Leader Spotlight: How a nurse practitioner’s housing solution saved a cancer patient’s life
Our Culture of Health leaders understands and work at the intersection of the complex factors and issues that impact health. In celebration of National Nurses Week (May 6 – May 12), we are pleased to share this remarkable story about Courtney Pladsen, DNP, FNP-BC, RN, a nurse practitioner and member of our 2018 cohort, who demonstrates the importance of caring for the whole person both inside and outside the clinic walls.
Nurse Practitioner and RWJF Culture of Health Leader Addresses Homelessness
Courtney Pladsen, DNP, FNP-BC, RN, a nurse practitioner and participant in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) Culture of Health Leaders program, was providing medical care to people experiencing homelessness at a soup kitchen in Washington, D.C., when a woman named Becky Smith* asked for wound dressing supplies. Pladsen assessed Smith’s wound and discovered an infected breast lesion—a sign of cancer.
Due to Smith’s mental illness, she was not able to navigate the health system alone. As a result, Pladsen accompanied Smith to the emergency room, where she was admitted to the hospital. During her admission, Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a radical mastectomy—an invasive procedure in which the surgeon removes all of the breast tissue along with the nipple, lymph nodes in the armpit, and the chest wall muscles under the breast. Within one week of her surgery, she was discharged back to the streets, where she had lived for the past nine years. The oncologist who treated her made the difficult decision to delay chemotherapy until Smith was able to secure housing.
Pladsen checked on Smith in her tent four times a week and watched Smith’s health steadily deteriorate, despite her best efforts. Realizing that Smith would die without treatment, Pladsen organized a multidisciplinary team meeting among the soup kitchen managers at Miriam’s Kitchen, a community organization that provides daily meals and case management; Smith’s oncologists; and the local housing department. Pladsen laid out Smith’s dire medical situation, her resources, and the barriers to her care. Collectively, the group agreed that housing was Smith’s most pressing need.