Even before May 2022, Pearl Merritt knew Abilene was a special place, but the events that unfolded for 12 days beginning May 17 sealed the deal.
Merritt and her husband were among the victims during the 12 days that it took firefighters to contain what became known as the Mesquite Heat Fire in western Taylor County. They lost their house near View in the ordeal but escaped unharmed thanks to first responders and friends. They were left with a deep sense of gratitude and understanding of how fragile life is.
“It made us so grateful to live in Abilene when numerous friends and strangers reached out to help us,” Merritt said. “I feel very grateful and blessed.”
The script was flipped in a sense for Merritt when she had to rely on others to take care of her. Normally, she is the one serving as caregiver and teaching others that skill. Merritt has enough educational degrees and job titles to fill several business cards, but among them are Registered Nurse, doctor of education, master of science in nursing, regional dean of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Nursing in Abilene, nursing dean at Cisco College, and director of the Laura W. Bush Institute in Abilene. The list goes on.
In her position as dean of nursing for two institutions and a contributor to numerous health-related publications, Merritt has her eye on trends in health care. Some of her observations are grim. The shortage of nurses in the Abilene area and nationwide is expected to worsen in coming years. Abilene, she noted, is fortunate to have four nursing schools.
“Hopefully, the younger generation will realize there are many opportunities in nursing,” she said, “and it is a great career field.”
WHAT MAKES ABILENE UNIQUE?
It truly is the people that make Abilene unique. When the Mesquite Fire burned down our home and workshop, many people reached out to us within 48 hours and offered their homes to us to stay in. The people of Abilene have open hearts to help their neighbors and friends.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST HEALTHCARE CHALLENGE FACING ABILENE?
The shortage of nurses is critical in Abilene and also across the nation. The projected shortage of Registered Nurses is expected to increase from over 29,000 to 57,012 by 2032. Abilene is fortunate to have four nursing schools. Hopefully the younger generation will realize there are many opportunities in nursing and it is a great career field. According to the latest annual Gallup rating of various professions, nurses lead the nation in ratings for honesty and ethics for the 20th consecutive year.
DOES THE ABILENE CAMPUS OF THE TTUHSC SCHOOL OF NURSING CONSISTENTLY HAVE A FULL ENROLLMENT? WHERE DO THE STUDENTS COME FROM?
Abilene consistently has full enrollment and students attend from locations all across the state. We also have some out of state students and currently have some international students from France and Nepal.
YOU ARE VIEWED AS A GO-TO EXPERT IN GERIATRIC NURSING CARE. DO YOU FORESEE ANY MAJOR CHANGES COMING IN THAT AREA OF NURSING?
Sixty percent of Americans have at least one chronic disease. That number increases to two or more after the age of 60 (Centers for Disease Control). The practice setting and nursing schools need to have an increasing focus on chronic disease management to prepare nurses to manage care for these vulnerable populations. Chronic diseases include both physical and mental illnesses that encompass the lifespan. Nursing practice now recognizes the increasing need to have a “Chronic Disease Management” framework.
Older adults comprise a good majority of people with chronic disease. Depression, loneliness, and social isolation is a global crisis, especially in the older adult with chronic diseases. Grief from a death of a spouse and retirement are a big part of the problem.
There is a need for “care coordination” of all people, especially those with chronic diseases requiring multiple providers. Technology such as Telehealth is becoming a driving forces in assessment and care.
YOU AND YOUR FAMILY LOST YOUR HOME AND BELONGINGS IN THE MESQUITE HEAT FIRES LAST MAY. HAVE YOU SETTLED INTO A NEW HOME? HOW DID THAT EXPERIENCE AFFECT YOUR LIFE?
The Mesquite Heat Fire and the loss of our home and belongings increased our faith in God and brought out the increased love of family and friends. It was very humbling that our neighbors who we did not know were on the volunteer fire department of View and risked their lives to go into danger to save strangers when winds were 60 miles per hour and flames over 200 feet in height. We were so grateful to the View Baptist Church members and pastor who fed us and housed us for several days.
There is no doubt many miracles occurred the days of the Mesquite Heat Fire. There were no fire fighters, volunteers, or home owners injured in the fire which lasted several days. The fire burned around the edges of our tiny home but did not burn it down, leaving us a place to live in since our home had burned down.
This disaster made us more appreciative of our Sheriff Ricky Bishop and his deputies who also risked their lives to save our lives and our neighbors lives. It made us so grateful to live in Abilene when numerous friends and strangers reached out to help us. No one ever thinks their home will burn down and it makes you realize life is very short and we should live it every day as if it could be our last. I feel very grateful and blessed.
CURRENTLY READING: Where the Crawdads Sing
FAVORITE HOBBY: Gardening and working in my “greenhouse”
DRINK: Vanilla Latte
By Loretta Fulton
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