The emotional and professional demands on nurses are greater than most of us can imagine. Patient population on the rise. Staffing shortages. Compassion fatigue. Despite these factors, nurses find a way to stay passionate, energized and dedicated. As part of Medline’s Caring for America blog series, Holly in Massachusetts talks about making a difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable patients through home care.
Martie: Tell me, Holly, what’s been your journey as a nurse?
Holly: Back in high school, I wanted to be a teacher but the market was flooded. My dad encouraged me to go into nursing and I later attended New York’s Skidmore College. During the four year program, two years involved training in Manhattan hospitals. We worked everywhere from Roosevelt Hospital’s ER, home care in Chinatown, pediatrics at New York Hospital, Med-Surg and even psych at Bellevue. It was a tremendous foundation.
Martie: You really had an incredible experience.
Holly: I can’t praise the college enough because the education was truly superior. I always wanted to be a pediatric nurse. Thanks to my education, a Bronx hospital hired me immediately. There were lots of kidney transplants and children with GI/GU problems in the pediatric tertiary care unit. I loved working with children and their families. A few years later, we relocated to Connecticut where I worked in the ICU. Life brought me two sets of twins and it became too difficult to care for really sick children and my own four babies. That’s when I entered home care.
I was asked to work with babies on ventilators because it required complex care, a completely different skillset and the emotional strength to deal with babies dying at home. I became a certified hospice nurse and took care of those babies on the weekends. Years later, I became a weekend nurse for VNA and cared for about a dozen patients daily. I worked 16 hour days. Then, I took on clinical director roles which led to a number of administrative roles. After living through many acquisitions, I decided to get back to hands-on nursing.
An opportunity opened up at UCONN Medical Center’s bone marrow transplant unit. I was out of the hands-on clinical setting for about eight years. I loved working with patients and felt so good because I never lost my skills. I became the assistant head nurse and absolutely loved working there.
Martie: So how’d you land where you are today?
Holly: After the medical center, I worked at an adult day center for eight years then opened my own private case management practice. While there, I found out about a private pay leadership position followed by a VNA leadership position. Although I wasn’t looking for a job, I went on the interview and was named a VNA executive director. They took a closer look at my experiences and eventually named me CEO.
Martie: You have a fantastic story. I love how nurses are adaptive and brilliant. What would you tell nurses coming into the field?
Holly: This isn’t a job, it’s a career. And if you’re looking for a job, please don’t become a nurse. You need to have a passion in this business and must be adaptable. Nursing is really a career, not something you should go into lightly. You really have to love people and be willing to invest part of yourself into this profession. I’m finding for a number of people, it’s only a job. And you can’t turn it on and off. It really bothers me a lot. This is a career focused on caring for people and their families.
Martie: You have to be so present to patients. And if you’re approaching it as a job, you can’t meet that human moment. Let’s talk about home care. What do you love about it?
Holly: I love helping people …especially those most vulnerable or in need. In home care, you can help people best by connecting them to resources. Home care isn’t just about the patient…it’s about the family, and the extension of the family. It’s about the 90-year old woman who lives alone that needs a caregiver that we can provide for them. What I love about home care is the opportunity to keep patients at home and families together. As home care professionals, we can get patients back to a greater level of functioning and assist them to be as independent as possible.
Martie: What would you change?
Holly: The reimbursement system doesn’t cover our costs the way it needs to and it’s very challenging to care for people with the existing regulations. When it comes to pay, home health aides, homemakers and companions are underpaid. They do the hardest work and are paid the least. The reimbursement system doesn’t allow you to pay them more to cover your cost and I’d like to see them get paid what they’re due. They are valuable employees.
Martie: Where do you think nursing is going to be in 5-10 years?
Holly: I see NPs having independent practices and the role of the nurse changing to be more administrative, perhaps similar to that of a geriatric care manager. I think they’ll also do everything from finding financial resources to providing complex clinical care in the home. I also see nurse aides having more extensive training and responsibilities.
Martie: We’re moving care back to communities yet the degree of illness and patient complexity is far greater than what we’ve seen in the past. And we need to be supportive of our care providers.
Holly: I applaud those nurses that have stuck with nursing as a career and not a job. I have an appreciation and respect for the passion they deliver to patients every day no matter what.
Martie: It’s been a personal blessing to hear your story and personal insight. You are my hero for what you’re doing and I’m so appreciative of the work you do.