It’s no surprise that Steve Johnston is passionate about his new position as an advanced practice nurse for Hospice of the Panhandle’s new palliative care program.
He learned from the best.
His late mother, Linda, was an operating room nurse at Jefferson Memorial Hospital for 15 years until she retired. Her passion for nursing was something she passed along to her son, one of five boys who she and her late husband, Bill, raised in Engle Switch, outside of Harpers Ferry.
“She waited until she was in her 40s – till we were mostly out of the house – to go to Shepherd and get her degree in nursing,” Johnston said. “She just loved it.”
The vast majority of nurses that Linda Johnston worked with over the course of her career were females, Johnston said with a smile, making up for all those years of raising five sons.
Johnston clearly loves the nursing profession as well – he has been an RN, also at Jefferson Memorial, at Fresenius Kidney Care and most recently worked as a hospitalist for Sound Physicians after he received his doctorate of nursing practice. Before his nursing career, he was an X-ray technician at several medical facilities across the tri-state region.
Introducing Panhandle Palliative Services
Johnston will spearhead Hospice of the Panhandle’s new palliative care program, which gets its start in March. The program is designed to help chronically ill cardiac and pulmonary patients manage their disease processes through an approach that combines comfort-oriented care along with more aggressive measures. It will initially be available to patients and families in Berkeley and Jefferson counties.
“We are very excited to offer this new line of service to patients and families,” said Hospice of the Panhandle CEO Margaret Cogswell. “We are always looking for the next thing we can do to serve the community, and this has been a long time in the making.”
The community-based program, called “Panhandle Palliative Services,” is being funded through a generous estate gift from Earl and Marie Snyder, a Berkeley County couple who appreciated Hospice services over the course of their lifetimes. Marie Snyder died in 2019 at Hospice of the Panhandle’s Inpatient Facility.
The program will include in-home visits made by Johnston, during which he and a social worker, when needed, will help patients set goals and establish emergency plans so they can avoid trips to a hospital’s emergency room. Johnston also will coordinate with patients’ cardiologists and pulmonologists so that together, they can help manage patients’ symptoms as a team.
Johnston is excited about being able to be part of this new community-based palliative care program. In addition to working closely with primary care physicians and cardiologists and pulmonologists, he sees himself being in close contact with area hospital staff members.
“Because of my work as a hospitalist, I have many good relationships in the community, especially at Berkeley Medical Center,” he said.
Johnston said that over the past two years, he’s seen many heart and lung patients make trip after trip to the hospital.
“The hospital can be an intimidating place for some folks. I think we can show patients that this (Panhandle Palliative Services) can really be a safety net,” Johnston said. “My job is to educate people. And I want people to be comfortable with me – I can give them information that they need and deserve.”
Caring for his community
Johnston has lived in Jefferson County all his life – he and his wife, Sandy, a respiratory therapist, have built a home and raised their family near his homeplace, in the Engle Switch area of Harpers Ferry.
“I think my main thing is that I just want to make a difference in the community,” Johnston said.
To learn more about Panhandle Palliative Services, call (304) 264-0406.