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A shot of inspiration

When the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) learned there was a confirmed case of flu in a 20-month-old child at the Portland Family Shelter, with others showing symptoms, and no one else they could turn to for flu vaccine, it caused concerns for a pending outbreak. So, Maine CDC called Catherine Bean, RN, at Northern Light Home Care & Hospice. Within two hours, Catherine answered the call and within 24 hours she had her vaccines and supplies packed up and headed for the shelter. “I love that I work for a place that allows me to say yes to these types of requests—I have support—and we can do the right thing,” says Catherine.  

As a community health nurse, Catherine has held many clinics, but this one would take on a different meaning for her. “When I walked in, there was this room—not a large room, probably twice the size of an average living room at home—and there were people everywhere,” she recalls.

Some were doing laundry in a corner, while others were sitting in chairs set up stadium style in front of a TV on one wall. On the other wall, was a pile of mattresses to be handed out at bedtime. The people that were there were mostly new Americans. Some had only been here for 10 days. None of them spoke English. Then, Catherine saw him—a 20-month-old toddler strapped to his moms back.

“He was leaning over, and you just had to look at this baby, and you knew he was sick,” explains Catherine. “And as a parent, you know that your kid would be home being rocked in a bed, not in the shelter hoping that they hand out a mattress and you’d be one of the lucky ones to get one. The mom was also sick, and she’s trying to get through the day.”  

There were 50 people in the shelter including 32 children, none of whom were fluent in English. Catherine said they did understand the word vaccine and knew why she was there. They all came to her and rolled up their sleeves. But one other obstacle she had to overcome was the mask she wore to protect her from the flu outbreak. She worried it might scare the children, so for her first patient she drew a smiley face in black marker on the band-aid she put on her arm. “The next thing I know these little children are coming over and they’re tugging on my shirt and they’re saying, ‘Mrs. Doctor, I have too?’ So, there I am making stickers out of Band-Aids.”

A week later, Catherine followed up with the shelter and learned that they did not have another case of flu. The supplies she brought over along with the flu shots helped stop the outbreak. What moved Catherine most, was how little these people had and how grateful they were. “It was January. It was a night that may have gotten to zero, the snowbanks were high, and they came from warm climates to be homeless on the streets of Portland, Maine in January. And this was a better option for them—that really got to me,” she says.