Androscoggin Home Care & Hospice: Julie Shackley, CEO

by HCE Exchange on August 19, 2010

Healing often requires more than just medical treatment. For patients who are homebound, the power of touch and a caring smile is often the most critical part of preserving quality of life.

Since 1966, Androscoggin Home Care & Hospice has been helping the residents of central and western Maine maintain independence and quality of life through illness and recovery. It is one of the largest providers of home health and hospice care in the state with 480 employees and 300 volunteers who provide care for more than 8,000 patients and their families in a given year.

Through partnerships with regional hospitals, one of Androscoggin’s primary duties is to provide nursing support that allows a patient to return home after a hospital or nursing facility stay. Among their specialty home care programs are individualized treatment for those recovering from cardiac care or surgery and follow-up care for joint replacement.

Good for Patients; Good for Staff

Androscoggin was recently voted one of the best places to work in Maine, an honor that means a lot to Julie Shackley, CEO. The ranking is based on surveys reporting details such as employee benefit packages. Unique offerings beyond the basics include end of life leave, emergency care loan benefits, and community service benefits.

The comments that came back with the surveys were even more meaningful. “It’s a caring organization, truly genuine people, they value the employees, they respect and understand their employees,” Shackley recalls.

“I think our mission statement is truly core to what we do here,” says Shackley. “AHCH is committed to caring for the health, independence, and quality of life of residents in Central and Western Maine in the comfort of their home and community.”

Last year the organization went through a review of their mission and values in order to recommit, and restate, as necessary, to clarify the overall vision for the organization, which remains one of the few stand-alone home health and hospice care providers in the state. Androscoggin is not affiliated with any specific health system or medical facility.

The Importance of Communication

Shackley describes the organization’s operational strategy as circular in nature. “My executive leadership team starts the ball rolling, then we bring our ideas to staff to get their feedback and perspective, then we take it to the board.” She emphasizes an “open book” philosophy and works to facilitate and increase trust and two-way communication between the management and staff.

In the fall of 2004 Androscoggin Home Care and Hospice made the transition from the use of paper medical charts to a small hand held computer that allowed clinical staff to directly collect and document information while in the patient’s home.  Androscoggin Home Care and Hospice chose Healthwyse Information Systems of Reading Massachusetts not only because of a cost –effective proposal but a proven record of accomplishments with other home health agencies across the country.  They continue to work collaboratively with our staff making refinements to Androscoggin Home Care and Hospice’s computer system in order to facilitate care and communication.

Challenges and Growth

Like other health care providers, Shackley points to employee retention and reimbursement for services as top challenges facing Androscoggin today. “I think like most organizations, we’re doing more with less. We’re becoming more efficient. It’s not all bad, but it is a struggle to maintain high quality, the good salaries and the benefits it takes to maintain employees and care for community residents,” Shackley says.

Shackley, who has been at Androscoggin in various management roles for seventeen years, including the last three as CEO, came most recently from the quality improvement department. “I am a firm believer things need to be measured and there is always room for improvement,” she says.

Androscoggin’s largest homecare program is for patients coming directly out of the hospital who need intensive care for short periods of time. Staff provide education, wound care, IV therapy, and other skilled care directly related to the condition of the patient.

The hospice care portion of their programs is also large on the agenda. In 2005, Androscoggin opened the first in-patient hospice facility in Maine. Shackley reports that there is much more emphasis on quality of care at end of life now, and though Androscoggin has long had that aim, it is heartening to see these initiatives being considered statewide, nationally and put into action on a broader level.

The in-patient hospice facility has been very successful, but frequently there is a waiting list. This year they will be evaluating how best to meet the increasing need for in-patient hospice care. As well, the travel distance makes it difficult for some families to maintain the contact that they need.  While the organization focuses on ways to care for patients in their own communities, for some, the access to the expertise and 24/7 management of pain and symptoms is critical.

Shackley is pleased with what the organization has been able to provide so far, but says there is definitely a need to do more, go farther.

“I see this organization as innovative and even visionary, but I also see us as having a really strong and supportive culture that makes it fun to come to work. This will get us through the challenging, chaotic times that we face.”

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