During my time in college, I had applied to join the navy. My family was military and I thought it would be a great choice however I quickly discovered they wanted French Majors. Seriously? My original internship had also paid off. I had been offered the position of probation officer, but had declined. So my first “real” job came from a health care organization that was opening a new branch office in my hometown. It was called Alternative Care and was a home care company. Along with their physical expansion, they were moving into home health. I moved into the “Coordinator of Services” position and had a tough time explaining to my family exactly what it was that I did. The important question for them was “How much do you make?” and in 1981, I commanded a salary of $12,600. My father thought this was high. Remember, it was 1981.
I started by staffing at nursing homes and in private duty cases we had. Eventually I graduated to the home health division. I had discovered the difference in Home Health and Home Care. Home Care is personal care, paid for by private funds or a long term care policy. Occasionally, it was covered by Medicaid or Waiver services. Home Health is a skilled service that is paid for by your health care policy and/or Medicare. At the time, all documentation was done by paper and was a huge amount of work! However, I was enjoying my time there and felt that I was making a difference to my community. I also was getting paid.
Then, suddenly, my favorite person in the world became ill. Mommom, my 85 year old grandmother, had a bleeding ulcer among other things that finally kept her down. Her 5 remaining daughters all met to decide what to do. After a long discussion, her physician from a local Catholic hospital ordered home health for her. My entire family was unfamiliar with the concept and had no idea what to expect.
On the first day of care, the nurse entered. Unfortunately, she wasn’t one of mine. However, she saved the day. She came twice a day to help with medications and discovered that a certain medication was giving Mommom her ulcer and exacerbated her condition. It was a miracle. Mommon’s daughters all proclaimed that the nurse and home care were the best things ever. For 4 months, she received care and eventually graduated to a point where she could be strong enough to live on her own again. Even I was impressed.
For 2 more years, she was (as described by her children) a “force to be reckoned with” and lived in her own house with her cherished collections of figurines and trinkets. However, around 87 years old, something had changed. She ended up on hospice and allowed nurses into her home once again. They offered her things we never thought she would allow. The home health aides gave her baths, fed her and kept her company. She gave the family a break. Her priest came, and even he was surprised at the docile woman she had become.
One day, the priest asked Mommom what she was worried about. “Please don’t put me in the nursing home.” She wept. It was something that our family would never forget and we all understood her fears. Together with the hospice team, we developed a plan. We would sit with her and talk when she wanted and simply sit there when she did not. We would keep her at home and eventually she died there. The fact that she was able to stay in her home up until her death was wonderful.
In the meantime, I had made my way up through the ranks of the home health company where I worked. My workload rapidly expanded and my knowledge of the industry grew. Through my family’s experience with home health and hospice with Mommom, it had become personal. My grandmother needed help and there were people there: The nurse who worked hard to provide care to her and the home health aide who worked to give the family a break. She even had therapy, though she never liked that.
Home health and home care did wonders for us as a family. I saw the value in it. The question of “How can we continue to make everyone aware of the benefits?” was always in my head. The doctors often weren’t aware. Much of the public had no idea that staying within your home was even an option. Back in 1981, Home Care, Home Health and Hospice were all fledging industries. Oh my, how things have changed!
Now, we have so many Federal and State requirements, issues with fraud and abuse, it some times is hard to see that our real mission is to treat patients and not to simply fill out paperwork. Nevertheless, each week tons of “thank you” letters pour into my office. Ones from patients who needed help and got it. Ones from family members touched by our care. Along with these letters are generous donations by these families who understand that we, as one of the few non-profit agencies in the area, work hard to provide important care to our community. Every quarter, we read and share the notes to others in our companies to remind everyone why we do this.
Why go out in pouring rain, freezing temperatures, hot as blazes days or into bad neighborhoods or dilapidated houses to see patients? Why go? Because we care and we provide care. We are often the only ones those patients see during the day or even the week. They need us.
That patient you see today is someone’s parent, grandfather or even someone’s Mommom, like mine. It is personal for each of us. It should be.
-Constance Morrison, President and CEO