An Angel on Earth: A Caring Nurse’s Outreach

Last winter, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 was surging, filling hospitals and alarming heath authorities worldwide. Meanwhile, Jim Sanderson of Hastings, Nebraska, was hard at work pursuing his passion as a singer-songwriter.

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Sanderson crossed paths with COVID-19 in January 2022, and his condition turned severe. He was hospitalized at Hastings’ Mary Lanning Hospital, spending eight days in intensive care. Even as he developed pneumonia and his blood oxygen levels plummeted, “the care I received was incredible,” Sanderson recalled.

When his numbers stabilized, he was discharged to recover at home. In his first days at home, he got a phone call from Susan Coughlin, a registered nurse and case manager at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE).

Coughlin’s initial outreach is a standard part of BCBSNE’s Care Management program, which connects members newly discharged from inpatient care to a team of in-house nurses. But that one routine phone call led to a strong and lasting friendship between the two Nebraskans.

BCBSNE’s case managers know the member’s coverage details and can advise on specific benefits and policies in addition to providing medical guidance and support backed by nursing expertise. Members can talk to their nurse care manager via phone calls or chat through a specialized, free mobile app. “She encouraged and supported me,” Sanderson said. “She helped give me hope.”

“Communication is 95% listening,” explained Coughlin, now in her 31st year as a registered nurse. “In this job, you have to listen and be there with the person on the other end of the phone. They may be sad, overwhelmed, angry; we walk through it all with them.”

In October 2022, Sanderson released a moving new song, “Angels (Here on Earth),” honoring the many health professionals who went above and beyond during the height of the pandemic. A corresponding video, published to Sanderson’s YouTube channel, features photos of doctors and nurses who cared for him during his COVID-19 journey. One of those photos features Coughlin. “I think she was a little taken aback when I asked her to be in the video,” Sanderson recalled, “but she was a critical part of my recovery, and I wanted to honor that.”

“I always wanted to be a teacher or a nurse,” Coughlin said. “My heart was always drawn to helping other people.” In her current role at BCBSNE, she estimates 30% of patients have specific health or insurance questions. The other 70% simply benefit from the kind and caring support offered by Coughlin and the other nurses at BCBSNE. The relationships, she said, are the best part of the work.

“My wife and I always looked forward to our calls,” said Sanderson. “We treasure our friendship with Susan. In many ways she feels like part of our family now. Susan let me know that Blue Cross was here for me and would do everything they could to help me get better again. She was interested in me—not just as a member, but as a person.”

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.

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