MANCHESTER, NH — When one first meets Laura Nelson, you’re immediately struck by her enthusiasm and good cheer. And once you engage her in conversation, you almost forget that this meeting is taking place in an infusion suite on the first floor of the Elliot Hospital.
Surrounded by clinical staff who take her vital signs and prepare her for a treatment of Remicade (used to treat chronic inflammation), Nelson chats about her medical history, her family and her professional career as an educator, attorney and consultant. She is also effusive as to why she chooses to get her care at the Elliot, coming to the infusion suite several times each year, even though she lives out of town. This would be interesting in and of itself until you find out she lives way out of town — as in North Carolina.
Talk about a healthy long-distance relationship.
So why come so far for a treatment she could get a lot closer to home?
“The care I receive at Elliot for my condition is a true game changer,” she says, adding that her close relationship with her providers and staff is what led to her continue some of her medical treatments in Manchester after she relocated to Charlotte.
Prior to moving to the Tar Heel state, Nelson held leadership roles in several NH School districts, including posts as Superintendent of Schools for Derry and Assistant Superintendent in Exeter and Kearsage. She’d been a patient of the late Dr. Christopher Lynch and then Dr. Douglas Marks from Elliot Rheumatology. “I’d been coming to their practice for so long, they knew me as a patient and as a person,” she recalls. “I wanted to see if I could continue that relationship.”
With degrees in education (UNH) and law (UNH law), the former Concord resident now serves as an Executive Consultant for EduLaw Leadership Solutions where she provides professional development for staff and helps organizations improve their communications. She also serves as Adjunct Faculty at UNH, New England College and Plymouth State University. As such, she returns to NH several times each year and builds her schedule around medical visits and consulting work.
She calls herself a “true health care consumer” and strongly advocates for people learning about their medical conditions and being advocates in their own care. “Every situation is unique and there is usually not a one-size-fits-all answer,” she says. “This particular arrangement (medical travel to Manchester) works for me.”
When it comes to the literal health value of the provider-patient relationship, Nelson might be onto something. Numerous studies — including one from Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital — state that the relationship and trust built up over time can produce beneficial health outcomes.
According to Anne-Marie Hafeman, Manager, Public Affairs and Marketing at Elliot Hospital, while the distance Nelson travels to the infusion suite is certainly unique, the concept of the treatment performed in the out-patient setting is a growing trend.
“Our approach is truly patient-centered, and we work to make it as convenient and comfortable as possible,” Hafeman said.
To that point, in recent years, the hospital has reconfigured its ground floor to accommodate multiple infusion areas where patients can read or watch a movie while receiving treatment. Hafeman said that in some cases, Elliot doctors also work with visiting nurses to provide home-based infusion. “We’re always assessing how we can improve and enhance patient experiences,” she said.
Nelson makes it clear that she has medical providers in North Carolina that she likes and trusts, but for her chronic inflammation and related issues, she’ll continue her 1,600–mile round-trip commute from Charlotte to the Queen City.
“These people (Elliot staff and volunteers) are like family to me,” she says. “They are critical to my good health.”