Health Care and Human Resources

Meyer leads Porter Hills plan to expand help to homebound seniors

Plan involves contacting employers that have employees willing to volunteer.

September 27, 2013
| By Pete Daly |
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Meyer leads Porter Hills plan to expand help to homebound seniors
Some senior citizens just need a quick check on their well-being to determine whether they need help from health care professionals. Courtesy Thinkstock

Porter Hills has hired Sister Nathalie Meyer, OP, as its community liaison — a new leadership position that will direct the organization’s community outreach efforts with area employers, congregations and other organizations that want a more comprehensive approach to the problem of homebound seniors with chronic diseases.

Meyer is the former president of the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters and former vice president for administration at Aquinas College. She also has been the director of education and superintendent of schools for Catholic dioceses throughout the country.

A Porter Hills announcement said Meyer “brings a vast amount of experience in leading organizations through massive change, including her six-year tenure as the elected Prioress of the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters.” In that role, she led the development and implementation of a collaborative venture with Porter Hills to license Marywood Health Center for rehabilitation services, and created Marywood Home Health to serve the Greater Grand Rapids area with home health services, along with the ultimate goal to transform the Marywood campus into a center for older adults.

During her three years as vice president for administration at Aquinas, Meyer developed a master plan for the 110-acre campus along with a 10-year financial plan. The master plan was the first in the history of the college.

Porter Hills said one specific element that has marked nearly all of Meyer’s leadership positions throughout her career has been her “unique ability to work with diverse groups and to reach deep into the communities that have surrounded her to form coalitions, working toward a common goal.”

Her leadership has involved consolidation of all Catholic schools in a large metropolitan area, developing training for 5,000 religious education volunteer teachers, providing summer training in technology for teachers, and creating a youth ministry manual for all parishes and in-services for school boards and parish pastoral boards.

Larry Yachcik, president and CEO of Porter Hills, said Meyer will play an integral role in Porter Hills’ ongoing efforts to co-create a more integrated health care model that joins together a consortium of faith-based providers of services to older adults.

“Working together, we can find better, more efficient solutions to the problems plaguing seniors and be better stewards of our resources,” said Yachcik.

With the aging of the American population, many seniors are living at home with one or more chronic diseases. Yachcik said many “have needs that could be better served at home,” as opposed to being in a hospital or skilled nursing facility, “but they don’t have support with this chronic condition, so they end up in a hospital for something that may have been avoidable.”

Others may have been hospitalized and eventually discharged, returning home with new medications to take on their own “and nobody is really checking on them,” said Yachcik, because the spouse may be deceased and the children may not live nearby.

Also, while living on their own, an elderly person’s nutritional needs are often not fully met. That, combined with a failure to take crucial meds properly, often leads to their being readmitted to hospital.

Porter Hills, a senior living residential organization formed 43 years ago, provides living facilities and services for nearly 1,000 older adults of all faiths in nine communities throughout Kent County, as well as through its in-home service agencies. Six of the nine residential complexes are specifically for older adults with limited financial resources. Within those communities, Porter Hills offers a variety of living arrangements that correspond to the varying needs and lifestyles of seniors.

Porter Hills also offers a host of services to those residents and also to individuals living throughout the area. A new program is called Avenues by Porter Hills, offering “at-home” wellness-based services. Porter Hills also offers health services for skilled, in-home care following illness or injury; personal care; physical, speech and occupational therapies; and outpatient and wellness services and programs through the Martindill Wellness Center.

Meyer’s job will include making contacts with employers who have employees able and willing to volunteer some time to make planned visits to homebound seniors with health issues. Yachcik said many employers across America have a vital concern with this issue because sometimes their employees are forced to be absent from work in order to help a homebound parent or parents.

Yachcik said he had a promising conversation earlier this summer with Mark Meijer of Life EMS. The question was: Could an ambulance crew waiting in a particular area for calls briefly visit specific homebound seniors? A short visit might reveal if the senior was OK or in need of attention by health care givers.

Legalities surrounding liability issues arise, however. Yachcik said permission would be required from the health insurance companies involved with the patients before volunteers could talk to the patient. He said permission also would be needed from a patient’s family before volunteers could contact the patient’s physician about potential problems.

“This is a big project for three counties,” said Meyer, where there are faith-based home nursing programs. In some cases, though, the parishes have that concern about liability, but the solution may be volunteers from among the congregations who are willing to look in on a patient at home and act as a conduit of information from the patient to health care professionals.

Meyer described herself as a teacher by profession, but her career expanded into major leadership roles in administration.

“I have had the distinct privilege of working with Dr. Meyer over the past few years on a number of initiatives that Porter Hills has been involved with, with the Dominican Sisters, and have seen her energy, intelligence and dedication first hand. We could not be happier that she has agreed to join our team in this very important initiative,” said Yachcik.

In addition to her professional positions, Meyer has been involved in a number of professional associations and has served on various boards and committees, including: the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges and the National Association of College & University Business Officers. She has been on the board of directors of the Heart Association of Michigan and Aquinas College, and has been chairperson for Chief Administrators of Catholic Education and the Grand Rapids Area Center for Ecumenism.

She holds a degree in music education and a master’s in religious education, both from Aquinas College; and a doctorate in education from the Graduate Theological Foundation. She also has done post-graduate work in administration and leadership, and been involved with scores of workshops and seminars. 

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