PEOPLE WHO CARE: Accucare’s unsung nursing heroes serve children with chronic and terminal illnesses

Lugo, Marin, Foote and Zdon
Lugo, Marin, Foote and Zdon

BY DYLAN SKRILOFF

Accucare Nursing and Homecare in Nanuet marks 25 years caring for children in the worst of medical circumstances this year. The company founded by home care nurse Ellen Foote continues to grow.

The story began in 1989 when Foote founded Accucare partially due to disappointment with the company she had been working for previously. Foote had a problem with a machine and her supervisors did not know how to help her.

Foote said to herself that if she were in charge, “I would make sure I know what to do.”

From humble beginnings as a small company with a roster of four available home care nurses and one office desk in a shared office, Accucare has burgeoned into a major provider of home care in Rockland, with a roster of 80 available nurses and a full office suite in Nanuet.

The secret to their growth in this most challenging field?

Nurse Supervisor Vilma Marin, RN, boasts that her nurses are special. They are people who care. “We have the greatest nurses working for us. We are grateful for the skill, experience and talent of the nurses who walk through the door,” Marin told the Rockland County Times.

Not just anyone is cut out to take care of the sickest children day in and day out. It takes an extra something emotionally and spiritually to spend one’s career attending to severely ill kids.

Foote explained, “Most of our patients are children…When we interview nurses, we don’t look right away for the degree. We are looking for people who care. You can’t teach that. ”

Foote and Marin said the quality that defines a home care nurse is their passion.

“My personal passion for nursing guides me. Either you really care or you’re not fit for this,” Foote said.

“Without my passion, I would not be able to do it,” Marin agreed.

Marin said the work also is spiritual in nature for  her. “I really feel the closest to God when I’m sitting at the bedside, taking care of a child on a ventilator. I feel the presence of Christ. That is my deepest truth,” she said.

Foote and Marin said mental and emotional balance is an important quality for home care nurses. Marin encourages nurses to learn meditation and Accucare offers to send nurses to classes.

Foote said, “We need people who can keep their head.”

Foote said her passion for nursing also comes from her own experience while suffering an ectopic pregnancy.

The hospital did not have help for her situation readily available. They placed her on the pediatric floor, for lack of other options, and she spent a lot of time waiting in pain. “Every nurse should get a little time uncomfortable, waiting for someone to come,” Foote said.

Decades later the experience stays with her and drives her to provide the best and fastest possible care to Accucare’s patients, she said.

Those patients are typically children who suffer from seizures, genetic anomalies, Cerebral Palsy and mitochondria disease, among other illnesses. Common treatments required for Accucare’s patients include IV therapy, tracheostomy tubes (stomach) and ventilators and life support systems. Children who start as clients with Accucare often continue on until adulthood, however the company does not generally take on new adult clients.

Foote’s company has engendered loyalty from her administrative staff and nursing roster.

Marin, who had worked at major hospitals including Mt. Sinai, Columbia Presbyterian and Westchester Medical prior to Accucare, has been on Foote’s team for 13 years, including five years as nurse supervisor.  Kathleen Zdon, nursing coordinator, has been with the company for 17 of its 25 years. She is credited with managing the day-to-day business operations of Accucare and making the nursing schedule.

While administration and supervision are Foote and Marin’s primary duties at Accucare, both continue to handle some cases as nurses.

Marin, who will cover night shifts when needed, said,  “It is hypocritical to be a supervisor and not know what nurses go through. No nurse can say you don’t know what it’s like when you are still doing it.”

Quality of life for patients has improved as technology continues to change the field of home care and health care in general. Over the course of the past 25 years, ventilators and life support systems have progressed radically, allowing greater mobility to the seriously ill. “They can put a ventilator in a carriage and be mobile,” Foote explained.

Foote notes that though many children in the care of Accucare’s nurses have terminal diagnoses, some patients defy the odds. Foote carries a photo of a girl that at two years of age was “supposed to” die in less than a month, but who is still alive over 20 years later and doing well.

As is the story with most successful businesses, Foote had to fight uphill to establish Accucare as a growing enterprise.

“I started with one desk in one room shared by another person,” Foote explained. After six months, her roommate left and she was able to take the entire room for her new business. Later, when the entire office was vacated, business was brisk enough that Foote was able to take over the entire office.

Eventually Foote moved Accucare to an office suite at 20 Old Turnpike Rd, Nanuet, where she now has a staff that includes Marin, Zdon and Cindy Lugo, administrative assistant and research coordinator. Foote plans to absorb another office suite within her office building this year, she said.

While caring for ill children is an always challenging job, the more route functions of the business were what held Foote up as she attempted to grow Accucare. Dealing with the government and insurance companies has never been known as an easy task, but it is even more difficult when you are constantly looking to receive money you are due.

“I didn’t know the difficulty of billing, getting paid,” Foote said.

Fortunately, Foote said she received some help from  her bank, who saw a potential long-term client in Accucare. “Chase was wonderful. If not for them, I wouldn’t have made it,” Foote said.