In 1906 Erie County’s population had just passed the 100,000 mark. A group of community-minded and energetic women from The Woman’s Club of Erie saw the need for nurses to provide medical care and health education in the homes of the thousands of immigrants crowding into the world’s busiest freshwater fishing port of the day—Erie, Pennsylvania. Those visionary women pooled their resources, went door-to-door for community contributions and created the Visiting Nurse Association of Erie County (VNA). They engaged the services of one nurse “to take care of the sick poor of Erie.”
Due to the increasing demand for home nursing services, an independent Visiting Nurse Association was incorporated in 1912, and a director and four nurses were hired. The purpose of the new organization was “to provide graduate nurses to visit those otherwise unable to secure skilled assistance in time of illness, to teach cleanliness and the proper care of the sick, to prevent the spread of disease and to provide such other aid to the poor and needy as may seem from time to time desirable.”
Early sponsors were largely concerned with fund raising projects. The records contain accounts of rummage and baked goods sales, thimble and card parties, block days, benefit moving picture performances and door-to-door solicitations. In 1915 the VNA became a member of the Social Service Foundation, the forerunner of today’s United Way of Erie County. Community support continued, and by 1924 an endowment fund had been established.
As home nursing services became increasingly popular, not only “the sick poor,” but the public in general required home care. Funds to support VNA services continued from many sources. Fees from those able to pay, the Health Department, the Department of Public Assistance, various industries and societies, the United Way and VNA membership dues all helped fund home health care services.
The first office, established at the Associated Charities office, soon moved to 522 German Street and then, after the Millcreek Flood in 1915, moved to 423 East Sixth Street; to 319 West Eighth Street in 1924, to 1305 Peach Street, Erie, on September 1, 1971, and to 2253 West Grandview Boulevard, Erie, in December, 2008.
The VNA premise was that no matter how poor or how remote, the patient and family deserved special attention. They believed that if society’s basic unit was nurtured, a strengthened community would result, and everyone would benefit. The work of the VNA was also based on the assumption that the wealthy, the middle class and the poor should all receive the same level of care “without regard to the ability to pay.” If a family had the means, a small fee would be assessed. If not, home visits continued anyway.
Some historical highlights include:
1906 – 1919 During the devastating Millcreek Flood, the VNA cared for 32 families for 8 days at the VNA Neighborhood House; engaged 13 extra nurses during the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic to care for many orphaned children and over 1,000 other flu patients that year; established Mothercraft or Prenatal Classes and started child health stations throughout the city of Erie to promote hygiene and provide health education and pediatric information for mothers and their children.
1920’s—VNA opened an Orthopedic Department at the VNA building which served the community until local hospitals were able to institute physical therapy departments in 1959; established VNA endowment fund.
1930’s—VNA provided extensive TB follow-up and taught student nurses the TB program in public health nursing. VNA began providing part-time industrial nursing services to employers.
1940’s—VNA accredited as a School of Public Health Nursing; assisted the now defunct Lakeview Hospital in setting up and staffing a polio ward; provided nurses during a flood disaster to care for evacuees.
1950’s—VNA participated in mass Salk Polio vaccine inoculation; provided home health care for veterans; piloted a program in public health nursing which combined the City of Erie, Erie County Health Department and the VNA.
1960’s—VNA established Child Health Stations in remote areas of Erie County; received Medicare certification as a home health care agency.
1970’s—VNA participated in the mass Rubella vaccine inoculation; burned the mortgage on its new building at 1305 Peach Street; expanded rehabilitation program with physical therapists and rehab nurse on staff; provided clinical experience for a graduate program in community health nursing for State University of New York-Buffalo; participated in Swine Flu inoculation program; added venipuncture to VNA services.
1980’s—VNA expanded medical social work services and occupational therapy program; began comprehensive support services (later known as hospice); Within one year VNA had served 80 patients with comforting end-of-life care and pain and symptom management; started intravenous therapy service; initiated computerized system for billing; established an infection control program.
1990’s—VNA joined the VNA’s of America; became the first Medicare certified Hospice in Erie County.
2000’s—VNA installed upgraded computer system to enable electronic transfer of patient records; introduced palliative care program; produced Spanish-language program brochures; offered physical therapy service of lymphedema management/treatment; transitioned to paperless documentation system of record-keeping; celebrated 100 years of service to the community.
Since its founding in 1906, the VNA has provided uninterrupted skilled nursing and home health care services despite the Great Depression, World Wars, disease epidemics and natural disasters. As a not-for-profit, Medicare-certified home health care agency, the VNA of Erie County has traditionally demonstrated the vision and flexibility to meet the ever-changing home health and Hospice needs of our community. New technologies, such as electronic record keeping, online billing capacities and point-of-care documentation systems continue to improve the quality of patient care we offer.