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'Gloucester is a very special place' says departing VNA CEO

By Joann Mackenzie Staff Writer

November 19, 2017

Mary Ann O’Connor, who retires in January after five years as president and CEO of VNA Care Network & Hospice, says that "Gloucester is a very special place."

One of 200 communities in Eastern and Central Massachusetts served by the VNA, "Gloucester is somewhat historic," O'Connor said, "in that it's descended from the visiting nurses network that's been serving Cape Ann for 102 years. What I find there is that it's very connected, very devoted care. They've been working out of that wonderful old house near the waterfront (The Samuel Babson House, 8 Angle St.) that was donated to them by a Gloucester family many years ago. So it's feels very personal, and our nurses there are very seasoned." 

So is O'Connor, who says she knew from an early age that she wanted to be a nurse. But she also, she adds, knew she had a head for business. 

A sought-after speaker on innovations in health care, she has presented at Medicine X 2017, Stanford’s premier program on emerging technology and medicine, as well as Remington’s Think Tank Summit. In one YouTube clip, she tells an interviewer, "I thought of business right away, but I also thought I wanted to do something that would make the world a better place." 

That she has done, serving for 45 years in the fields of home health and hospice. "I liked being a nurse," she says, "figuring out how to heal wounds. But I also like running a business, and I realized I was also very interested from a systems perspective, on how to improve whole patient population’s health, populations suffering with diabetes, heart care patients. I’d wanted to take home health care to a broader perspective … and I’m very, very focused." 

Since joining VNA Care in 2012, O’Connor’s focus has been on establishing new services and partnerships, and to utilize new technology to expand the possibilities of home health care. 

The goal has been to manage and optimize health at home, to reduce unplanned hospitalizations, and emergency room visits with acute home care for the frail and elderly. Through innovations such as VNA Care’s Behavioral Health Program, she's helped the VNA meet the unique challenges of anxiety, and the growing challenges of early onset dementia and Alzheimer's disease. The nonprofit has tumbled barriers to treatment through a partnership with Atrius Health and Medically Home Group that's resulted in a tech-enhanced service combining hands-on home care with remote monitoring and video visits that provide hospital level care at home. 

VNA Care serves the injured and those with illnesses such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), provides post-surgery in home rehab following joint replacements, as well as advanced wound care to improve patients health while living independently: when an illness is terminal, the hospice team provides physical, emotional, spiritual, and practical support to patients and their loved ones.

Under O’Connor’s leadership, the nonprofit has been recognized nationally for quality patient care, including obtaining the Home Care Elite designation and surpassing national benchmarks in Hospice Compare. "This has been a wonderful experience. The people I've worked with have been fantastic and I will miss them terribly, but I'm looking forward to just ... living. Just keeping it simple, doing things I haven't had time to do" 

Witt Kieffer, a health care executive search firm specializing in home care and hospice, is conducting a search for O’Connor’s successor, and that successor, says O'Connor, will be announced shortly. 

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