Community nurses receive excellence award from NE Community Foundation

Elizabeth Brooks (seated, center), Executive Director of Community Nursing Services of North East, and the staff accept the Lake & Smith Award for Excellence in Community Service from the North East Community Foundation.

The North East Community Foundation honored Community Nursing Services of North East (CNSNE) at its Annual Meeting, held June 3 at Mercyhurst/North East. The North East home health agency received the Lake & Smith Award for Excellence in Community Service, an annual award presented to local individuals or non-profit organizations who demonstrate a consistent commitment to the people of North East.

Community Nursing Services received the award with nearly 150 staff, family members, friends and representatives from community organizations in attendance. As part of the award, the Community Foundation presented CNSNE with a check for $500 for the agency to use for its program.

The Lake & Smith Award for Excellence in Community Services was named in honor of long-time North East residents Ernest Lake and Gerri Smith. Mr. Lake and Mrs. Smith currently serve on the board of directors of the Foundation and were instrumental in the establishment of the group. For more than 50 years, each has served a wide variety of North East non-profit groups and are true community assets.

Community Nursing Services of North East has a rich past. In 1920, a group of women gathered at the home of Mrs. O.C. Hirtzel with the idea to form a group to assist the Red Cross in its nation-wide effort to establish community nursing agencies. The first community nurse was Miss Agatha Whitman from Erie, followed by Ida Stephenson, Emma Roland and A.C. Walls.

According to documents from 1920, “the work of the community nurses was just not bodily ills…they are interested in moral and mental welfare. It is doubtful whether any other class of philanthropic worker brings so much real happiness and comfort into homes where there is suffering, as does the visiting nurse.”

Nursing duties from those early days included caring for TB patients, assisting with delivering babies, and the institution of milk-drinking classes at local schools. In the early days, Community Nurses were housed in the school principal’s office.

In 1965, the Medicare benefit was established for home health care. Under the expert direction of Claudia Bird, the community nurse for more than 20 years, application and certification were achieved in 1968, setting the foundation for the years to come. The success of the agency is directly related to the decisions and hard work done at that time.

CNSNE continued on course surviving the many changes required over the next two decades. In 1990, the home care industry was hit by massive changes by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Prospective payment system brought new challenges and the most significant payment change ever in home care. Many agencies were forced to close their doors. The number of agencies dropped from 15,000 to 13,000.  However, CNSNE had done its homework. Staff had been educated and technology was in place. There would be no compromise of patient care.

In 2003, CNSNE made the decision to apply for Medicare Hospice certification. The agency sought grants and raised $100,000 to hire additional staff, train staff, recruit and train volunteers. Hospice certification was achieved in May 2003. Since that time, the hospice team has cared for approximately 100 patients facing their final journey in our community. 

In 2005 CNSNE purchased its first home. Using a bequeath from Marion Hirtzel designated for the purchase or building of a facility, the agency purchased and renovated the former Presbyterian manse at 7 Park Street.

In addition to the presentation of the Lake & Smith Award, the North East Community Foundation recognized the local organizations that received $77,000 in grants during 2009. These organizations and individuals include: Boy Scout Troup #57, Cub Scout Pack #57, Boy Scout Troup #82, Common Ground Youth Center, Community Nursing Services of North East, Crescent Hose Company, Erie Community Foundation’s Erie Free Tax Program, 4 N.I.N.E. Place Thrift Store, Girl Scouts of Western Pennsylvania, First Baptist Church of North East, Fuller Hose Company, Lake Shore Railway Historical Society, McCord Memorial Library, North East Arts Council, North East Food Pantry, North East High School FCCLA, North East High School LifeSmarts’ Team, North East Historical Society, North East Little League, North East School Scholarship Fund, Penn State Erie/The Behrend College, Penn State University, and United Neighborhood Facilities.  

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