Numbers often tell a story, and those proffered by the Dominican Sisters Home Health Agency (DSHHA) chronicle the history of an organization with an enormous impact on the Denver community. The Dominican Sisters of Hope arrived here in 1923 with the goal of looking after the homeless, poor and sick at no cost to the patients, and have carried through on that objective for the past 90 years. In 2012 there were 21,574 free visits made to 232 in-home patients, and 276 low income seniors receiving 2,930 free wellness clinic visits.
Numbers tell a story, but they don’t reveal the passion behind them. Executive Director Krisandra Panting, RN, BSN, MBA, champions the dedication of the workforce of 12 nurses and certified nursing assistants plus four support members: “Staff has a missionary heart and a strong spirit of giving,” she says. Additionally, over 242 volunteers gave over 3,660 hours of their time this past year. Panting continues, “We allow people who are poor, sick and elderly to stay in their homes for as long as possible. We allow them to age in place with the dignity of the person that they are. We are the agency of last resort. If you can’t get help from any other source, you can get help here. We are the only agency in the United States that looks after the poor, sick and elderly in the home….absolutely free.” She adds that many have minimal or no insurance, or may have lost or exhausted it. Some have no family here. “We are considered their family members. Our whole goal is to make sure we look after them. We come into the home and will give them nursing care, medication management, give them baths, get them dressed, and do light housekeeping,” she relates.
As listed on the website, in-home visits include nursing care, personal care, nurse-led exercise programs, a Food for Patients program, pastoral care, patient assistance and referral services. In addition, Panting says, “A lot of people need the social connection. We have a program called Friendly Visitors that allows them to socialize. They either phone or visit on a weekly basis. We’re giving them a quality of life that they deserve. We give them social and emotional support. If they didn’t have us, they would die at home alone, or be pushed into a nursing home. They do so well in their own home.”
The DSHHA offers Wellness Clinics, which consist of health assessments in visits to nine low-income, senior housing facilities. “Why don’t we charge for this?” she continues, “Most people are on very fixed incomes, and these people have been the most impacted during this economic downturn. Demand has increased over the last five years.” She also explains that while many might think they only look after Catholics, such is not the case…they care for anyone regardless of race, creed or status.
The volunteer force does a wide spectrum of jobs—caring for the grounds, doing filing, performing as Friendly Visitors, and taking part in the many seasonal activities. At Thanksgiving, over 350 meals are delivered; even to extended family. Panting recalls one patient who wanted to have her great-grandchildren with her, so ten meals were provided. Additionally, all patients get a wrapped Christmas gift.
The Durable Medical Equipment Loan Program serves anyone in need of specialized gear. “People can show up and ask for a hospital bed or wheelchair. We loan these. This is a huge asset to this community. Give us things in working condition: walkers, rollators, hospital beds. Help us help others.” She states that last month they had requests for 30 wheelchairs, but didn’t have enough. Fundraisers, like the High Tea and Wine event, help support those needs.
Funding, of course, is a constant need. Panting states, “It costs about $55/hour to send a nurse into a home. About $200 will look after a patient for a month. We have a very small budget, about $1.4 million per year. When I came here for the first time, I noticed that nothing had been spent on infrastructure. About 81 cents of every dollar goes into patient care.” She is quick to add, “Another thing I’m proud of is serving the metro Denver population. We save the taxpayers [millions of dollars] each year in services that we provide for free. It makes our community stronger, makes our citizens healthier.”
Some funding comes from churches, grants, or events. Most comes from individuals. Panting feels that the DSHHA has not had enough exposure about their programs and that Colorado Expression readers can make a big difference. She adds, “Some may believe that these people have always been indigent—but there are nurses, teachers, professionals who through no fault of their own have exhausted their ability to pay. They have been part of the fabric of the community and now they need help. You never know when it might happen to you. Together we improve the lives of our poor, sick, elderly…one life at a time. We are of the community and for the community.”
Mission: The Dominican Sisters Home Health Agency continues to do what the Dominican Sisters of the Sick Poor started out doing 90 years ago—devoting themselves completely to helping the sick and poor of Denver.
Contact Information: Visit the website, www.dominicansisters.org; call 303-322-1413 or visit 2501 Gaylord St., Denver.
Main Programs: In-home health services for the poor, sick and elderly; Friendly Visits for social and emotional health; Wellness Clinics in low-income senior housing; a durable medical equipment loan program provides a wide range of medical equipment.
How You Can Help: Direct cash or memorial donations; online donations through Colorado Gives (www.ColoradoGives.org); donations of needed items (visit website for a list); volunteer your time, talent and effort.
Events: Blisters for Sisters is a marathon and half-marathon training and fundraiser that takes place in Denver, Steamboat Springs and Estes Park in April, May and June. High Tea and Wine is a new fundraising event held in September each year.
Joy Lawrance writes frequently for the family of New West Publishing magazines and has written travel articles for major newspapers.