By Sara Jukes
Community Nursing Services of North East, 7 Park St., North East, has reached its 100-year anniversary. It was started in 1920.
Community Nursing Services is a nonprofit, certified home health care and hospice agency.
Executive director Tammy Kecer-Brown said this year also marks the five-year anniversary of an expansion that allowed the organization to service more areas, including Corry, all southeast portions of Erie County and parts of Warren and Crawford counties.
The nonprofit organization started with one woman and has expanded to include about 50 employees today.
In 1981, there were four nurses, two homemakers, one secretary, a physical therapist and a contracted speech therapist.
Today there are 15 nurses, 10 physical therapists, four occupational therapists, one speech therapist, two social workers, a spiritual counselor, a medical director, nine home health aides and seven office staff members.
Kecer-Brown said most of the nurses have family in the area, which she feels contributed to the long-lasting success of the nursing services.
“This organization was started by people in the community so there’s a lot of community support and a lot of our employees, I’d say probably 95% of us, have ties to North East and Corry,” Kecer-Brown said. “We care about our patients because they are our friends, family and people that we know.”
Kecer-Brown spoke of the history and referred to information pulled together for a January Community Nursing Services newsletter, which celebrated the 100-year anniversary.
“The tradition of serving North East and the surrounding area began in 1920 as a result of a meeting held at the home of Beatrice Dewey Hirtzel in response to the American Red Cross’ effort to establish community nurses,” Kecer-Brown said.
The first community nurse was Agatha Whitman, who was later joined by Ida Stephenson, Emma Dawley and A.C. Walls, Kecer-Brown said.
“Originally they only took care of North East residents and now we do North East, Harborcreek, Wesleyville, Lawrence Park, Corry, Cambridge Springs, Union City, Spartansburg, Spring Creek, Columbus and as far as Pittsfield.”
The organization expanded its service area in 2015, and was initiated by former executive director Barb Moore after a Corry resident reached out because of needs outside of the North East area. When the request was brought before the organization’s board of directors, they agreed and approved the expansion, Kecer-Brown said.
The service area is described to now include Greene Township south to Wattsburg, as far south as Cambridge Springs, southeast to Youngsville and west to Lawrence Park.
“Most of our nurses have family in the area so, on the flip side of that, it’s hard, too, because when we have hospice patients and we have connections to them, it makes it hard. It impacts us all in some way,” Kecer-Brown said.
Though 100 years have passed, the organization has kept consistent a core of caring and the intention for nurses to go into homes to take care of patients.
The mission statement says, “Community Nursing Services of North East is a nonprofit home care and hospice whose mission is to provide a comprehensive range of health services, improve the quality of life, optimize health and enable people to remain in their community.”
Though the mission is still the same, the location has changed several times. Other locations were 58 E. Main St. and 2 Gibson St., both in North East.
Another Hirtzel matriarch stepped forward to make sure Community Nursing Services would be around for years to come.
Marion Kundert Hirtzel established a private trust for the organization that was to be used in 2005 to purchase the building that is the current location and is also used for private pay care. Private pay care refers to when an insurance won’t cover services and care must be paid for by the individual.
“Part of our trust fund that we get quarterly, we use to fund private pay services at a discounted rate,” Kecer-Brown said. “A lot of the donations we take in go toward that program as well, or toward providing extras to hospice patients.”
Donations are also used to help subsidize care for those who can’t afford it, keep them in their home and purchase helpful items.
“If something is going to make a hospice patient more comfortable and help their family out, we will purchase it,” she said.
She continued to say the nurses have always been about trying to help keep people in their homes, but today they can offer more.
Other services provided are: Alzheimer’s Support Group, to help and inform those with loved ones who have Alzheimers; a Homebound Flu Immunization Program, to bring a flu vaccine shot to those that can’t leave their home; a college student nurse preceptor site for Mercyhurst North East College and Gannon University, to give clinical learning experience to nursing students; free magnetic refrigerator medical alert packets; and home healthcare provider ID cards, available to make arrangements for nursing or physical therapy easier on a patient.
Kecer-Brown expressed gratitude felt by everyone at the nursing services toward the Hirtzel women.
“Without one we wouldn’t have started and without the other one we wouldn’t have our current location or be able to subsidize private pay,” she said.