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Ignacio nurse an advocate for the profession and her community

Dixie Melton honored with 2021 Colorado Nightingale Award
Dixie Melton, family nurse practitioner and owner of Ignacio Family Medicine, in front of her business in Ignacio. Melton won the 2021 Colorado Nightingale Award presented Oct. 16, in addition to the regional Southwestern Colorado Nightingale Luminary Award in September. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

IGNACIO – Dixie Melton, 64, has been honored with the 2021 Colorado Nightingale Award for clinical nurses in the category of leadership for her efforts in spearheading volunteer COVID-19 vaccination efforts in Ignacio, where Melton has lived most of her life.

But Melton has served her small community for many years before the world was swept up by the coronavirus pandemic.

She is a certified family nurse practitioner with 40 years of experience. Her own medical practice, Ignacio Family Medicine, has stood for nearly 30 years. She serves on the town board of trustees, which she’s been with for eight years, and she volunteered with the old ambulance service for another decade.

Melton rallied about 60 volunteers in January 2021 to assist in local vaccination efforts, which were successful in administering 2,600 doses of the approved Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines over five clinics hosted at Ignacio Middle School.

The successful vaccination clinics were the result of Melton leading the efforts and merging the resources of multiple entities, including the town of Ignacio, Ignacio chief of police, Ignacio School District, Los Pinos Fire Department, San Juan Basin Public Health and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Individual volunteers included medical professionals and retirees, IT personnel, cooks and other community members. Melton herself served as the incident commander for the clinics.

Volunteers were scouted mostly by word of mouth.

The model for the clinics was based on the 9Health Fair format from Southern Ute Community Action Programs, now the Southern Colorado Community Action Agency, which Melton is plenty familiar with because she served on the SUCAP board and has organized Ignacio health fairs.

Lynne Murison, who nominated Melton for the Nightingale Award, called her a “modest” and “honorable” person.

Ignacio Town Manager Mark Garcia said in a letter that Melton is “a true professional,” and mentioned that one vaccination recipient wrote in a thank you card that Melton is “one of the angels among us.”

Karen Zink, a fellow nurse practitioner and colleague of Melton’s, first reached out to Melton suggesting she spearhead vaccination efforts in Ignacio.

Zink described her as smart, efficient, well-liked, a good nurse and an advocate for her patients and the profession of nursing.

A lifetime in nursing
Dixie Melton, family nurse practitioner and owner of Ignacio Family Medicine, earned her bachelor’s of science in 1982 and began her own practice in 1998. Melton won the 2021 Colorado Nightingale Award presented Oct. 16. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Melton has always been interested in anatomy and biology. Her mother worked as a nurse before her, and Melton figured out in high school that she wanted to become a nurse herself.

After she earned her bachelor’s of science in nursing in 1982, Melton returned to the area to work at La Plata Community Hospital.

Melton worked at the community hospital for a while, but she wasn’t done growing. She earned her master’s degree in community health through an outreach program offered in Durango. From there, she went to work as the health and safety program director for SUCAP.

“I oversaw what was the beginning of the fitness center,” Melton said. “We rented car seats, we had a volunteer ambulance before it went and consolidated with the fire department.”

Around 1997, Melton returned to the outreach program, this time to focus on her post-master’s family nurse practitioners certificate.

She briefly moved to Farmington where she worked at Presbyterian Medical Services of Farmington Community Health Center. But, she was drawn back to Ignacio.

In December 1998, she purchased the building housing another medical practice owned by Dr. Carl Dedargy, and thus, Ignacio Family Medicine was born. In 2002, Melton and her husband purchased the building and lot at 115 Cedar St. They have since expanded on the original building with modular units to increase indoor space.

In a letter of support for Melton, Zink described the challenges Melton initially faced while trying to start her own family practice.

“The physician who sold the practice initially refused, claiming that it was illegal for an NP to own a medical practice,” Zink said. “No physician wanted to purchase the financially marginal practice.”

In an interview, Zink recalled additional barriers to entry for Melton and other advanced practice registered nurses, such as the requirement of having a collaborative physician.

“It was only in 2010 that advanced practice nurses could practice without the collaboration of a physician,” Zink said. “We both started practices well before the Colorado Nurse Practice Act allowed autonomous practice on the part of advanced practitioners.”

Dixie Melton, family nurse practitioner and owner of Ignacio Family Medicine, inside her business in Ignacio. Melton won the statewide Nightingale Luminary Award presented Oct. 16. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Melton eventually approached Dr. Matt deKay, who runs Mesa Family Practice in Farmington and agreed to sign off as her collaborative physician. Melton still consults with deKay to this day.

If anything has changed in the profession of nursing since Melton got her start in 1982, it’s that nurse practitioners can act much more independently now.

“There’s less and less things that have to be co-signed by a physician, very few things anymore,” Melton said.

Melton has been a nurse practitioner since 1997, but nursing is not all she has occupied her time with since then.

She has served on the Ignacio board of trustees for the past eight years, although she doesn’t foresee herself continuing on the board after her current term expires in April.

Before she was appointed to the board of trustees and then ran for another term, Melton served on the Ignacio Planning Commission.

“I think everyone in their lifetime should serve on a public board,” she said.

It’s easy to criticize local governments from the outside, Melton said, but serving on a board makes it clear how challenging public service can be.

“I’ve enjoyed the work,” she said. “There are times that are really difficult and you have to make difficult decisions, but that’s part of it.”

Melton also serves on the state Medicaid rate review committee, which she’s been on for about six years.

Before the Ignacio Volunteer Emergency Squad was consolidated underneath Los Piños Fire Department, Melton volunteered as an emergency medical technician with the ambulance service. It served the Ignacio area and as far as Arboles and Oxford.

She couples with several other providers yearly to perform sports physicals for students at the local school district.

When Zink first approached Melton about COVID-19 vaccination efforts, Melton said the idea felt “ominous.” The clinics ended up running incredibly smoothly, but Melton has not been without her challenges through the pandemic.

Melton said her practice is not immune to the general barriers propped up by the presence of the coronavirus. It can be difficult to keep up with fluid information about the disease. Especially in the beginning when information was changing daily, she said.

Dixie Melton, family nurse practitioner and owner of Ignacio Family Medicine, inside her business in Ignacio. Melton started her practice in 1998 and purchased the building she operates from today in 2002. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Remote appointments have also been challenging for Melton and residents of Ignacio, particularly her older patients.

“We started doing telehealth and virtual visits, which is quite interesting out here because our internet’s terrible,” she said. “... And I have a lot of older folks who don’t navigate the internet well.”

Melton said her practice has had to deal with anti-mask sentiments as well, but she and her staff have remained firm and stuck to mask-use requirements.

“We’re a medical office and it’s not new to us,” she said. “It’s always been if you’re sick or if you have a cough or whatever, we ask you to wear a mask. This is not a new phenomenon to our office.”

Melton has no plans to retire from her practice any time soon. She feels “humbled and honored” to be the recipient of the Southwestern Colorado Nightingale Luminary Award. She said she couldn’t have led vaccination efforts without the backing of the community and all of the volunteers who answered her call to help.

cburney@durangoherald.com

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