Special to The Conway Daily Sun
CONWAY — This November, join Visiting Nurse Home Care and Hospice of Carroll County and the National Association for Home Care & Hospice by celebrating National Home Care and Hospice Month.
This month honors the many professionals who make a remarkable difference for the patients and families they serve. This year, special recognition is given to the administrative and support team at VNHCH who facilitate home care and hospice services.
While clinical staff and homemakers who work directly with clients in their homes are often the face of a visiting nurse agency, there are many other equally critical support and administrative staff who make compassionate care possible. Whether it’s an intake coordinator scheduling services, an administrative assistant helping nursing staff with deliveries of supplies, or a billing specialist making sure that referrals and insurance coverage are in order, these professionals ensure hospice and home care patients receive the services they need.
Intake Coordinator Kristy Dutton juggles the many parts that make up the maze of services that their patients require, such as doctors offices, skilled nursing facilities and hospitals. Combine gathering that documentation with scheduling with the agency’s services and you can understand why Dutton is a busy woman. She also fields calls from family members inquiring about how to receive care.
Dutton finds her work rewarding, especially when patients and families express their appreciation. She shared one recent interaction with a local family. “I got a phone call from a family member after her husband had a fall. He needed services and the doctor’s office hadn’t sent the referral. She was having issues getting help. I talked to her, and then the doctor’s office. You need to coordinate all the information for insurance plus the information the clinicians need. I got all that info, then set up her husband for a visit.”
“A few days later I got a call thanking me profusely. She said ‘there should be more people in the world like you’ as I was so helpful. It’s difficult for them. They don’t know where to go or who to talk to. Being able to give them simple answers helps. It’s easier for me to call primary care and the specialist and then I can work with the office and fill in the blanks and get the referral.”
Dutton joined VNHCH two years ago after her last employer of 20 years was sold. “I found myself here and honestly, I couldn’t have landed in a better spot. Everything about VNHCH is great. It’s easy and light. You don’t feel stress. If you need help, you get help. If you get overloaded, you can laugh through your day without everything being super serious every minute.”
Administrative Assistant Tracy Ames also supports hospice and home care efforts in the community in a variety of ways. In addition to her various administrative duties, such as managing supplies, processing accounts payable, assisting with fundraising and development efforts, and having a hand in the processing of patient/client paperwork, you may also find her delivering supplies or equipment to a patient’s house after hours — allowing the clinical team more time in the home with patients and less time traveling to and from the office in North Conway.
Ames tends to support hospice efforts in the towns along the southern part of the agency’s service area, as they mostly coincide with her daily commute.
She explained: “I’ll drop off a piece of equipment — maybe a commode or shower bench or some other medical supplies or equipment on my way home. A hospice patient may have been admitted that day and instead of them having to wait until the following day to get what they need to make things a little easier for them, I’ll drop it off that night. The families are always so appreciative and that makes me feel good.”
Sometimes Ames connects with the nurses on the road as well, meeting them, for instance, in Madison.
“I might pick up a lab specimen and deliver it to the hospital lab, so they don’t have to come all the way up here,” she said. “It saves the clinical staff time, especially when they are right out straight. There has been more of that since COVID hit, because they are out of the office most of the time. I really feel for them because they’re out there alone in the field, sort of isolated, and our service area can definitely pose some challenges geographically as well.”
Every minute helping out this way is another minute of patient care. “It’s just teamwork, and I like it when the rest of the staff is happy!” Ames said.
Hospice has always had a special place in Ames’ heart, but in October of last year she gained a new perspective and an even bigger appreciation for the program and for her fellow staff members when her mother, her best friend, became ill.
“It was just so unexpected, and it all happened so fast; a two-week time frame from diagnosis until she took her last breath in my living room. I’m so grateful we had the opportunity to say goodbye, but we didn’t have time to process and accept it as a family. Our heads were spinning.”
“We couldn’t have done it without the hospice team. I’ve known all along that our staff was awesome; individually they are all great in their own right, but collectively they are amazing. Knowing you can call them anytime and that they are there for you is so comforting,” she said. “They’re calm when everything else feels chaotic and out of control. They know what to expect and are able to put you at ease. They understand what you are going through. It takes very special people to provide the care that they do and it makes me feel good to be a part of that process too. I know how much of a difference we make for people, at some of the hardest times of their lives.”
Ames recounted how helpful and thoughtful VNHCH has been as an employer as she has navigated some of life’s ups and downs over the years and continues to work through the loss of her mother — being flexible with her schedule and other accommodations to help her remain successful in her position. Ames’ 12-year anniversary with the agency is coming up in January.
Another long time employee, Gail Boucher handles billing, authorizations, patient account management and finance. Finance may not be the first thing you think of when you consider hospice, but it’s an important first step to receiving hospice services.
Boucher said: “The first step is to verify that the patient has eligibility through insurance to receive services and at what level, and whether or not there are any co-pays or deductibles to meet. Next step is to find out if insurance requires preauthorization. If so I need to follow the process for that particular insurance to obtain that authorization.
“Some insurances are more involved, but usually we can do all that in the background so the clinical staff can do their visits without worrying about restrictions.”
She finds the job rewarding every day. By doing her job well, she knows the nurses are supported. It’s all about ensuring that patients receive the care they need and helping them overcome obstacles.
“I’ve had calls from patients saying, ‘I don’t want these services if it’s not covered.’ And I’m able to coach them, to tell them the best course of action which usually is to contact insurance directly and advocate for yourself. That I have found is the best method. It’s the best way for them to possibly get coverage for something they might not get otherwise.”
With 35 year tenure at VNHCH, Boucher remembers back when there were only four employees. Today they have 70. “You can see in the last 35 years how much things have changed. Documentation used to be written by hand. Nothing was computerized. I was the only person in the office at that point. Back then, I would take a doctor’s order over the phone! Now it has to be electronic or talking directly to the clinician for the order.”
Regardless of roles and responsibilities, these professionals ensure that every patient receives the care they need, the coverage they require and the clinical support necessary, be it home care or hospice care.