It’s a Monday at 1:32 p.m. on a sunny afternoon in Scottsdale. School is out for summer break and Wyatt Venisnik stands in the kitchen and looks out the window, rocking himself back and forth. Within seconds, he turns to leave, sets kitchen timers to go off randomly and heads to another room. Except when he’s asleep, Wyatt is constantly on the move. Literally.
Wyatt was only six months old when he was diagnosed with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a rare and relentless seizure disorder. A few years later, he would also be diagnosed with severe autism. The dual-diagnoses makes it nearly impossible for Wyatt to sit or stand still. As an infant, Wyatt experienced over 300 seizures a day. Now at age 12, he is down to five or six seizures per week. But the types and intensity of seizures remain severe. At any time, awake or asleep, his muscles can stiffen until he drops or freezes to the point of respiratory arrest. If he doesn’t come out of a seizure within a few seconds, emergency medication needs to be administered immediately. Needless to say, Wyatt needs constant care, day and night.
Christine and Bryan Duncan, Wyatt’s mother and stepfather are devoted to his care. The couple take care of Wyatt in half-hour shifts. For example, Bryan takes Wyatt out for breakfast each morning, giving Christine a little time to take care of things at home. Both parents are on constant alert for signs of an episode or to meet their son’s needs. Fortunately, as a member of the Department of Economic Security (DES) Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), Wyatt is entitled to skilled nursing services at home.
“It’s constant supervision,” said Christine, “which is why the nursing and all that is such a blessing, because we’re on the move all the time.”
“Without that, without nursing, it would be too much,” said Bryan.
Through a DDD-contracted vendor, Wyatt’s care is scheduled in shifts. On this particular afternoon, Nurse Francine is on duty.
“She’s been such a blessing to our family,” said Christine. “She’s really great!”
In-home skilled nursing helps keep DDD members at home with their families instead of needing to be admitted in a medical group home. “The [skilled nursing] services allow [members] to live in the community, in their homes,” explained Kimberly Mozes, DDD Nursing Program Manager. “That’s the goal of it.”
When prescribed by a qualified and licensed physician, a DDD Support Coordinator works with DDD habilitation nurses to assess and authorize in-home skilled nursing. Nursing services are authorized based on a needs assessment, which is conducted by DDD’s Health Care Clinical Services unit.
Soon to be 13 years old, Wyatt Venisnik is a joyful, happy young man who loves school, taking rides in the family car and visiting McCormick-Stillman Ranch Railroad Park.
Currently, DDD nursing services support over 1,200 Arizonans a year. The objectives of skilled nursing services are to improve or maintain the physical well-being and/or mental health of DDD members; increase or maintain a member’s self-sufficiency, and provide relief to the primary caregivers.
Because of the severity of Wyatt’s diagnoses, he qualifies to receive continuous skilled nursing services. The nurses watch and monitor Wyatt for his breathing and seizure activity, and administer medication as needed. This precious time allows the Duncans to pursue their realtor jobs and handle typical family tasks, like arranging for their own move and the upcoming school year in a new school district.
Mozes thinks of in-home skilled nursing as a life saver. “It is really important [and] we do a lot of it,” said Mozes. These services directly influence the health and well-being of members and their families every day. “It kind of saves the whole family,” said Mozes.
By Lyn Riley