109-year-old Visiting Nurse Association to begin new chapter

April 7, 2019

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — Dubuque’s original visiting nurse took messages left for her at a drug store, then set out each day to perform a public health care role that has essentially continued for 109 years.

Jessie M. Keys’ arrival in May 1910 launched what would become the Dubuque Visiting Nurse Association, the Telegraph Herald reported.

According to a 1910 report in the Telegraph Herald, Keys arrived in Dubuque from Cleveland, and had been a charter member of the Chicago Visiting Nurse Association. During her first days on the job, Keys kept a small office at a Dubuque drug store. She only spent an hour of each work day at the office and spent the rest of her time attending to the sick and frail in their homes.

This summer, the agency successor to Keys’ nursing efforts will leave its home of 40 years and move to the former site of Anytime Fitness.

“In terms of history, this is part of our evolution in meeting needs in the community,” said Nick Thompson, chairman of the VNA board of directors. “It’s going to allow us to better serve our clients. The facilities themselves will be better suited to patients’ needs.”

Stacey Killian, executive director of the VNA, said she and her staff expect to move in late June.

“We will be packing up files and transferring files,” Killian said. “We have a lot of program equipment — things that the nurses, social workers and dental hygienists use when they’re out in the community and in people’s homes. That stuff will be moving with us.”

As she prepares for the move, Killian has found scrapbooks and other items that provide details of the organization’s history and its continuing role in the community.

A yellowed contract shows the VNA moving in 1979. Another contract shows the organization housed in another building. Articles appearing in the TH tell of the VNA being based in a bank and at Dubuque City Hall during the course of the agency’s history.

Since 1996, the VNA has operated as a subsidiary of Finley Tri-States Health Group Inc., which is the parent organization of UnityPoint Health-Finley Hospital in Dubuque. The organization also has an office in Elkader, Iowa.

“We’ve been such a part of the community and public health has remained a top priority,” Killian said. “We still provide health services to the community, just as we have over the years. We serve infants through elderly. We have over 30 programs, all targeting different things.”

The agency’s services include HIV case management, breast and cervical cancer early detection, follow up for communicable diseases, maternal and child health programs, lead testing and immunization for children who are covered by Medicaid, are uninsured or underinsured.

Killian said the agency’s role has changed with the times.

“We’re always looking at the gaps in the community,” she said. “We’re looking at how can we better maximize the health of the communities that we serve.”

Care for tuberculosis patients was a VNA priority by 1942, when a TH story noted that nurses had made 749 home visits related to the 99 cases of the disease throughout Dubuque County.

“Twenty years ago, when I started here, we were doing more direct service,” Killian said. “We performed well-child exams, we partnered with the city medical clinic that was at the Dubuque Rescue Mission. We have moved away from a lot of those direct services.”

Killian said the agency instead seeks to increase patients’ access to medical homes.

“We work very closely with Crescent (Community Health Center), the City of Dubuque health and housing departments, the county health department, the school district, local medical providers,” she said.


Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com