Public Health Nurses Bringing Care to Libraries

Apr 2, 2013, 9:00 AM

Six libraries in downtown Tucson, Arizona, have some unexpected new employees: public health nurses. In what many believe to be a first-of-its-kind program, Pima County libraries teamed up with the county Health Department to start a jointly-funded “library nurse program.”

Libraries across the country often serve patrons living without shelter, health insurance, medical care or computer access, the Arizona Daily Star reports. As the need for health care and social services has grown in recent years due to a faltering economy and high unemployment, leaders in Pima County were inspired to provide more than just books to their patrons.

Now, five Pima County public health nurses divide the equivalent of one full-time public health nurse position among themselves, working weekdays at six local libraries. The nurses wear stethoscopes so they can be easily identified, but mostly provide health education and referrals to other health care resources in the area rather than actual medical care.

In addition to helping patrons get the health information they need, the program has also reduced the number of 911 calls from the libraries, “partly because nurses trained library staff to recognize when behavioral issues are escalating and to intervene appropriately,” reports.

“If I weren’t here, I think a lot of these individuals would fall through the cracks,” Daniel Lopez, one of the “library nurses” told “I can open doors for them and they can walk on through. Overall, I think it makes for a healthier Pima County.”

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.