Ocean Springs — On the morning Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Mississippi Gulf Coast, K.C. Arnold, her 12-year-old son, 16-year-old German exchange student and faithful dog were riding out the Category 4 storm in the home of friends and family in Brandon.
As the weather worsened, Arnold, ANP, BC-ADM, was gravely concerned about her diabetic patients at Gulf Coast Endocrinology in Ocean Springs. Unable to check on her home or the clinic, she contacted the Mississippi Board of Nursing to volunteer her services in the metro Jackson area until she could travel down U.S. 49.
“The next thing I knew, I was working in a shelter in Brandon with no equipment except my stethoscope and script pad, seeing evacuees from Mississippi and Louisiana,” recalled Arnold.
By Thursday, Mississippi Board of Nursing executive director Delia Owens cleared Arnold to travel to the Gulf Coast. After waiting in line for three hours to buy gas, and braving traffic on U.S. 49, Arnold arrived home in Ocean Springs to find that her son’s room had a tree through the roof. “I felt so blessed to still have a house standing,” she said.
After a quick damage assessment of the clinic, which was still standing but had no electricity or phone service, Arnold made a bed on the floor of her office before heading to Ocean Springs Hospital to handle Emergency Room Fast Track duty. A few days later, Arnold was able to open the clinic doors to patients, working alone while sifting through hundreds of boxes of diabetes supplies. Her nurse and receptionist were still stranded outside the disaster area.
“In the middle of all of this, I became the point person for diabetes supplies,” she said, with a chuckle. “A weekly show on MSNBC had a national response for relief efforts for people who wanted to send diabetic equipment and supplies. Diabetes patients from all over the nation sent in some of their own supplies to help our residents, and the show shipped it all to me.”
During lunch hours and on weekends, Arnold volunteered at Christus Victor Lutheran Church in Ocean Springs, where a free medical clinic had been quickly set up for evacuees needing tetanus shots, wound care and medicine.
In mid-October, when it seemed her work schedule was getting back on track, Arnold’s boss told her she would have to close down the Ocean Springs clinic. “She wanted me to move to Gulfport, but I have over 500 diabetic patients in the Ocean Springs, Biloxi and Pascagoula area, and I can’t ask those patients to drive to Gulfport,” said Arnold.
Now jobless, within 24 hours, Arnold decided to open her own clinic. In less than a week, she had secured a doctor, nephrologist Kristen Vergunst, to oversee the clinic, contracted an accountant to help her establish a line of credit to move the practice and purchase equipment, initiated the necessary business incorporation paperwork, and signed a lease on a building.
A grand opening
On November 1, Arnold will officially open Diabetes Center, PLLC.
“This is the craziest time in my life,” admitted Arnold. “It’s like standing on a cliff and knowing you’re in the right hands, that you’re going to be taken care of, and that you’re going to do the right thing for your patients.”
Arnold’s patients initially expressed concern when they learned that Gulf Coast Endocrinology would close its Ocean Springs clinic October 13. “They’d give me this look like, ‘OK, what’s next?’ and when I’d tell them I was opening a clinic half a mile down the road, they’d grin and say, ‘Great, I’ll be there.’”
A self-professed techno-geek, Arnold implemented an electronic medical records system six years ago, making certain that every patient had a medical summary to keep with them. In the aftermath of the storm, having immediate access to critical medical information was invaluable.
“Diabetes treatment has been my passion here for 10 years, and I just feel this is the right step,” she said. “I’m blessed to have a good relationship in this community with other providers.”
Before she opens the doors to the new center, Arnold will crisscross the country giving lectures to nurse practitioners at the American College of Nurse Practitioners in California and the Cardiovascular Institute of the South in Miami.
“Miracles have been happening every day here as things reach some sense of normalcy,” said Arnold. “I have been honored to work alongside nurses, nurse practitioners and medical doctors from all over the U.S. in the face of this disaster. I have watched ordinary people do extraordinary things.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.