By ANNETTE HARVISON
The medical field is an important part of our lives. We see that now more than ever. Having a dedicated medical care clinic and care provider is a big deal when it comes to the care of ourselves and our families, and we all want someone we can count on when we aren’t sure what to do.
In rural areas, patients depend on the advice and care of their local physician. That physician will often keep them out of the emergency room, or they might even help them find ways to lower their blood pressure and cholesterol without multiple medications. Many rural physicians get to know their patients on a personal level and get to know their families throughout the years. Some physicians can care for more than one family member and more than one generation of the same family. Sometimes an appointment feels like visiting a member of the family. When the time comes for that physician to move onto another phase of life, it’s an emotional time for the staff and community.
Runnelstown and the surrounding communities are saying farewell to Sandra Russell, Family Nurse Practitioner, and the lady that has been more than their primary care provider since 1997. She’s been a friend and honorary family member to many. She began practicing next to B and B Grocery, and after a few moves, ended up on Pumping Station Road. Russell said it’s time for a new phase of her life, though she will miss the many patients that have filled her life with joy for so many years.
“I’m going to miss everybody so much,” Russell said. “It’s just a new season of life. I’ve prayed about it a lot.”
“It’s such a blessing to talk to patients and they understand. It helped out so much to be able to deal with it.”
Russell said she believes the consistency in the workplace contributed to the trust of their patients. Over the years, she and the staff at the clinic have gotten to know the patients coming in for care, and because she is a Family Nurse Practitioner, her clients ranged from infants to adults. She said she often saw whole families and has even seen children of some of the patients she watched grow. Russell has loved working in the smalltown clinic and caring for all those trusted her with their health.
“We’ve had a great time,” Russell said. “It’s always been a small clinic. We’ve had nine people (employees) in 27 years.”
“I think it gave security to patients to recognize a voice,” Russell said. “They know who they can count on.”
It’s a big deal for the community to have the clinic. Russell said she began working for the clinic right after she got her nurse practitioner degree and license. She had worked in large hospitals as a nurse before returning to school, and when she made it to that small clinic in Runnelstown, she knew she was where she wanted to be. She enjoyed having the time to get to know her patients and about their families. She had time to understand their situations and be able to give the best care to each person that sat on the exam table. She offered a range of care, giving the community a place close to home to go to when they had a cold or when they needed annual checkups. She could get in those school physicals, and she could sew up a hand to save someone a trip to the emergency room.
One thing that connected Russell to some of her patients was their ability to support one another through cancer treatments. As a breast cancer survivor, she understood the challenges her patients with a cancer diagnosis faced. Care came full circle.
“It (cancer diagnosis) shed a lot of light on what people go through with that,” Russell said. “They (patients) supported me through my diagnosis and treatment, and I was able to support them through theirs.”
Although the clinic is under Hattiesburg Clinic, Russell said she has practiced without a doctor on site. She has collaborated with a doctor in Petal throughout the years. For her, the rural setting gave her confidence in her skills and abilities. The staff had to think fast at times, they had to be prepared for the unexpected. Even though the clinic isn’t a hospital, it’s been a first access place for many. She hopes to see others follow the path of rural care as she has found it rewarding for her and beneficial to the small communities. Rural healthcare offers a unique experience, and Russell encourages nurse practitioners to look into it.
“People don’t really care what you know until they know how much you care,” Russell said. “People learned to build trust and know how much we care about their health.”
Russell said she is excited to go home and do many of the things she hasn’t been able to do, like gardening and attending the activities and events of her nine grandchildren. She and her husband have things to do to keep her busy. She said her husband is an Elvis impersonator who has often attended events such as Relay-for-Life and the Camp Bluebird Cancer Center. They haven’t been able to attend those events during the pandemic, but they hope to get back to it. Even though she has lots of other things to keep her busy, she plans on keeping in contact with many of her patients, and she’s already gotten a dinner invitation.
“We (staff) have certainly enjoyed being here. I am going to miss it tremendously. It’s like family here and hard to say goodbye.”
“We’re not gonna say goodbye,” Russell said. “Just until next time. See you at Walmart.”