse practitioner and working with such a diverse population. I learn every day and have the opportunity to work with many different people,” shares Palma. “It is a good feeling to know that different agencies have come together to make sure Pine Villa is running well.”

For Jacques, a client currently residing at Pine Villa, the care he receives means he can live worry-free.

“I trust Palma implicitly. She’s always been a very prescient in anticipating my care needs,” remarks Jacques, who has lived at Pine Villa for just over a year.

He shared that as a recovering addict, it means a lot to him to be able to have staff care so much about his wellbeing and advocate on his behalf.

Since its beginning as a time-limited venture, Pine Villa has been able to secure a permanent location, and, recently, a second permanent full time NP on site, thanks to the broad recognition of Palma’s contributions over the past several years.

“Palma is calm, competent and confident in her skills,” shares Kathryn.

“The Nurse Practitioner has a huge clinical role, and they have a really important leadership role as well. Palma can walk into a space and instill calm in others. In a crisis, you need that leader.”