Tucson Libraries Feature Services Of Public Health Nurses To Improve Physical And Mental Health

Henry Ward Beecher. Library of Congress descri...
Henry Ward Beecher. Library of Congress description: “Henry Ward Beecher” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.” Henry Ward Beecher

When was the last time you visited your public library?  You’ll notice when we asked this question we used the possessive pronoun “your”, as opposed to definite article “the,” because when one is part of a community (no matter the size) we all feel a certain ownership of the public library. Don’t you think? 

From a very early age we are introduced to libraries. Prior to the days of 24 hour television and the Internet, children actually spent a lot of time in the library. The local library was a place for pre-schoolers to enjoy story time and parents to have an hour to relax and maybe make new friends, grade school children and teenagers learned how to find a book in the shelves or stacks, we relied on the librarians to teach us the basics of the Dewey Decimal System, we’d meet our friends at the library, college students actually studied in the library, senior citizens enjoyed going to the library to check-out a book (free of charge) and perhaps enjoy a book club discussion. Guess what?  Libraries still offer all of these activities and more…they really do function as a community learning center.

Pima County Arizona libraries offer Public Health Nurses services

In January 2012 Pima County Public Library became the first library system in the United States to provide registered nurses to compliment the library’s other services. Now just over one year later the Pima County Library can offer statistics regarding the evolution of this service and how it has impacted the community. 

Pima County Public Library conceived the idea of having Public Health Nurses available to the library clients when they learned in 2010 that the San Francisco Public Library became the first in the nation to hire a social worker. The Pima County Public Library soon learned that the Pima County Health Department does not employ social workers; however, the health department suggested that the library consider Public Health nurses.  

NBC Today’s contributor Eun Kyung Kim highlights a typical day for a Pima County Library nurse

This week NBC’s Eun Kyung Kim wrote about a typical day for Nurse Daniel Lopez serving clients in Tucson, Arizona’s main library.

“Lopez roams the main library in downtown Tucson every morning with his stethoscope and black medical bag. What he encounters varies daily. He could be checking people’s blood pressure, examining the swollen limbs of diabetics, or attending to sprains and superficial cuts. On some days, he joins the library’s Story Time, helping parents find hygiene supplies or immunization clinics. Sometimes, he is called to help someone withdrawing from drugs or alcohol.”

NBC reports that Lopez is one of five Public Health Nurses who share one full-time employee position; however, CFRA Talk Radio interviewed Kathy Malkin (Pima County Health Department Manager) who indicates there are now 11 nurses serving 13 branches. In all, Pima County Public Library has 27 branches. According to the library’s website: “Pima County Public Library has a public health nurse on staff. The role of the public health nurse it to help make the library a welcoming and safe place for all of our visitors. The public health nurse improves the physical and mental health of our customers through education, referral, crisis prevention, nursing intervention and disease management.”

Daniel Lopez says his day is about case management: arranging medical appointments for a homeless person, assisting with temporary housing and finding long-term care. And it appears the nurses are making a difference: emergency calls to the police department for service at the main library have dropped 14% in the last year and another branch reported that 911 calls had dropped by 60%. 

Libraries come in all shapes and sizes

Libraries do come in all shapes and sizes. For example, The Library of Congress has the most books…some 23,000,000+, the largest library according to square footage on a single floor is now the McAllen Public Library in McAllen, Texas and as of 2011 the smallest library in the United States can be found in Clinton Corners, New York which is a refurbished 1960’s English telephone booth and holds 150 books!

Being unique and being the first to offer a new service is very exciting, particularly when it happens in your own community. Cottonwood Tucson is located in Pima County, so we feel proud that our Public Library is innovative and proactive with it comes to community health. Karyn Prechtel, the deputy director of public service for Pima County Public Library offers:

“We don’t see this outside of our mission at all. We’re helping library customers. These are people who are already in our libraries that we already serve other ways. This is just another service to those customers.”

Henry Ward Beecher was correct; libraries really are a necessity of life.

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