Dominican Sisters and Porter Hills set up home health care service

October 14, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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The two faith-based organizations in Grand Rapids — one Catholic, the other Protestant — have joined forces to offer a new type of home health care service that includes the option of spiritual companionship along with medical care.

The Dominican Sisters-Grand Rapids and Porter Hills Retirement Communities & Services, a Presbyterian organization, announced their collaboration last week.

The home health services will be part of a new entity and ministry for the Sisters called Marywood Home Health. Porter Hills, which has operated a home health care service for 14 years, will partner with Marywood Home Health to provide clinical expertise; however, the new entity is independent and separate from Porter Hills.

The new Marywood Home Health will provide health care services for individuals in their homes, including personal care, licensed nursing, rehabilitation therapy, health monitoring, mental health services and spiritual companionship.

“These services combine the strongest offerings of the Dominican Sisters and Porter Hills,” according to a joint announcement. Both organizations are based in northeast Grand Rapids.

Porter Hills has provided residential and health services for older adults in West Michigan for more than 40 years, while the Dominican Sisters have devoted more than 100 years to ministries that include education, counseling and care for people of all ages, throughout Michigan and beyond.

Marywood, the home facility for the Dominican Sisters-Grand Rapids, is on a 34-acre campus at 2025 E. Fulton St., which is also the site of the Dominican Center at Marywood, a spirituality and conference center. Nearly 250 Dominican Sisters live at Marywood, many of them retirees.

In 2005, the Dominicans built the Marywood Health Center on the campus, a state-of-the-art health care facility for the Sisters.

“Our ministry is changing along with the times we are living in,” said Sister Nathalie Meyer, prioress for the Dominican Sisters-Grand Rapids. “Decades ago, our focus was on teaching. Now, with less need for educators, fewer sisters, and sisters who are retiring, we can care for (the retired Dominicans) and also care for other older adults.”

In years past, Michigan’s Catholic schools were staffed by Dominican Sisters. Today, they have been replaced by lay teachers.

Those Dominican Sisters who are still able to work represent a valuable work force, so, led by Sister Nathalie, they have refocused on a mission of caring for others, just as they are already caring for their own retirees at Marywood.

Sister Nathalie and Larry Yachcik, president and CEO of Porter Hills, began lengthy discussions more than a year ago about expanding the Dominican’s ministry to focus more clearly on serving the older adult population by providing health care services for individuals living in their homes throughout the greater Grand Rapids area, in partnership with Porter Hills.

Yachcik calls the collaboration “a timely union between two faith-based organizations whose mission is to assist older adults with health care services they need, delivered where they want to be — in their own homes. The additional, unique service the Sisters offer is spiritual companionship — something the Dominicans, by definition, are so well suited to provide.”

Marywood Home Health began operation Oct. 10. Included in its services is personal care, which is assistance with a variety of everyday tasks, in two-hour increments or around the clock, seven days a week, both in and out of one’s home.

Spiritual companionship is also an option through Marywood Home Health, and can include home visits, telephone visits and prayer partners, delivered by Dominican Sisters. As a ministry of the Dominican Sisters, these “no fee” spiritual companionship services are open to all faiths.

Additional services within Marywood Home Health are licensed nursing, rehabilitation therapy, mental health services and health wellness monitoring. Medicare and most insurers cover many Marywood Home Health services, according to the news release.

Porter Hills Retirement Communities & Services provides living environments and services for nearly 4,500 older adults of all faiths in nine different residential facilities throughout Kent County, as well as through its in-home service agencies. Six of the nine communities are specifically for older adults with limited financial resources. Porter Hills offers a variety of living environments that correspond to the needs and lifestyles of seniors.

Reed Vander Slik, Porter Hills vice president of finance and business development, said it will be providing the nursing staff for the new collaboration. Porter Hills also has a medical director overseeing the home health services.

Vander Slik said he estimates the new Marywood Home Health will eventually serve about 100 new clients each month.

He said many people don’t realize there are ways to be able to remain at home in old age and in ill health. “If a person really desires to be at home, there are a lot of resources today (to allow that), and a lot of people don’t realize that,” he said.

It often comes down to what is cost effective, said Vander Slik, noting that a situation requiring 24-hour care is very expensive and the individual may have no choice but to leave her or his home. Another factor may be a requirement for specialized equipment that won’t fit in the person’s home or can’t be used there.

“But if you’ve got a support network, plus if you can bring alongside some clinical expertise, you can do a lot in the home,” he added.

“The overwhelming majority of people prefer to stay in their own home. We’ve got to find answers to that — it’s our responsibility,” said Vander Slik.

He said he does not believe there is any other service in greater Grand Rapids quite like the new Marywood Home Health. Some faith-based organizations are able to offer spiritual and clinical help at home, but not to the extent of the new network, he said.

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