It’s a typical warm Monday morning in Tucson.
As the sun rises, more and more people gather outside the Sam Lena-South Tucson Library. Some are here for the towering shelves of books, some for the computers, and a few for the air-conditioning.
Others are here for the nurses.
Inside, Nurse Kristin Robinson-Lund sets up her “office” at a wooden table between two small bookcases. A small blue cooler, packed with flu and tetanus shots, sits next to her as she prepares for the crowd to stroll in.
She greets everyone as they claim their spots around the library and lets them know of the services available. One-by-one, tired and gruff-looking men and women visit her desk. Occasionally they share their stories of life on the street and in extreme poverty. Some have walked miles to receive shots, diabetes tests, referrals to medical specialists or resources on overcoming addiction.
Robinson-Lund is not alone in her efforts. Library nurses have become a permanent establishment in 12 Pima County libraries and are part of a large healthcare initiative put in place by the county.
The Pima County Department of Health identified four health topics that needed more attention: substance abuse, mental health, diabetes, and injuries or accidents.
With most of the Hispanic population between the ages of 18 and 34 uninsured, the county had to find a way to help people receive medical help and make changes to their lifestyle.
Glenn Holub uses the resources offered at the libraries. Navigating Tucson in his electric wheelchair, he travels on public transportation to visit the nurses.
“Every time they’re here I make an effort to see them,” says Holubof. “They’re really helpful. I have them check my blood pressure every few weeks.”
He is not alone.
“I see a wide variety of patients from the homeless to regular patrons who are just visiting the library,” says Mary Francis, a nurse at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library.
“In the last couple of years, we’ve had a lot of incidents in the libraries due to patrons with mental health or intoxication issues,” she says, “and so we implemented nurses to assist the librarians and provide real-time information.”
With nurses visiting libraries twice a month and one stationed permanently at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library in Downtown Tucson, more people are becoming enrolled in affordable healthcare and receiving the treatment they need both physically and emotionally.
“Our goal is to provide a space where we can support each other, socialize, think about problems and ways to stay involved in the community,” says Salvador Barajas, a diabetes support group leader at the Valencia Library. “We are always looking to get the word out in order to create a bigger community and improve the lives of people here in Tucson.”
In addition to the support groups, participants in the library health checkups can be referred to various classes on addictions, medical education and physical fitness.
The libraries and Pima Health Department share the cost for the nurses.
The librarians are satisfied with the help it brings to the community.“I think it’s a fantastic program that has helped us de-escalate a lot of situations in the library that were brought on by patrons’ health issues,” says Emily Lane, assistant manager of the Valencia Library of the nurses. “They don’t just give advice, they give resources that have been helpful in bringing health literacy to the community.”
The role of the library in the community continues to expand as word spreads about the library nurses and the health care they provide.
“Libraries are a place for help, learning and refuge for the community,” says Nurse Robinson-Lund. “So what we do is just another part of that mission.”
Jordan Glenn is a reporter for El Independiente, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. To contact him email email@example.com
For high resolution photos go here.