“I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven,” said Alexandra Hunt, as she prepared for her first week on the job as the new health care provider at the Point Roberts clinic.
An advanced registered nurse practitioner and a midwife with a master’s degree in community health nursing, Hunt was a match for the Point on paper, but it was her 35 years serving rural and often isolated communities that made her the hospital district’s top choice to replace Virginia Lester.
“I’ve been doing this forever,” the 60-year-old Hunt said. “This has sort of been my calling.”
After completing her master’s at Yale University in 1987, Hunt moved to a small New Hampshire community where she had worked as an intern. “I knew I wanted to work in rural health care,” she said. “It was an underserved population.”
Whether in a rural or urban setting, Hunt said her career has focused on providing quality health care to poor and underserved patients.
She worked at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, where a core group of Hunt and three physician’s assistants cared for 250 patients in geriatric, psychiatric, ventilator, rehabilitation and a prison unit. “That was an initiation by fire – it was fabulous training,” she said. “If you could do that, you knew you could handle anything.”
In Hawaii, Hunt worked in rural community health centers and taught rural health care at the University of Hawaii School of Nursing. “For small communities, it’s important to have a provider who understands the clinic and isn’t separate from the community. They are part of the community.”
Returning to Center Sandwich, New Hampshire, a town with a population of 1,326 in the 2010 census, Hunt started her own practice. “It was a very similar situation to this one but in a much less desirable and well-equipped facility,” she said. She added that, unlike the Point Roberts clinic, she had no support staff and handled everything from lab work to billing and mopping the floors. She operated “in the black” for six years, and then closed her practice and returned to work for a family practice. “I was burned out,” she said.
When she saw the job posting for the Point Roberts clinic, Hunt said she knew it was a perfect fit. “I immediately wrote a letter to say I really do think I’m your ideal candidate.”
Hospital district commissioners agreed, and Hunt moved to the Point in early September, starting work at the clinic September 17 after initial training with the records system at Interfaith Community Health Center. “It’s beautiful, luxurious!” she said of the Point Roberts clinic. “The staff is wonderful. I consider it a team effort, and I’m part of that team.”
Hunt is looking forward to meeting what she sees as the rest of the team – her patients. “I believe the relationship between patient and provider is collegial,” she said. “The patient and the provider work together to figure out the best path of care.”
With a broad clinical experience Hunt can provide all the services patients have come to expect from the clinic – drawing blood, lab work, gynecological exams for women, issuing prescriptions and other aspects of family medicine. She can also deliver a baby in a pinch and sew up a simple laceration. If there is a medical situation she feels would be better served by another provider, such as a badly lacerated hand, she says she will make sure her patients get that care. “I’m not a hand surgeon, and I don’t mess with that, but I will move heaven and earth to get them to one,” she said.
A current challenge, Hunt said, is pertussis, or whooping cough. “There’s a significant outbreak in the state right now and particularly in Whatcom County,” she said. “Some adults need to be boosted.” The Washington State Secretary of Health declared a pertussis epidemic on April 3, 2012, and made more vaccines available for underinsured individuals who could be at risk.