Program delivers care to the home for 26 years
People might be reluctant to call Toni Delaney “lucky.” Wheelchair bound and dependent on help for almost all daily tasks, Delaney has endured a lifetime of challenges.
At birth, she was diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy complicated by extremity fractures. She’s had multiple episodes of aspiration pneumonia, speech difficulties and bone cancer in her left leg, which was amputated.
After Delaney lived in a crowded nursing home in San Diego for years, her life took a turn for the better. Her sister, Mary Ellen Peterson, visited Delaney and saw the conditions at the nursing home. Peterson wanted a better life for her sister, and Delaney wanted a better life for herself.
“I asked her if she wanted to become a mountain woman, and she said, yes. She was so excited,” Peterson said, patting her big sister’s hair.
Now Delaney has the first floor in her sister’s Glenshire home to call her own. She spends her days doing exactly what she wants: reading magazines, shopping, watching Jerry Springer and looking outside at the surrounding snow-capped mountains.
At first, Delaney’s move into Peterson’s home wasn’t an easy transition for the family. Delaney needed help with pretty much everything. The Petersons did what they could, but had never given medical assistance to anyone before, and it started to wear on them.
Peterson wanted so badly to give her sister a dignified life, she said, but she wasn’t sure she could provide Delaney with the proper care.
“We were overwhelmed. We were like, ‘What do we do?'” Peterson said.
In 1977, Tahoe Forest Hospital District began providing in-home health care to the community with a variety of services as an alternative to hospitalization, to shorten a patient’s stay in the hospital or, like in Delaney’s case, an alternative to skilled nursing-home placement.
Now a home health aide spends 10 hours a day, five days a week with Delaney.
“If we didn’t have home health, we couldn’t do it,” Peterson said, tears welling up in her eyes. “It gives our family peace of mind.”
Delaney’s nurses describe her as a “bright intelligent woman with a sharp sense of humor.” Although her speech is difficult to decipher, Delaney has a lot to say. Her home health aide, Peggy Price, effortlessly understands; Price has spent many hours in the Peterson-Delaney home.
The aides not only take care of Delaney’s social needs – “The nurses treat her with such dignity,” Peterson said – they also keep a very close eye on her physical status and relay any complications to Delaney’s physicians at Tahoe Forest Hospital.
In the past three months, Delaney has been in the hospital three times with pneumonia. Because she becomes sick so quickly, the aides monitor her condition closely.
Also facilitating communication, Registered Nurse Peggy Jones checks on Delaney’s condition every two weeks.
“I really do lean on these home health aides,” Jones said, motioning toward Price. “They help us know what’s going on.”
Home health also provides Delaney with skilled nursing, social services, and speech, physical and occupational therapy.
Different patients, different needs
Currently, home health sees 60 patients, ranging in age from newborns to 99 years old. Patients’ needs are as varied as their ages.
In 1964, Walt Smith was injured after falling off a roof at a construction site and became paraplegic as a result.
In the years following the accident, Smith has remained independent for the most part, but had severe shoulder pain. Despite the insistence of his nurses, Smith put off getting surgery to relieve the pain until 2001.
After the operation, his independence was limited, and he had to spend most of his time lying down.
“When someone is in bed all that time, they’ll get pressure sores on their skin. That was a challenge with [Smith],” Jones said.
Adding to the difficulties, he is a large man – Smith estimates he and his wheelchair weigh 500 pounds combined – and his wife, Goldie, is as petite as he is big-boned, so she couldn’t move him around.
It was a challenging time for a man used to being self-sufficient.
“He really needed to get back to his life,” Jones said of the active community member and Rotarian.
Home health provided an occupational therapist for Smith’s fine motor skills and a physical therapist to work his major muscles. They trained nurse’s aides and his wife on how to move Smith around safely.
“It was all coordinated,” Smith said. “When you’re trying to deal with getting well and surgeries, you don’t want to coordinate everything. Home health is like a liaison to the hospital.”
Programs like home health are becoming more necessary as hospital beds fill up and technological advances are made in medicine. Also, patients are released from the hospital sooner than they used to be.
Also, progress has made it possible for home health aides and nurses to bring portable devices into the residence. Jones could draw Smith’s blood, check his oxygen and give him vaccinations in his Olympic Heights home.
Now his therapy is complete and he’s basically independent again. Jones, who has forged a relationship with the Smiths, visits her patient every other week to monitor his condition and chat with the couple.
“You form a really intimate relationship with the patients,” said the RN. “You’re coming into their home and seeing the family dynamic. It’s my dream job.”
For more information on Tahoe Forest Home Health, which serves the Tahoe-Truckee area, Soda Springs, Sierraville, Loyalton, Floriston, Incline Village and Verdi, contact Bronwyn Calkins at 582-3284.