History of Willowbrook Visiting Nurse Association of Memphis

Willowbrook Visiting Nurse Association's history is deeply rooted in Memphis, Tennessee.

On February 10, 1910, the Community Council (later the Health and Welfare Council) announced plans for a Visiting Nurse Association in Memphis. The need became apparent when the Metropolitan Insurance Company decided to terminate their home nursing care program. The citizens realized there would be no type of organized hourly nursing services for the home in Memphis, Tennessee. There were 11,000 such agencies in the United States with one in Nashville, Birmingham, New Orleans and Dallas.

Mrs. R. Brinkly Snowden had helped create and maintain a Visiting Nurse Association in Memphis from 1910 – 1920 when it was turned over to the Department of Health. That arrangement created a gap in service between those that could or could not pay.

The Visiting Nurse Association story really began in October 1950 when the Community Council appointed a committee to study the community need for such a program. The committee met monthly, writing to other cities for facts and figures regarding the value of the service, cost and various types of organizational structures. They worked with the local Health Department ascertaining its opinions and views. They approached the Memphis and Shelby County Medical Association who studied the proposal through a subcommittee before giving an endorsement. The Tennessee Nurse Association and Tennessee League for Nurses were interviewed for the evaluation of the community resources, the need for home nursing and the best way of meeting the need. Contact was made with each hospital in Memphis. After numerous meetings and much correspondence, the committee established the minimum number of nurses and the amount of funds needed to start a Visiting Nurse Association in Memphis. A presentation was made to the Community Council identifying gaps in Memphis social programs. One presentation dealt with the need for home nursing and housekeepers. The project chairman of the Junior League, a philanthropic group of women, and a member of the council requested the presentation be made at the monthly meeting of the Junior League. The Junior League had a history of supporting community projects both with and volunteer workers and funds. At this time they were working for a project.

Long months of study and research climaxed with the Junior League accepting the sponsorship of a Visiting Nurse Association for Memphis. This committee of community leaders saw their “identified need” fulfilled.

The plan established the need for nurses to make home visits on an hourly basis to provide skilled care and instruction at a small hourly fee to the patient. The balance of the nurses’ fees was to be paid by the Junior League fund. A long hospital confinement could be shortened and at times eliminated. The service should be a boon to hospitals, which are crowded, to doctors, insuring that their directions are properly carried out at home and most importantly, the individual’s financial strain will be eased.

The business of the first meeting of the Board of Directors was to:

  1. Accept the charter as granted.
  2. Election of officers.
  3. Adoption of by-laws.
  4. Appointment of standing committees by the President of the Association.

Mr. Murrah was asked to serve as temporary chairman at the first board meeting until officers were elected. The charter of the Visiting Nurse Association read:

“For the purpose of the support of a benevolent or charitable undertaking, namely to provide skilled nursing care and health guidance to individuals and families without regard for race, creed or ability to pay.”

Mrs. Janet Tate, who signed as the subscribing witness, had the charter notarized on October 31, 1952. James W. Cummings, Secretary of the State of Tennessee, signed the document on November 3, 1952.

Miss Mary Frances Ward was selected to be the first Executive Director. Miss Ward had received her Masters in Public Health Nursing and Psychology and a BS in Sociology in 1945 from Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee. At the time of her interview, she was Associate Professor of Nursing Education and Assistant Head of the Department of Nursing Education at the University of Georgia.

Miss Ward began the exciting challenge of setting up the Agency on January 3, 1963. All business was conducted from the Junior League office at 36 N. Cooper, the address written in the charter. A committee from the Junior League was looking for a permanent address for the Agency. From January 5 to February 18, 1953, Miss Ward observed all phases of the Visiting Nurse Association in Detroit, Michigan. Upon her return from Detroit, she was busy contacting all Health and Welfare agencies, social agencies, hospitals, clinics and physicians’ offices, advising them of the assistance a Visiting Nurse was prepared to give.

As a climax to all this, on May 18, 1953, the Memphis Visiting Nurse Association opened its first office with a staff of a Director, two Registered Nurses and a secretary at 36 N. Cooper.

In the year 1956, the Agency moved to much needed larger quarters at 1440 Madison. Early in 1957, the Visiting Nurse Association became a member of the National League for Nursing and was also recognized for 100% membership in the American Nurse Association.

At the end of the sixth year, 31,000 bedside visits had been a substantial increase in visits, 40% with a 32% increase in cardiac cases, 38% in cancer and 24% in stroke cases. Their growth necessitates larger quarters at 237 North Bellevue later in 1961. In nine years, the first fee change was made. The $3.00 per visit was raised to $4.00 per visit.

In the first year of operation, the Visiting Nurse Association made 1,921 visits. In the year 1962-1963, 9,882 visits were made.

In 1966, a contract with Memphis, Light, Gas & Water to visit its absent employees proved satisfactory to the company and a monetary help to the Visiting Nurse Association. Another source of additional funds was a contract with Shulton Industries for a part-time nurse.

Arrangements were made with St. Joseph and Methodist Hospitals for a Visiting Nurse to act as a liaison between hospital and home health care. The Visiting Nurse spent a short time each day in each hospital. Both hospitals later employed their liaison nurse. The American Cancer Society contracted with the Visiting Nurse Association to visit their terminally ill patients. A small contribution was made to the Visiting Nurse Association annually.

Miss Jessie Waddell was chosen to as the second Executive Director. She brought a wealth of experiences to the Agency in May 17, 1971. For three years prior to coming to Memphis, she was Director of Comprehensive Health Planning in the Virgin Islands. In addition to her degree in Public Health Nursing, she had a degree in physical therapy. On July 1, 1971, an Associate Director was named. Miss Jane Brennan received her BSN from the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing and MPH from the University of North Carolina. At this time, she was a member of the staff at the University of Tennessee College of Nursing in the Public Health field. With a mutual agreement, she was to share her skills half-time was the Visiting Nurse Association and half with the University of Tennessee College of Nursing.

Because of illness, in 1973, Jessie Waddell resigned. Jane Brennan was appointed Director on July 1, 1973.

In 1974, the property at 283 North Bellevue was purchased. This was possible with a most generous gift from Mr. Russell Douglas, Jr., the owner and a former chairman of the Board of directors.

The twenty-five years of existence of the Visiting Nurse Association was celebrated by an anniversary dinner at the Hyatt Regency on March 31, 1978. Remarks by Jane Brennan were: “1953, office furniture purchase for $398.40; fee was $3.00 per visit; 25 years later the fee was $23.50 per visit. 1953-1954, 1,921 visits were made to 156 patients. Expenditures were $22,534. 1977-1978, 16,193 visit were made with total expenditures of $363,986.”

In 1979, nursing conferences were begun at two elderly high rise facilities. One or two nurses were available twice a month to check residents’ vital signs, blood pressure and medications.

Miss Jane Brennan resigned as Executive Director on October 1, 1980. Assistant Director, Betty Hayes and Business Manager, Mary Allen Hicks were appointed co-acting directors with Mary Gerstenberger as consultant, until a new director could be found.

The Board of Directors unanimously selected Cathey Stitt as the new Executive Director on March 31, 1981.

Visit fees were set in 1981 at: Nursing and Speech Therapy, $42.00; Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy, $40.00; Medical Social Worker, $25.00; and Home Health Aide, $20.00. A line of credit was established to purchase prosthesis for patients and afterwards Medicare was billed Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Chattanooga became the Agency intermediary.

In 1982, Info Med installed computer equipment at the Visiting Nurse Association. A decision was made to sell the house to Bellevue and lease office space. Negotiations began with Baptist Memorial Hospital to provide Home Care.

In 1983, the Visiting Nurse Association celebrated its 30th anniversary. John Herringer was hired as assistant director. The house on Bellevue was sold for $39,000 and the Agency moved into offices at 2400 Poplar. A hospice program and pharmacy were part of the long-range plans.

In 1964, the shared cost homemaker program was instituted. A mutual working agreement with Baptist Memorial Hospital was finalized and later discontinued. A first proposal was made to the MED to provide home care services. Prospective pay was started with HCFA. An article was published in Caring magazine about the Agency. Reorganization was part of the long-range plans.

In 1985, John Herringer resigned and was not replaced due to a decrease in visits. A first proposal was made to the city for a Title XX homemaker contract. An agreement was drafted with Senior Citizens Services to assist them in providing services to MED patients.

In 1986, the Visiting Nurse Association signed a contract with Senior Citizens Services to assist in providing home care services to MED patients. A private duty and nanny program were started. Corporate restructure was the major focus of strategic planning.

In 1987, the contract with the MED to provide home care services was obtained. Title XX Homemaker Program was obtained.

In 1989, Cathey Stitt resigned and Kathy Boksa was named Interim Director. A search committee was formed to find a new director. The MED Home Care contract was renewed. The Agency moved to new, larger offices at 3100 Walnut Grove Road.

In 1990, additional office space was added to handle expansion. Kathy Boksa was named President of the Agency. A hospice program was begun. Diversification was part of strategic planning. Visits totaled 58,000 with a budget of two million dollars and 90 employees. Visit rates for Skilled Nursing, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Speech Therapy, $80.00; Home Health Aides, $50.00; and Medical Social Worker, $115.00.

In 1992, Roberta V. Mills was named President/CEO of the Agency and visits totaled 65,976.

In 1993, the hospice provider number was deactivated because of an insufficient number of patients needed to make the program financially feasible.