Family nurse practitioner reaches out to less fortunate


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2006 Healthcare Hero
Geralyn Hall

If you visit one of the migrant workers' camps in Oswego County during the growing season, you may see what resembles a scene out of the TV hit series "M.A.S.H." Alan Alda may not be there, but Geralyn Hall will.

Hall, a nurse practitioner for Oswego County Opportunities' Migrant Health Outreach Program, attends to the acute health care needs of migrant workers in the Fulton and Oswego areas. Hall — with the assistance of an LPN and outreach worker — sets up a tent, portable exam table and medical supplies and provides medical care to migrants on the farms in which they work. The OCO-administered program performs basic screenings, provides immunizations, tuberculosis testing along with acute medical care.

They often work late into the evening with lighting provided by battery-operated Coleman lanterns.

There are between six and 25 workers per camp. The workers hail from Latin America, and travel the "crop circuit," going where seasonal crops are being grown at the time.

"They make as much money here in one day as they can in one month in Latin America," Hall noted.

When the health program is in effect — the growing season here goes roughly from May–October — the 52-year-old Hall could see days which begin at 6 a.m. and end in the early evening hours. "It's backbreaking work. You can't find local folks to do that [work in muck] for such low wages," said Hall, who has worked with the migrant program in Oswego County since 2001.

One challenge for Hall is to provide continuing care to migrant workers with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or hypertension. The transient nature of their jobs makes it difficult to pinpoint exact healthcare needs, she noted. "They go from one crisis to another."

Hall said the Migrant Health Program has limited supplies of medications. "It's hit or miss if we can effectively provide adequate treatment," she said. "It's a challenge to maintain consistency with episodic acute care. It's such a mobile population."

Since no health records are kept, information gleaned from a patient is "vague" at best, Hall said. One of the more unusual cases Hall experienced involved a man who had collapsed in the field after complaining of headaches. Following a scan, it was determined that a parasite had burrowed into the brain of the man, causing seizures. After the parasite was killed, the man recovered.

In cases like these where emergency care is required for uninsured migrants, charities come to their assistance. Hospitals ultimately write off the cost for indigent care, she added.

Hall's greatest goal is to "walk with people and help them to feel empowered to get a handle on their own healthcare," she said. "I'm their No. 1 fan."

Hall works full-time at University Health Care Center, a practice site of University Hospital in Syracuse. She works as a nurse practitioner in adult medicine service for both inpatients and outpatients.

Hall's day-to-day work involves working closely with patients who have minimal financial resources. She attends to the needs of refugee and indigent populations, including Bosnians and Turks. "I've developed a liking to it over the years," she said.

Hall indeed is a global healthcare provider. She served as a community health nurse with the Maryknoll Missionary Society in Peru, South America from 1982-1985. Hall also worked as an emergency relief nurse with Church World Service in Somalia, Africa, from 1981-1982. She learned Spanish while working in Peru, and also learned some Somali. "It helps a lot. People open up to you when you speak their language," she said.

Working with other cultures has its rewards for Hall. "They have so much to teach us," the Fayetteville resident said. She said while other cultures stress a more simple way of life, their emphasis on forming strong relationships proves endearing. "They have values which we have lost." In a task-oriented society, other cultures like Peru make it a point to make a personal connection first, Hall added.

Hall is humble when asked what her greatest accomplishment is. "It's having had the privilege to work with a variety of culturally diverse patients in underserved areas."

Born in New Hampshire in 1953, Hall was raised in Maine. She is married to David Pasinski and has two children: a son Micah, 9, and daughter Mariah, 11. David is a longtime senior chaplain for CNY Hospice.

Hall attended Northeastern University and the University of Rhode Island. She underwent Accelerated Basic Hypnotherapy Training at American Pacific University in 2000.

Since 2001, Hall has served as a primary clinician and medical coordinator of the Asthma Research Project through the Department of Environmental Pathology, Upstate Medical University. Her research was published in the "American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine" in 2002. In the study, she followed 135 mothers with a history of asthma to study the effects of tobacco on asthma development in their newborns.

Hall has many interests, including participating in hiking, swimming and music with her children.

She has also continued her study in hypnotherapy, and has applied its techniques to ease pain in patients.

One of Hall's greatest influences was her mother, Lucille Hall, an RN. "I've always enjoyed being involved in healthcare situations," she said.

Hall hopes to see the day when quality care for all becomes the focus of the healthcare industry. She wants to see insurance companies reimburse providers for complementary medicine, such as chiropractic and hypnotherapy. "It's big business now where the key is to see as many people as possible in the least amount of time," Hall said. "You can see where medicine is going. Society doesn't recognize quality care for everyone," she added.

Diane Blasczienski, coordinator of patient services for Oswego County Opportunities, nominated Hall for the "Healthcare Hero" award.