After John McCarthy of Orange had ankle surgery last year, he couldn’t put weight on his foot for a long time. He couldn’t drive; he couldn’t get up and down the stairs of his house. That’s when the nurses and therapists from the Orange Visiting Nurse Association (OVNA) came in and slowly, deliberately, nursed him back to a measure of independence. He “graduated” from one cast to the next, then a boot with a wheelchair, and finally, to crutches. They taught him how to get in and out of the shower safely and how to navigate the stairs.
“The last test was to get out of the house,” the 74-year-old said. He wrote them a letter, thanking “his team” for the care they provided, and that letter is now hanging on a dedicated wall, along with many other letters and cards from grateful patients.
The OVNA is the official home health agency of the Town of Orange, and its nurses and therapists are employees of the town, not contracted from outside companies. They have three full time, and one part-time nurse, also two full-time physical therapists; two occupational therapists, a speech therapist and a home health aide.
When patients are discharged from the hospital, they are given a choice of three agencies, said Lisa Pimenta, the administrative director. Sometimes they don’t realize that the OVNA is not the same organization as any other Visiting Nurse agency. One of their patients was discharged and was given another agency, but that agency never showed up.
When she called the OVNA, “we were out there within a few hours,” she said. “Only a small agency can do that.”
Another patient needed a commode, but didn’t have the funds for it. The staff member arranged for a donation from a charity, went to pick it up and brought it to the patient’s house.
“That’s the heart of OVNA,” Pimenta said. “That’s what this is all about.”
In order to qualify for home healthcare, patients need a doctor’s order, and the services the OVNA offers are closely aligned with those directives. When a patient is homebound, Medicare will cover homecare. But even if a patient doesn’t qualify, the OVNA will try to help them, “walk them through steps on how to get the help they need,” Pimenta said, such as how to initiate grocery deliveries, or connect them with the community center.
Sometimes they get calls from family members who are worried about mom or dad’s safety at home.
When Covid hit, hospitals stopped performing elective surgeries, and their numbers dropped. “We took Covid-positive cases when we got them,” Pimenta said. Staff had to go in wearing full PPE – protective gowns, gloves and masks. If a patient tested positive, they had to wear respirator masks. Even so, some nurses got sick or had to quarantine for 10 days.
As a result, the department has had substantial income deficits these past two years. In 2021, patient numbers have rebounded, but not to the same extent as in the past. Though based in Orange, they do take patients from neighboring towns, namely Milford, West Haven and Woodbridge.
Medicare patients receive a survey after they’ve been under OVNA care, Pimenta said, and the agency receives feedback from it. The overall rating shows 100% client satisfaction (national average is 84, in Connecticut 73%).
“We’re proud of that, she said. “The majority want to come back to us.”
By Bettina Thiel – Orange Town News Correspondent