Meet Martha!

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Martha gives Jim-Jim Thomas of Kasigluk a thorough check up with the otoscope as she hears concerns from Jim-Jim’s grandmother, Irene Thomas.

This month we are featuring Physician Assistant Martha Flores, originally of Mountain Village.

She is the proud mother of four children (Chico, Theresa, Crystal, and Edward) and seven grandchildren. Health has been a constant theme in Martha’s life and she thoroughly enjoys caring for patients.

Having started as a Health Aide in 1985, Martha later determined to advance her career as a Physician’s Assistant (PA). She attended the University of Washington Physician Assistant school and graduated in 1993 before joining YKHC.

When asked about how she was able to persevere through the intensity of PA school, she gives credit to her husband of 32 years (and YKHC Materials Management Inventory Control Analyst) David Flores for getting her through school and literally “raising the children” so she could concentrate on her studies.

“He quit his job to stay home with the kids while I was in school,” Martha said. “It was a sacrifice for all of us, but he was in charge of the dirty work and he could see the importance and the investment the continued education would have to benefit the whole family. I wouldn’t have been able to (finish school) without him. Many times I wanted to quit, but he was the one who made me realize if you do, ‘what are we going to do? what are our children going to do?’”

Her own mother was a medical aide and Martha grew up with a lot of exposure to medicine. Martha says she felt she “learned from the best,” namely Martha’s “all time favorite health aide,” the late Georgianna Waskey of Mountain Village. Martha says that Georgianna was the epitome of the dedicated Health Aide through and through. “She was a counselor, and anyone could feel they could approach her or go talk to her, confide in her. She treated everyone equally.”

Martha recounted Georgianna’s congratulatory remarks  when she earned her initial Health Aide certification back in 1985-”remember you’re treating family, friends, enemies, and even people you won’t like. It is up to you how to treat them, and you will learn to treat them as equals (and neutrally) because in health, you can’t take sides.” Martha said, “I’ve always remembered that and it really has helped me (in how I provide care.)”

Patient Centered Excellence – Martha’s way

I followed Martha around the ER as she tended to numerous patients. Out of the ten rooms, Martha was bouncing between three or four and taking care of paperwork as well as assisting TDY/Locums who may not have been as comfortable as she was with the routine.

In less than three hours of observing her providing care, she had seen four Title 47 patients (inebriated or patients who posed potential harm to self or others), administered to a patient with an elbow injury, a patient with a boil, a jaundiced baby, a child with rapid heart beat and breathing issues, four or five patients with cough/fever, and even provided some analysis of a couple who were in a sno-go wreck. Martha never skipped a beat. She washed her hands a million times, managed to chatter with other colleagues (many of whom are locum or TDY nurses), sent items off to the lab, filled and administered prescriptions, counseled and mentored other providers, and even managed to chat with me for the interview.

Alaska Native Workforce Development

Martha is living testimony to the power and commitment of developing, mentoring and growing the Alaska Native workforce.

Her oldest daughter, Teresa, also a PA, works in outpatient clinic, provides SBIRT* trainings, and is active with several initiatives in the community. Daughter Crystal has worked with YKHC’s finance administration for many years.

Although there aren’t many Alaska Native PAs or Nurses, and the work with numerous locums and TDYs from out-of-state is common to Martha, she mentioned, “I would love it if there were more Alaska Native nurses to work with.”

Cultural context in explaining care to patients is critical and meaningful to Martha. “When someone has an ear infection or a ruptured ear drum, I compare it to the edges along a lake which freeze, but the center is still soft. I describe high blood pressure similar to that of sloughs and tributaries which rise when the main river water rises and when it creeps up over the banks, it is too much.”

Martha’s use of analogies to provide context makes sense to her patients.

“Our people are aware of their surroundings, they pay attention, and using these comparisons and visuals, I feel, makes perfect sense to keep them informed on how or why things are the way they are in terms of their personal health.”

Elevating the health status of our region

“I would like to see the day when people are tobacco free, both smokeless and cigarettes.”

When I asked her if she felt her patients told the truth when conducting SBIRT screenings and if they stated they used tobacco, drugs, or alcohol – how do you know they are telling the truth?  Martha said “trust no one, but hear what they have to say and then make your own decision.”

Well said.  Quyana, Martha Flores for consistent dedication and compassion in your work as a PA in elevating the health status of our people.

*SBIRT: Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral to Treatment. This method is used in all YKHC outpatient clinics to assess potential high-risk alcohol use.

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