Nurses First

How three women in New York are improving health care in Liberia with one simple but effective strategy.

by Paul Hond Published Winter 2017
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Ridge makes the most of her few more days in Liberia. She visits a community near Ganta, where dirt roads lead to smaller homes with dirt floors, and people cook their food outdoors. There, nurses Gabriel Tounzea, a Carter Center mental-health program graduate, and Solomon Yah, whose NFA initiative addresses hypertension, make house calls. Later, back in Monrovia, Ridge meets Aaron Debah in a café. Debah is excited about having been admitted to a health-policy program that will take him to India for two weeks. Into the weekend, Ridge makes more site visits with nurses Sophie Reeves (in-school HIV initiative), Tohdy Nyemah (pre- and post-natal care, including HIV testing), and Annette Toegbaye (hypertension and diabetes). 

Standing on people’s porches during home visits, Ridge watches and listens, noting the quality of the patient-nurse interactions. “It’s always interesting to see how enthusiastic a community member is to see the nurse,” she says. “You can tell there’s a relationship. That’s important, because a lot of what we do is teach and make recommendations, and in order for recommendations to function as treatment there has to be a lot of trust. These nurses have done an amazing job cultivating trust with their patients.”

After a week in Liberia, Ridge will have plenty of facts and figures to share with her board. Ridge, Walsh, and Buesing all emphasize the importance of organizational introspection. Are the initiatives working? Are they reaching the right number of people? How should they measure success? How should they fine-tune the metrics so that supporters can see where their money is going?

It's Sunday again. Ridge awakens. Church bells ring.

Ridge packs her bags, gets a car to the airport, and boards her flight. As her plane ascends, she can see, out the window; the Mesurado River snaking through Monrovia to the Atlantic Ocean. She's always a little sad to leave — it's like leaving family. But she knows that the people she saw in hospitals and homes are in caring hands, knows that the nurses of Liberia will be on the ground, doing what needs to be done, as they always have.

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