As Carroll County General Hospital's community education coordinator, Fran Miller's goal is to keep people out of the hospital.
Mrs. Miller coordinates the hospital's public health education programs, organizes an annual countywide health fair and offers one-on-one instruction to diabetic patients on how to manage their illness at home.
The 33-year hospital employee was honored for her work last week by the Maryland Nurses Association, which named her one of the three outstanding nurses of 1994 in the Baltimore metropolitan area.
Mrs. Miller, 56, sees the award as recognition for the increased emphasis on the role nurses play in preventive health care.
"Nurses are leading the way in a lot of health care reform," said Mrs. Miller. "They provide a lot of direct patient care and are being called on to look at what's going to be best for the patient as we look at cutting costs."
Much of Mrs. Miller's community education work involves stressing the importance of preventive medicine through weight loss and nutrition classes, smoking cessation classes and health screenings.
"The hospital has always been viewed as a place to come when you're sick," Mrs. Miller said. "We're trying to change that view, so people see it as a place to come when you're healthy."
The hospital's most popular health education offerings include CPR and first aid. Many of the students are day-care providers who are required to take the courses to get or retain licensing, Mrs. Miller said.
In addition to coordinating and sometimes teaching the hospital's education classes, Mrs. Miller is a certified diabetic educator who works with newly diagnosed diabetes patients to develop care plans that address menus, exercise and medication.
"The whole goal is to prevent them from having complications with the disease and keep them out of the hospital," Mrs. Miller said.
The health screenings Mrs. Miller organizes for cancer, high blood pressure and other serious medical problems are an important aspect of the hospital's community outreach program. She said Carroll County General attempts to provide the tests free or for a minimal cost.
This month, the hospital offered skin and prostate cancer screenings.
"Some of our doctors picked up some pretty significant cancers during the [prostate] screenings," Mrs. Miller said.
At times, running the hospital's community education program can be "overwhelming," she said.
For example, she and her staff of two part-time co-workers scheduled 200 appointments at Carroll County General this month for prostate cancer screenings.
Mrs. Miller hasn't approached local businesses about bringing community health programs to the work site, but area companies often call to ask her to bring health workshops and screenings to their offices. She said she wants to expand her work-site visits, but would like two full-time staffers to do it.
Mrs. Miller made the transition from patient care to patient education in 1980. She created the position of community education coordinator and has held that job for five years.
Mrs. Miller has worked for Carroll County General since the hospital opened in 1961 with 50 beds.
The chance to work in a just-opened hospital was one of the highlights of her career. "Everything was new and shiny, and nobody really knew how things were going to happen," Mrs. Miller said. "We had to feel our way together in terms of policy, procedure and staffing."
During her 33 years with the hospital, Mrs. Miller has served in almost every department.
"There's no way to get bored," she said. "And when you have the reward of seeing someone get well, it makes it all worthwhile."