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Time to pay for health, nurse says

Monnette Viau, who has earned her doctorate in nursing, is a retired nurse-educator who thinks it is only a matter of time before a national health insurance plan is adopted in the United States.

Viau is the local coordinator of health advocacy services for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and a former member of the Hernando Health Board.

"The Medicare system is failing," Viau said. "We cannot patch up Medicare any longer. AARP has advocates in Washington, D.C., right now pushing for a plan called Health Care America."

Viau said the AARP plan is a health care program for all people, not just the elderly. "We are dead set against any plan that does not include all people in the United States. The plan being pushed by AARP is cost-effective, includes long-term care, and care for everyone not covered by insurance," Viau said. "We hope to have the cost of drugs included in the plan."

She said some have criticized AARP's legislative committees unfairly. "We have never wanted anything for the elderly that wasn't available to everyone else."

Viau said increased nationwide attention will be paid to the prevention of illness. At the present time, she is training a class of eight volunteers who are ready to bring health education programs to all areas of Hernando County. AARP has provided her with first-class equipment, such as videotapes, slides and educational materials.

"We will go anywhere," Viau said. "We will bring programs to those unable to get to senior centers, to mobile home parks, and to private homes as long as there are at least 10 to 12 people gathered."

Viau brings her years as an educator to this effort. After serving in the Army Nurse Corps, she spent 15 years as a registered nurse in clinical practice and earned her master's degree and doctorate in nursing. She subsequently taught nursing at California State University in Fresno.

In 1988, Viau became a member of an ad hoc committee appointed by the Hernando County Commission to study the health needs of the indigent in Hernando County.

"We were especially concerned about the plight of indigent mothers and the unusually large number of unwed pregnancies," Viau said. "There was no organized prenatal care, and indigent girls went to emergency rooms in labor without any previous prenatal care. As a result, we had a high number of premature babies and infant mortality."

After three months, the committee presented its findings to the County Commission, which decided to establish a full-time Hernando Health Board. Viau served on that board for three years, until her term expired in December.

"We were also asked to look into primary care for the indigent elderly and the medical needs of children," Viau said.

"We now have a fine prenatal care program with a cadre of nurses and three doctors. They are paid by Medicaid and from the budget of the county Health Department," Viau said.

The board worked closely with the Hernando County Health Department, and Viau said their director, Charlotte Boorde, runs a magnificent operation. "The only real problem they have is lack of space. I think we'll have to take shifts at the desks soon."

Viau said everyone looks forward to the promised construction of a new Health Department building in the near future.

"We also work with HRS," Viau said. "They are available to help with eligibility requirements for Medicaid."

Many children are not eligible for Medicaid, or have little or no insurance. "Budget cuts have affected programs for these children," Viau said. "I think the medical needs of many of these children are not as serious as their psychological and mental health needs, due to abuse, alcoholism and drugs in the home.

"The numbers of unwed mothers have added to problems. We have networked with counselors in the schools, and with a coalition of health professionals in Sumter and Citrus counties to try and solve this problem."

Viau is an optimist, however. "We have come a long way in the past five to seven years," she said.

Viau has great admiration for the efforts of AARP in health advocacy programs. "They are the finest organization I have ever been associated with," she said. "The layers of administration are so clear-cut, and filled with people of excellent caliber. Every call we made to Washington has received first-class attention from AARP, and when requested, we were promptly furnished with quality materials."