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Century-old Visiting Nurse on solid footing for the future

Irene Mohr needed help.

After two heart attacks and two months in the hospital, the Toledo woman was finally sent home, but she still needed help changing her bandages. That's when her physician arranged for Visiting Nurse to take over.

Donna Causer, a registered nurse with the Toledo nonprofit service that turns 100 years old Saturday, began visiting Mrs. Mohr each day and made sure she was taking her medications properly, changed her bandages, and helped get her diabetes under control.

“She's more than a nurse. She really helped me. She even got me to get my sugar down,” Mrs. Mohr, 75, said during a recent visit with Ms. Causer.

“Yeah, I ate all her candy bars,” Ms. Causer teased.

Mrs. Mohr said she's glad to have someone with medical expertise come to her instead of having to travel to a hospital.

When asked whether she thought Visiting Nurse provides a valuable service, she quickly replied, “You bet your bottom booties I do.”

Despite the ringing endorsement of Mrs. Mohr and the praise of area physicians, Visiting Nurse's survival was recently in doubt.

For most of its existence, the agency was the only one of its kind in the area. No one else provided the type of home health care that Visiting Nurse did, especially to such a wide variety of patients; young and old, those with insurance and those without insurance.

In the 1970s, some insurance companies began reimbursing home health care services, and the lure of extra cash prompted others to join the business.

In 1996 it had 166,000 patient visits compared to 48,000 last year. It went from 250 employees five years ago to 64 employees today.

“There was a time I didn't know if we'd make it,” said Judy Rogers, who oversees Visiting Nurse operations.

At the last minute, Ms. Rogers said she got a call from ProMedica officials telling her the program was too valuable to lose. They asked if she'd be willing to merge with ProMedica and she and her board agreed.

The stability of a parent company with deep pockets was a lifesaver, said Ms. Rogers, who was president of Visiting Nurse and now oversees all home health care and hospice programs for ProMedica.

Ms. Rogers said ProMedica ownership hasn't changed the mission of Visiting Nurse. The agency still is determined to take care of the poor and those without insurance, she said. About 70 percent of its patients are on Medicare with the rest being on Medicaid or without insurance. “I think we're a community treasure. We take care of people no one else will,” said Ms. Rogers, who remembers taking a change purse out with her on visits and telling patients, “Pay me what you can.”

Dr. G. Barton Blossom agreed. “This is a really good organization that provides a useful service,” he said.

Dr. Blossom, a Toledo family physician, has referred many of his patients to Visiting Nurse over the last 35 years. “Sometimes you run into patients who don't have insurance or who are on welfare, and they've been willing over the years to take anybody,” Dr. Blossom said.

Dr. Blossom said home health care services have become invaluable because pressure from Medicare and insurance companies has resulted in patients' being discharged from hospitals much sooner than they were years ago.

“In the old days, we'd keep people in until they were well, but now we send them home and let them finish getting well,” he said. “In the long run, they [Visiting Nurse] really save the system a lot of money because they can offer services at home a heck of a lot cheaper than if you kept patients in a hospital.”

Visiting Nurse had a rather humble beginning. In 1901 several women who were members of a Toledo social club called the “Thalians” held a charity ball to raise money for a home health care agency. The event raised $44.50 and started with one nurse going into the homes of the sick.

In the early years much of the service was basic. But over the last few decades the care has become more complex. Visiting nurses carry laptop computers with them to keep track of patient medications and other duties. Nurses also perform more complex services like starting I.V. lines for medications.

Ms. Rogers said she expects business to grow in coming years, fueled largely by elderly patients like Mrs. Mohr.

“The way the demographics are, our volume should grow,” she said, noting that the percentage of the nation's elderly population is steadily increasing.

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