Cynthia Lewis, Chief Executive Officer of Douglas County Visiting Nurses Association

What is your organization’s most important commodity or service?
Douglas County Visiting Nurses Association (VNA) is a not-for-profit Medicare-certified Home Health and Hospice agency that provides care to individuals in their homes. Our Home Health program has RNs and LPNs that perform skilled services from wound care to infusions to chronic disease management for patients who are homebound. We also have a full range of therapy providers including physical, occupational and speech therapy. The program also has a masters level social worker who facilitates community resource support when appropriate. Our Hospice program provides end-of-life care by a team of RNs, social workers, a spiritual care provider and a pool of volunteers. VNA also has a licensed private pay personal care and support services program, Help at Home. All of our programs offer certified aides to assist with personal care. The Help at Home program offers a wide variety of support activities such as housekeeping, meal preparation, transportation to medical appointments, etc.

What is your organization’s most important priority?
VNA’s highest priority is to be the Home Health and Hospice provider of choice in Lawrence and Douglas County by providing excellent community-based care that is patient-centered and compassionate. We do so in an industry with increasing regulatory obligations and decreasing reimbursement. As the CEO, it’s important I support staff to maintain quality as we continuously evaluate costs and efficiency.

What has been some of the most important aspects of your success?
Our history in Lawrence/Douglas County. VNA celebrated its 46th anniversary in February, and our longevity contributes to name recognition and a positive reputation. While many may not fully comprehend everything we do, many know the VNA name through a family member, friend or neighbor for whom we’ve cared or has been an employee. Another key aspect of our success is community support. As a not-for-profit organization that provides care to individuals with no insurance or financial resources, we have several mechanisms with which to secure funds to support our charitable efforts. This community support dates back to VNA’s founding at which time community leaders assisted with fundraising to match a federal grant to open the agency. Finally, the strong relationships we have with Lawrence Memorial Hospital, the physician community and other healthcare providers have been critical to our current success and going forward.

How many people does Visiting Nurses employ? Serve, interact with on a daily basis, and are responsible to?
Across all programs, VNA employs 113 staff, most of whom live in Lawrence or Douglas County. Our average daily census across all programs is around 200 patients. Not all patients are seen every day as visit frequency is based on an individualized care plan for each person.

How do you and your organization make a positive impact on the Lawrence community?
First and most importantly, VNA’s community-based care helps people remain at home which is most everyone’s preference (versus a facility). However, VNA is also active in the community above and beyond patient care. We are a United Way Community Partner and active in those annual campaigns. The agency donates a tree each year to The Shelter’s Festival of Trees auction. We collect food for community food banks, participate in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, conduct an annual school supply drive, serve as a drop site for Toys for Tots/Blue Santa, adopt a family each holiday season and offer grief support groups to anyone in the community experiencing the loss of a loved one. In addition, many members of our staff volunteer for or financially support other agencies in Douglas County.

What do you see as your personal responsibility and your organization’s responsibility to the community?
As the CEO of VNA, my personal responsibility is to ensure we provide the best possible care to each individual who entrusts us with their well-being and independence. That must be accomplished with a fiscally responsible approach in order to sustain our longevity as the local not-for-profit Home Health and Hospice organization. VNA’s obligation to the community is to be responsive to each person’s individual care needs, assisting them to remain in their home and out of the hospital. We’re also obligated to effectively and efficiently manage our business to maximize the dollars provided by generous donors and grantors.

What would you change about doing business in Lawrence?
Difficult question! I love Lawrence and its culture. The partnerships and collaborations that are possible in this environment are exceptional and somewhat unique. One thing we consistently try to improve is sharing our story with the community so people are aware of our “product.” It’s our experience that unless someone has used our services or knows someone, most of the community doesn’t comprehend the range of programs and disciplines in our organization. Forty-six years of history helps, but reaching our audience is an ongoing endeavor.

Why did you become involved?
I’ve been a Lawrence/Douglas County resident for most of my life and knew about VNA for many years. I’ve also worked in the healthcare industry for 25 years in a variety of settings, but my passion is community-based care. When a professional opportunity at VNA presented itself in 2008, I jumped at it. Being selected by the Board of Directors to serve as CEO for VNA is a privilege. Despite ongoing challenges in the healthcare industry, I cannot imagine leading an organization for which I’ve held more respect and its mission matches my personal values.

As head of the Visiting Nurses Association, what do you do? What are your responsibilities?
VNA’s CEO is accountable to the agency’s Board of Directors for the overall management of agency operations, including leadership in the planning and implementation of strategies that support the vision of the agency and resulting in the delivery of quality patient care. I am also responsible to understand financial fundamentals and business metrics and use them effectively to manage a financially stable operation.

What is the biggest challenge you feel your organization faces?
The biggest challenge for VNA is sustaining financial balance while maintaining our mission to serve individuals regardless of their ability to pay for services. Compounding this challenge is successfully doing so in a rapidly changing healthcare industry with increasing regulatory scrutiny requiring additional administrative oversight. Further compounding those challenges is effectively balancing quality and finance with decreasing funding streams.

VNA’s biggest challenge going forward is competition from other home care agencies increasing their Lawrence/Douglas County market share or entering this market. Many of those are regional or national companies attempting to expand their reach. We strive daily to represent the values of our “hometown” by providing high quality care that results in excellent patient/family satisfaction. Healthcare is becoming increasingly competitive so we consistently monitor data that supports quality and fiscal responsibility.

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