WESTY 2019 Honoree: She brings the healing to patients
Nurse practitioner Marie Carmel Garcon makes house calls to those who can't get to hospital visits
“[Patients] always have stories to tell you. Stories that you don't have time to go sit in the library to learn. They tell you the story of the community, the building where they live.”
Nurse practitioner Marie Carmel Garcon
Marie Carmel Garcon is not in a hurry. When she shows up at a patient's house, she has no plans for how long she'll stay or what time she'll leave. That's part of what makes her a miracle in the eyes of her patients and their families. Garcon has been a nurse practitioner for 31 years and at ColumbiaDoctors' Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Group for 17 of those. For the past two years, Garcon has founded and run a program that makes house calls to patients who can't get to hospital visits. The program is her dream, and it makes every day of work “priceless,” she says. “To me nursing is a vocation. All these years I've been doing great, but this one is my niche.”
Born in Haiti, Garcon moved to New York as a teenager. Though she couldn't speak English at the time, she was an excellent student — always reading and hanging out with nurses to learn more — and got a job at New York-Presbyterian after graduating from community college. She has worked in infectious diseases, hemodialysis and heart transplants, among many others, and gotten two masters degrees as well as a doctorate. Throughout her career, Garcon had always been perplexed by the puzzle of patients who made multiple hospital visits, sometimes with vague symptoms that were hard to diagnose.
“My goal was always, let me see what's going on at home that's stopping them from taking care of themself,” she said. Sure enough, upon visiting elderly patients Garcon would discover that they were often confused about their medication and didn't take it. Or they lived on a high floor in a building with no elevator and were too frail to make their follow-up appointments. So she decided to bring the healing to them.Assembling a team
Garcon brings the lab tests and x-rays to her 121 patients, deliberately cycling her way through them over and over, visiting up to six patients in a day. “I assess them, diagnose them and treat them at home,” she says. But she gets something out of it, too: a rich oral history of her patients' lives. “They always have stories to tell you,” she says. “Stories that you don't have time to go sit in the library to learn. They tell you the story of the community, the building where they live.”
Perhaps her most difficult feat is coordinating care between all of a patients' providers. Garcon will assemble a team of social workers, doctors and supporting aid like Meals on Wheels to ensure her patients are cared for even when she's not around. She speaks to those team members at all hours of the day, often when walking between her patients' homes. Garcon's program operates mostly in Upper Manhattan and Washington Heights.
Dana Minaya, whose husband Frank has heart failure, has been working with Garcon for a little over a year after finding out about her through a social worker. “When I talk about it with friends they think it's a miracle, and it is,” Minaya says. “[Frank] is a person that has very, very low energy levels, and you would almost want to deny yourself certain appointments because it's so difficult for him, but she's been able to have blood work drawn here.” Minaya is now able to continue her community responsibilities like maintaining the gardens and organizing exercise programs for neighborhood seniors. “I've lost a lot of my anxiety,” Minaya says.
Anyone who's ever been in Garcon's presence feels the glow of her attention right away. With a warm smile and an air of kind efficiency, Garcon combines thorough care with attentiveness in a manner rare for today's age of the hustle. She brings the same approach to her life outside of work, in which she is collecting her patients' stories for an eventual memoir that she writes bits of whenever she has a free moment. She lives in New City, NY and likes to travel, volunteer at church and spend time with her two children, ages 22 and 19, whom she sometimes brings with her on patient visits.
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