For more than 80 years, VNA has provided quality health care in the home for the sick and needy. VNA always goes where the need is greatest, never hesitating to evolve to meet the needs of today. VNA has a strong history in North Texas and today’s VNA staff and volunteers are proud to be part of VNA’s living legacy.
A Brief History of VNA:
In 1934, amidst the Great Depression, mothers, newborn babies and young children lived in shanties, tents, and abandoned rail cars in Dallas—in desperate need of nursing care. Nurses – led by Lillian Becket a Dallas public school nurse – donated their time and expertise to provide desperately needed care for the sick, elderly and new mothers in the poorest sections of Dallas.
Sadie Lefkowitz, who was a former president of VNA in another city and wife of Rabbi David Lefkowitz of Temple Emanu-El, rallied prominent Dallas women to organize the Visiting Nurse Association. The stated purpose of VNA was “to give skilled nursing care in their homes to the poor and those of moderate means, and to teach proper care of the sick and the prevention of disease.” A loaned desk and typewriter, one full-time nurse who served without pay, and a basement office at Harwood and Munger were the beginnings.
Shortly thereafter, with a dream, resolve, and a bank balance of $4.61, VNA hired its first paid nurse and gained the support of the Community Chest (now known as the United Way). VNA’s nurses traveled to the tent cities to offer hope and life-giving care. In its first year of operation, VNA nurses made 6,500 home visits. No calls were refused, no patients turned away for lack of resources or because of race or creed. Though financing was still precarious, VNA did not charge for patient visits – although one self-described “little old lady” insisted on paying 12 cents to further “this wonderful work.”
In 1935, VNA was endorsed by Dallas County Medical Society. Later that same year, Sadie’s daughter Helen – at the time known as Mrs. Fred Florence – convinced her husband to donate a desk and the Dallas Bankers’ Wives Club to adopt VNA as its charity. Their annual silver tea raised funds that supplied VNA nurses with essential medications, dressings, and linens. The Catholic Women’s Guild donated a linen cabinet, the Council of Jewish Women contributed linens, the Child Guidance Clinic gave two reference books, the Doctor’s Wives Club gave folding chairs, the Oriental Laundry marked the linen, the Needlework Guild gave wash rags, towels and baby clothes, and the Pollyanna Club made aprons and bags for the nurses in the field. TheJunior League of Dallas,Sunshine Club, Christ Child Society, King’s Daughters, Needlework Guild, and Hockaday School also helped provide other necessities and furnishings.
In 1936, an agreement was made with Parkland and Baylor Hospitals for VNA to care for mothers and their infants in their homes. By 1938, one-third of all babies born in Dallas were under the care of VNA nurses.
By 1940, VNA staff had grown to six full-time nurses, a part-time nurse, an executive director, and a secretary. VNA services were also expanding to provide a comprehensive continuum of home care to the elderly and disabled as well as families. With the help of the Highland Park United Methodist Church (HPUMC), VNA was able to hire Georgia Bates – who was fluent in Spanish – to care for patients in poverty-stricken sections of West Dallas until her retirement in 1973. HPUMC funded her salary during the 34 years Georgia worked for VNA.
During World War II, many homes for the elderly and chronically ill were closed. VNA stepped in to provide care for these individuals and helped relieve overburdened hospital staff and medical facilities in Dallas. During this time, VNA nurses became known as “angels of mercy on the home front.”
As peacetime returned, requests for care by VNA continued to grow. Services were extended to non-charitable care open to anyone living in Dallas. VNA was the only organization of this type in the entire city. During the post-World War baby boom, maternity cases in over-crowded hospitals were quickly discharged. VNA stepped up to provide follow-up, in-home care to new mothers and their babies.
As the 1950s approached, VNA’s care for chronically and terminally ill increased – and the organization began providing immunizations for individuals of all ages. In 1954, newspapers across North Texas touted VNA as a service to alleviate hospital congestion. The Dreyfuss Foundation deeded the former home of Gerard Dreyfuss to the Community Chest of Greater Dallas (known today as United Way) for use by VNA as its headquarters.
By VNA’s 25th Anniversary in 1959, many industries, unions and tax-supported agencies like the Veterans Administration contracted for VNA services. The area nonprofits – like the American Cancer Society – continued to support VNA’s efforts through contributions and volunteer support.
VNA Homemaker Service – later known as Home Health Aides – began in 1955 with the help of the Junior League of Dallas. In 1966, VNA gave assistance to theWomen’s Council of Dallas in their Meals on Wheels program. Ten years later the Women’s Council of Dallas transferred operational management to VNA which led to VNA eventually taking over the program entirely by 1973. Since then, the number of home-delivered meals provided by VNA Meals on Wheels each weekday has grown from 125 to 6,000. Special holiday deliveries began on Thanksgiving and Christmas Days in the 1980s and continue today.
In 1961, a study showed Dallas County nursing home facilities were “deplorable” and local newspapers suggested VNA as an alternative. As the 1960s continued, VNA added physical therapy and rehabilitation services and became certified as a Medicare provider.
VNA expanded to serve all of Dallas County by 1970. Later that same year, VNA developed Home Management Services at the request of the Community Council based on a study recommendation that United Way monies distributed among various agencies for support of Homemaker/Home Health Aides be combined under one host agency. VNA was asked to be host agency of this new program.
In 1971, VNA developed the hospital liaison nurse program to provide continuity of care between the hospital and the home. VNA established the first geriatric clinic at Cedar Springs Housing Project and by 1974 VNA had established seventeen geriatric clinics throughout North Texas. In 1973 VNA sponsored a five-state conference on quality of life for aging and disabled.
In 1978, VNA utilized over four decades of experience caring for the terminally ill to develop Texas’ first hospice program – VNA Hospice Care.
It wasn’t long before VNA care was widely sought in Dallas County and surrounding communities. The demand was so great that branch offices in nearby counties were created. The VNA East Texas office opened in Kaufam in 1974 at the request of the Health Services Committee of the Kaufman County Improvement Council. VNA opened its Collin County location in 1979 and VNA Ann’s Haven in Denton joined in 1995.
Throughout its history, alliances with women’s organizations — the Council of Jewish Women, the Dallas Bankers’ Wives, the Junior League of Dallas, the Women’s Council of Dallas—that piloted home care programs for the elderly, ill and underserved in Dallas, have been the foundation of VNA’s expansion of services and its growth.
Interested, hardworking volunteers have been VNA’s backbone from the beginning, establishing VNA as the leader in providing a wide range of health care services in the home. VNA’s first Director Miss Gertrude Hosmer’s words are as true today as they were decades ago: “It has been the interest of individuals and clubs with keen, long distance vision for our needs that has meant so much in the developing of our work.”
Health care in the home and VNA have become synonymous to thousands of patients and clients in North Texas. VNA today provides a full range of needed, high-quality care annually to thousands of elderly, hungry, frail, sick, and disabled individuals in homes across North Texas. VNA’s highly qualified staff provides quality and compassionate care and support services that are the hallmark of the community's most trusted provider of health care in the home.