Happy feet: Monthly clinics offer sorely needed foot care


Staff Writer

Published: 01-17-2018 3:08 PM

Jenny Marshall of Leverett leans back in what looks like a fancy lawn chair while a woman kneeling in front of her is cradling Marshall’s feet in her hands, buffing away at her toenails, rubbing away the cracks in her heels and scrubbing her calluses.

It looks like she is getting a routine pedicure, but the woman working on Marshall is a nurse, Tricia Zoly, who works for FootCare by Nurses, a Greenfield-based organization dedicated to providing affordable foot care to elders. Zoly is conducting a foot care clinic at the Town Hall in Leverett.

“It’s just wonderful,” Marshall says as Zoly massages each of her toes with oil. “I feel like I am walking on clouds after I come here.”

Marshall, 84, has congestive heart failure and diabetes, two conditions that can cause a buildup of fluid in the feet, making the skin more fragile and prone to infection. So, it’s important that anyone handling her toes has some medical expertise, says her daughter, Lise Coppinger, 53. Coppinger has been bringing her mother here once a month since August and the swelling Marshall was experiencing has gone down, easing her pain and making it more comfortable for her to walk. Coppinger no longer has to wrap her mother’s feet in Ace bandages.

“It’s a different level of care than just going to get a pedicure somewhere,” Coppinger says. “They know what a healthy foot looks like.”

Taken for granted

Feet bear the weight of our bodies, anchor us to the ground, and thanklessly take us through life. Despite their importance, it’s not uncommon for most of us to barely notice them, until a problem arises. FootCare by Nurses is trying to change that, says Kate Clayton-Jones, who founded the group of six nurses in 2016. Part of their mission is to meet seniors where they are, holding foot care clinics in towns throughout western Massachusetts at affordable prices. The care, often subsidized by the towns where the clinics are held, generally costs patients from $20 to $50 for a 30-minute treatment. Some centers just ask patients for donations.

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“Basically there is this huge problem out there of people not being able to take care of their own feet,” Clayton-Jones says.

In addition to Clayton-Jones’ group, registered nurse Diane Roeder of Northampton provides foot care at senior centers and elder care facilities in the area. Her sessions cost $30 each (See sidebar).

For many elderly people the days of having enough flexibility to touch their toes are gone and some health-care providers might not be eager to volunteer hand for a part of the body that can be viewed as grotesque, she says. Clayton-Jones saw this during the years she worked in hospitals and assisted living facilities. She noticed that no one was paying much attention to the patients’ feet, often at the expense of their overall well-being. “Elders get discounted a lot — so they kind of give up hope,” she says.

Seemingly small problems can have serious consequences. A case of athlete’s foot or an ingrown toenail, for example, can lead to pain and infection. Overlooking these can lead to a loss of mobility which leads to less socializing resulting in a poor quality of life.

Clayton-Jones says embarrassment over foot problems also can take away small pleasures like the comfort of wearing sandals in the summer time.

“In a sense elders become handicapped by this sort of thing.”

Finding relief

During Marshall’s treatment, Zoly evaluates her feet, clipping the nails and filing down dead skin with a small electric tool. Marshall’s toenails have thickened, a common occurrence in older people, which combined with fragile skin, can result in ingrown nails or wounds. To make sure this doesn’t happen, the nurse uses the power tool to carefully thin the nail so there are no jagged edges. After a few minutes of snipping and buffing, Zoly squirts a blend of olive and peppermint oil into her hand from a plastic bottle, a combination that she rubs into the feet of most of her patients to both keep the skin hydrated and fight fungus.

In the years before coming here, Marshall had a painful wart on her foot that never seemed to go away, Coppinger says. When the nurses evaluated her, they found that the spot was not a wart, but a splinter buried deep in dead skin. Through exfoliation, they freed the splinter, and eased the pain. “It’s nice to have a second set of eyes,” she says.

The nurses also take detailed notes during a session and track progress with photographs. During Marshall’s treatment, Zoly notices a dark sliver. “We’ll take a pic of it and check on it next month,” she says.

Coppinger says the $20 per session that she pays is a bargain for her mother’s healthy feet.

“With her diabetes we have to be really careful,” she says. “You don’t want to get any cuts or tears because things are susceptible to infection.”

Judy Hobart, 82, another patient, who helps organize the Leverett foot clinic, says the treatment is a nice way to relax and meet friends. “It also gives me happy feet,” she says.

The clinics, which range from two to seven hours long, typically meet monthly or weekly in community centers like the Northampton Senior Center and the Easthampton Council on Aging . For those who can’t make it out of their homes, the team of six nurses are available to make home visits for $75 each.

“We are keeping people connected to the towns that they don’t want to leave,” Clayton-Jones says.

During the treatments, the nurses also pay attention to the patients’ overall health. Depending on individual needs, they might ask about blood sugar or talk about medications. “When we do foot care we are very holistic,” Clayton-Jones says. “We remember that there are people attached to the feet.”

From finance to feet

Not long ago, aging feet seemed like an unlikely passion for Clayton-Jones. In 2007 she was working as a financial adviser when the stock market crashed. She soon lost her job and found herself in mid-life looking for a new career. She got a job teaching a finance class at Greenfield Community College and decided to enroll in an anatomy and physiology course. That sparked her interest in medicine which led her to getting certified as a nursing assistant. A nursing degree from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst followed.

Eye-opening jobs in nursing homes and hospitals gave her the idea to focus on feet.

“I kept seeing this problem,” she says. Aside from the aging process, surgeries and illnesses made it impossible for patients to tend to their own feet. “I saw some people with bi-lateral hip replacements and their toenails had literally turned into claws,” she says.

In 2016 she launched FootCare by Nurses, which the group has publicized mainly by word of mouth.

“We are growing, but we are still in survival mode,” Clayton-Jones says. Last year the nurses saw 3,000 pairs of feet. They also provide training for other nurses and are available for speaking engagements, but the heart of their work is one-on-one time with feet and educating the people attached to them.

“We can fix a lot of things by helping people understand what’s preventable,” she says.

The treatments typically end with a massage or what Clayton-Jones calls “the carrot on the end of the stick.” She believes that foot care can be enjoyable.

“Most of the time when you are getting care from a medical provider it’s a jab or it comes with a really tight blood pressure squeeze,” she says. “It comes with this attitude of you’re falling apart you are getting decrepit, you need to take this medication.”

This is a way for seniors to care for themselves that feels good. “I think elders have the right to have dignity restored to them.”

Lisa Spear can be reached at Lspear@gazettenet.com.


Where to go to get foot care

There are regular clinics offered in the area by FootCare by Nurses of Greenfield and registered nurse Diane Roeder of Northampton. They are as follows:

FootCare by Nurses

367-8369, footcarebynurses.net

 Bernardston Senior Center

20 Church St., Bernardston, third Thursday of the month 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Payment by donation.  413-648-5401.

Conway Council on Aging

 5 Academy Hill Road, Conway

First Monday of the month, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., unless there is a Monday holiday, $20. 369-4248.

Easthampton Council on Aging

19 Union St., Easthampton

Second Wednesday and the fourth Wednesday of each month, 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., $35 for Easthampton residents. Non-residents pay $45 for initial visit and $35 for follow-up visits. 413-527-6151.

Greenfield Council on Aging

54 High Street, Greenfield

Twice a month. 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. In March, the clinic will run from 9 a.m. to noon, every Friday. $35 for follow-up appointments after $50 initial appointment. 413-772-1517.

Leverett Senior Center
in Town Hall 

9 Montague Road, Leverett

Second Monday of the month, 12:30 to 3 p.m. Second Thursday of the month, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Payment by donation. Contact Judy Hobart 413-548-9415 or jhobart@leverett.net

 Northampton Senior Center

67 Conz St., Northampton

First Friday of the month, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., $60 for initial visit and $45 for follow up visits. 413-587-1226

Shelburne Senior Center

7 Main St., Shelburne Falls

Two to three Mondays per month. Most clinics run 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

For initial visit, residents of Ashfield, Buckland and Shelburne pay $45, and non-residents pay $50. For follow-up, Residents of Ashfield, Shelburne and Buckland pay $30. Non-residents pay $35. 413-625-2502.

Shutesbury Council on Aging

Leverett Road, Shutebury 

Fourth Monday of the month, 8:30 a.m. to noon. Payment by donation. 413-259-1554

Wendell Council on Aging

Wendell Senior Center, 7 Wendell Depot Road, Wendell.

First Wednesday every month. Payment by donation. 978-544-2306.

Diane Roeder, RN

374-0457, droeder@gmail.com
$30 for all treatments

Westhampton Woods Senior Housing Community Room, 13 Main Road, Westhampton, second Thursday, odd months 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Chesterfield Senior Center (in the Grange Building), Route 143, Chesterfield, first Wednesday, odd months, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Golden Moments Adult Day Health Spa, 190 Nonotuck Street, STE 106, Florence, no set schedule; usually Mondays every eight weeks; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.