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Public Health Pioneer Marks 130 Years of Service

(Massachusetts' Governor Charlie Baker recorded a special message for the VNA of Boston and the attendees at the 12th Annual Heroes in Health Care Gala. Governor Baker congratulated  the VNAB on its 130th anniversary and this years heroes.)
On February 8th 1886 nurse Ameilia Hodgkiss made her first house call to a tenement building in Boston's North End. Neither she nor the small philanthropic group that employed her had even the remote idea that she was to represent an important social institution, the first of its kind in the country. As she climbed the cold stairwell that winter morning, she could never have known that her footsteps would echo through time. There was no way of knowing that with her soft knock on that first patient’s door, that a movement had begun. The first organized Visiting Nurses Association in the United States was born, an organization created with the vision that everyone deserves equal access to quality health care.
In the 1800’s, a large number of Bostonians were in desperate need for health care. Many people were either afraid of hospitals or could not afford to pay for private health care. So great was the need for health care, that Miss Hodgkiss together with another nurse, Calina Somerville, made 7,182 home care visits to 707 patients, in the first year alone – a very ambitious workload based on today’s standards. The nurses answered the call of duty and stood on the front lines against many health care epidemics.
Boston public health faced many great challenges over the years: Spanish Flu, Influenza, Polio epidemics, Tuberculosis, the Great Depression, The Great Chelsea Fire, Rheumatic Fever, Rheumatic heart disease, the Baby boom and HIV/AIDS. The VNA of Boston was on the forefront of all these health care events effecting policies and standards to properly care for patients of all ages regardless of their economic background. These major epidemics, which costs thousands of Bostonian’s their lives, did not deter the agency or its staff. The VNAB became a central voice for quick responses and disease control for all patients regardless of payer status. The Boston Molasses Flood of 1919, saw hospitals and other medical professionals being unable to access patients owing to lack of access to patients. Because the IDNA nurses had supply sheds all over the city, the nurses were able to set up a triage station and care for patients during an unthinkable disaster. During the Blizzard of 1978, VNAB was the only home care organization in Boston to continue to visits their patients.
“For decades the VNAs and the VNA of Boston have always been one of the so called tips-of-the-spear, with respect to the ability to reach out collectively and touch folks in the community and help them to manage their health care in the setting they deem most appropriate, which, most of the times happens to be at home," said Massachusetts Governor Charlie Barker.;
Funding, rising medical costs, a decrease in Medicare reimbursements has also been a point of great challenge for the mission based organization. Despite these changes, adjustments have been made to consistently adopt best industry practices and adjust the care model to address the health care financial climate.
“The VNA of Boston is weaved into fabric of our city’s rich history. For 130 years we have served the community, despite rising crime and disastrous epidemics. We have constantly evolved in direct relation to the changing needs of our patients”, said Mary Ann O’Connor, president and CEO of VNA Care.
In 1998 the agency was among the first in the country to provide computers to field staff, leading home care in technological advancement. Today, the non-profit organization offers remote patient monitoring, telehealth and a mobile integrated health program (MIH) with partners and parent company, Atrius Health. The MIH program refers to a same-day, at-home, urgent care visit from a nurse under the guidance of the physician if a patient is experiencing a medical episode and is unable to make it to the doctor’s office. The nurse will assess the patient, communicate with the physician’s office and design a treatment plan that is appropriate for the patient. The program has been proven to decrease the number of hospitalizations and emergency department visits- saving patients time, emotional trauma and money.
VNAB has become a valuable part of the health care delivery system, cutting costs for patients and insurers by avoiding hospital stays for illnesses that can be treated on an outpatient basis. The average cost for one day at the hospital is $6200.00 while the average cost for a home care visit is just $135.00. Most Massachusetts residents have health insurance coverage but not necessarily access to care. Delivering care right at home solves this problem, which is especially critical for homebound patients.
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