Nurses dodge bullets to provide care

Atundra Horne leaves the home of a patient in Chicago while her security officer stands guard.

Story highlights

  • Nurses encounter drugs, prostitution and gunfire while treating patients
  • Health care workers now travel with armed guards for protection
  • Some of their patients are gun violence victims
Atundra Horne walks along the battered cement pathway to her patient's home with a set jaw and a solemn face. A computer with patient records is slung over her shoulder; a backpack stuffed with gauze, bandages and other medical equipment rolls behind her.
Horne is a home health nurse, and her patients live in some of the roughest areas in Chicago. On this day she is working in Auburn Gresham, a neighborhood on the South Side. Horne's workplace is far from water coolers and cubicles; instead, she says, it involves drugs, prostitution and the occasional clap of gunfire.
"There is a lot of crime," said Horne, who has been a nurse for 14 years. "It is a danger you face every day that you're out here."
The threat of danger is so acute that trailing a few steps behind Horne is a security officer toting a loaded gun.
A year and a half ago it became standard protocol for Horne and her colleagues at Advocate Health Care to travel with armed security officers, who offer protection while the nurses treat patients.
They need the help. In 2012 there were more than 500 homicides in Chicago, many caused by guns, according to local crime statistics. The deaths tend to be concentrated in the South Side neighborhoods that Horne and her colleagues visit every day.
"There are people hanging out on street corners, there are drug dealers congregating," nurse Beth Kairis said, describing the rough areas where she works. "You see different crime scenes and makeshift memorials for people who were shot the night before."
Kairis recalled a recent visit to care for a baby who was quite ill. As she and the security officer pulled up to the house, they found out there had just been a shooting less than a block away. Mobs of people filled the street; the situation was dangerous.
Beth Kairis visits patients in Chicago with retired police officer Steve Haras.
Leaving the baby without care