OKLAHOMA CAPITOL -- When people think of northwest Oklahoma’s Red Carpet Country they think of the farmer who spends his days on a tractor working acres and acres of land, or the cattleman who drives his truck down a lonely dirt road to feed his herd. But no one ever thinks of the registered nurse who covers more than 9,200 square miles of northwestern Oklahoma to ensure quality personal care for the elderly and disabled.
Teri Curtis, a long-term care nurse, has worked for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services since March and yet she covers the largest area of any nurse in the state, encompassing Cimarron, Texas, Beaver, Harper, Ellis and Woodward counties.
Since day three on the job, Curtis has been scrambling to find providers for 32 clients in the most rural part of the state. On March 3rd, the home healthcare service that provided care for clients in the ADvantage and Medicaid State Plan Personal Care programs withdrew from the panhandle counties of Beaver, Cimarron and Texas.
"With the help of my supervisor, Debbie Robison, RN, we began making phone calls to the clients and their families to inform them of what had happened and to ask if they knew of anyone who would be interested in becoming a provider for the state," said Curtis. "We called people who had previously worked as providers, placed fliers in stores and ran ads in the local papers encouraging anyone interested to contact the county OKDHS offices to apply. This was totally a team effort, from finding people to be providers, to seeing that the needs of each client were met to making sure each provider was in the system and receiving pay."
Recently, she breathed a sigh of relief when her last client was assigned a new provider in late June. "I think the transfer of care went very smoothly. Not one of our clients was in any danger from not having a caregiver," said Curtis. She added, "Without teamwork, this task would have been nearly impossible. This challenge has shown me that OKDHS is really a great place to work. No matter what our titles are, we all have the same goal, to care for our clients."
Some days, Curtis leaves at 5:30 a.m. to make home visits to one of nearly 50 clients scattered across northwestern Oklahoma. Her furthest client lives in Boise City, nearly a three-hour drive from her office in Buffalo. Some months she expects to drive nearly 2,000 miles.
After all of this, some would be ready to throw in the towel, but not Curtis. "It hasn’t taken the smile off my face yet. I don’t mind the driving at all, I actually enjoy it and think of it as ‘my time’," said Curtis. "The panhandle is an area that I haven’t traveled much, so it’s new to me. My dad is a farmer and rancher just 12 miles north of Laverne, so being a country girl I love traveling through and seeing the rural areas. Of course you may want to check back with me if I ever get snowed in at Boise City."
Curtis is a graduate of Laverne High School and received her degree in nursing from Mesa Arizona Community College. When she’s not on the road, Curtis spends time with her daughter, Jordi, 14, who plays basketball, runs track and is a cheerleader at her mom’s alma mater.