A moment with Jeanne Ryan: Amherst resident named a ‘Home Care All-Star’


For the Gazette
Published: 6/30/2019 11:55:50 PM

In honor of its 50th anniversary, the Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts has named Jeanne Ryan a “Home Care All-Star” for what Executive Director Pat Kelleher calls “six very important years” of service on the alliance’s board.

At 58, Ryan has spent over 30 years working as a home health care provider. She was most recently the director of hospice quality, education and compliance for VNA Care, Hospice and Palliative Care in Worcester. Until 2015, she was the executive director of VNA and Hospice at Cooley Dickinson Hospital. Currently, she is the associate director of University Health Services and director of clinical services at UMass Amherst.

Between 2012 and 2017, Ryan served as vice president, then president of the Home Care Alliance board. According to Kelleher, Ryan was a “tremendous advocate and educator” to her peers and the general public about home health care programs. The Amherst resident recently spoke with the Gazette about her work and why Americans should be aware of hospice and palliative care services available to them. This is an edited version of that conversation.

How does it feel to be an All-Star?

It’s a great feeling! The work that home care and hospice does is so vital and important. What I feel is it’s wonderful to have done that work for so many years, and to be recognized by the state trade organization.

How do you define home health care?

Home health care is essentially the delivery of health care and health care-related services in the home. When people think of home care, they might think of a nurse who comes in and changes your IV bag because you are now recuperating from something at home that you no longer need to be in the hospital for, or they might think of a physical therapist that would come in and help you learn how to walk again after you had a stroke. This is the kind of work that I’ve done in my career in home care.

Why might it be better for patients to stay in the home?

Home is really where people want to be most of the time when they don’t feel well. People really feel empowered in their homes to say, ‘Look, this is what I want to do, and this is what I don’t want to do.’

How did you become interested in home health care?

I had just had my daughter, and I was looking to work in something that gave me more flexibility, and that was home care. So I started out working for the Visiting Nurse Service of New York as a rehab supervisor. I oversaw physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech pathology. I loved it. Little by little I got more and more interested in this care at home because I got to see how happy people were to be home.

Have you or a loved one been personally affected by this?

I have an 88 year old aunt. She needed companionship, care, and oversight, and only because she had been very thrifty did she have the money to go into assisted living. The vast majority of people do not have those funds. So what’s going to happen? I’m still working full-time. If my aunt did not have her funds lined up, when was I going to be able to take care of her?

Why is the market for home care programs growing?

10,000 Americans turn 65 every day. That’s astronomical. Look at the trajectory of all of those people. Many people feel like you get old and you die, but they’re missing something. As you age, you often become disabled. It’s in those many years of disability or less ability that you’re going to need help.

What’s the difference between palliative care and hospice?

(With hospice care,) we’re there to improve the quality of your life, but we probably cannot extend the quantity. Palliative care ... is like an extra level of support to help people with a chronic condition that has multiple impacts on their life medically, physically, psychologically, and emotionally.

Why have you worked to educate people on this distinction?

If someone says palliative, people think hospice, and they think, “I don’t need hospice!” We want people to be able to access palliative care services because the demographic of Americans living longer with multiple chronic diseases means we need palliative care.

What should readers know about the cost of home care?

Home care services are by far the least expensive venue of care. You can have someone who has a total knee replacement and is cared for at home and it (could) cost $5,000. If they were cared for in a nursing home, it might cost $25,000.

Where are the gaps in services home care programs can adequately provide?

The biggest gap in home care ... is the role of the caregiver. Americans are providing millions and millions of hours of care to loved ones because there is essentially no insurance ... that pays for that kind of custodial care. MassHealth will pay for custodial care, but MassHealth is based on income. If your loved one makes over a certain amount, they’re not eligible for MassHealth, and Medicare does not pay for custodial care anywhere.

Is there anything the Home Care Alliance does to alleviate burdens on patients and their families?

What we tried to do a lot of is educate the stakeholders. At the level of Home Care Alliance, we spent a lot of time getting in front of legislators and various stakeholders saying, “If we don’t do something about this, we’re going to have a huge problem.”

How do we tackle this?

I really feel like (change) has to come from a groundswell of people who say, as they age, “I want to create a future for my older self,” and they need to plan for it now. We really need people to start demanding the experience that they want to have.

While you no longer technically work in home care, what do you enjoy about your positions as director of clinical services and the associate director of University Health Services at UMass?

It’s all about education. I’m embedded in an educational environment. The students are really looking for education about how they can be responsible for their own health. It’s also a privilege to work with people from all over the world who are encountering the American health care system for the first time. If there’s a theme, it’s about education.

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