The year was 1986 when Jerome nurses Ivy Stearman and Jane Trezise recognized a need in their community. A need they had experience meeting — home health care.
Both had worked as nurse midwives in the Verde Valley. They understood the importance of helping patients recover in the comfort of their own home, a practice often frowned upon by traditionalists. Then, after time, it was proved that they were right. Studies showed that people do prefer to be at home for a long recovery or with long-term disabilities and that they heal faster and are much happier.
"Our first cases were in the Verde Valley and Flagstaff for sick or terminal care children," Stearman said. "Then we began offering services to nursing homes. We officially became incorporated in 1988 as Nurses Network. Everybody wants to be at home. And we not only work with the patient, we work with the whole family. It is a holistic approach."
Home care agencies were first established in the 1880s and grew to 1,100 by 1963. Currently, there are more than 20,000 home health care agencies in business. Such growth occurred first in 1965 when Medicare began funding home care service and skilled nurses for the elderly. By 1973, this extended to certain disabled young adults. However, in 1997, with the Balanced Budget Act, bureaucracy and paperwork reduced the growth of such agencies by 26 percent with at least 58 percent of existing businesses closing. A few dedicated agencies, such as Nurses Network, continued to hang on.
"I think home care is the most vital part of the health care system," Stearman said. "It has been difficult trying to work through all the changes in the system and we are audited almost every year. The budget has been balanced, but unfortunately on the backs of small providers. This has strongly affected rural health care. But home health care is a vital part of the health care delivery system. It gives the highest impact of quality of life and lowers the need for patients to be hospitalized or to be put in long-term health care facilities."
Although Nurses Network was one of the first home care businesses in the Verde Valley, it wasn’t long before others quickly jumped on the bandwagon. Stearman said they had to go one step further to stay competitive.
"We moved our business from the Verde Valley to Prescott so that we could draw upon more nurses." Stearman said. "It is important that a home healthcare business not be too small nor too big. Secondly, we are competitive because as an administrator I focus in on the patient and the patient’s rights. I have to make sure the patient’s needs are met by hiring quality staff."
Nurses Network, almost 15 years from its inception, now draws upon nearly 500 staff members from all over the state with offices in Prescott Valley, Yuma and Flagstaff. Stearman said the company does everything from the actual home health care to insurance billing and case management.
"We are physician-directed and we also offer private duty nursing," Stearman said. "Each patient is assigned a case-manager, a nurse who will stay with them throughout their care term. Whatever that patient’s needs may be, from the point when they are released from the hospital to the point where they meet their health goals, we can assist them. We had one patient call us who had a provider from another home health company but then needed private nursing for 12 hours. Their provider didn’t have that service, so they had to call us. They then had to have two companies involved. If they would have picked us from the beginning, they wouldn’t have had to do that."
Stearman continues: "We are like a hospital without walls. The patient is in their home, but our office is like a health care facility because we maintain charts, talk to doctors, order supplies, advise and authorize care with insurance companies. The nurse case manager interfaces with the physician for all aspects of care."
Although Nurses Network started in the Verde Valley and is now physically located in Prescott Valley, she says some of her best nurses are in the Verde Valley providing care to the patients throughout the Verde Valley.
"We have nurses that have been with us for over 10 years," Stearman said. "Our nurses are happy and enjoy their work because they like having choices, being treated right and being paid well. Because we are nurses, we understand other nurses needs. And these nurses are not only caring but very sharp and good at what they do. It is important that we have good nurses in order to provide the best care for our patients. This is something we are most dedicated to."