VNA Chief Executive to Retire in Spring

  • Jeanne McLaughlin, president and CEO of Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire talks with her human resources director Holly Amoth in the VNH office in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. McLaughlin will retire in the spring of 2018 after 10 years leading the home health care provider. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jeanne McLaughlin speaks during a meeting between the Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire and Dartmouth-Hitchcock officials to discuss a shared patient information system in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2017. In 2016 VNH became affiliated with D-H. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • VNH president and CEO Jeanne McLaughlin answers questions about the services the home health care organization provides in her White River Junction, Vt., office, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2017. Under McLaughlin's leadership the VNH purchased the new office space on Prospect Drive. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, October 22, 2017

White River Junction — The chief executive of the Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire will retire next spring after a decade at the organization’s helm.

During her tenure, Jeanne McLaughlin has guided the organization to more secure financial footing, she also helped shape an affiliation agreement between VNH and Dartmouth-Hitchcock, which took effect last year, and has managed a staff of about 250 in a period of low unemployment, when competition for those employees is fierce.

In addition to the bigger picture tasks of managing the White River Junction-based organization, which is responsible for caring for patients spread across 4,000 square miles in more than 140 towns in both states, McLaughlin, who is a registered nurse, has also helped out in smaller ways.

“She has been known to participate in scheduling and individual care when necessary because of the immediate circumstances,” the VNH’s board chairman Gary Mayo said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “She is willing and quite capable of doing it.”

Though the board is in the early stages of putting together a plan for hiring McLaughlin’s replacement, with the goal of having someone in place before she leaves, Mayo said he anticipates it will be “extremely difficult to find someone who is operationally as excellent as Jeanne McLaughlin. She’s been incredible.”

For her part, McLaughlin recalled that when she arrived in 2008 the organization was waiting for payments to arrive before making payroll.

Though the organization’s 2016 annual report shows a loss of about $573,000 in patient care, grants, gifts, investment income and municipal and county funds help make up the difference between what insurance companies pay VNH for its services and what it costs the organization to provide them.

Revenues exceeded expenses by $1.59 million in 2015, according to the organization’s tax return.

McLaughlin earned $283,606 in total compensation that year, according to the tax form.

Last year the organization served more than 5,400 patients. Services VNH provides include home care, hospice, long-term care and maternal child health. VNH also provided 660 flu shots last year and also offered blood pressure, foot care and community grief support groups.

The state of Vermont has designated VNH as the nonprofit home care provider for some towns in southeastern and east central Vermont. In New Hampshire, VNH’s service territory runs from Keene to Haverhill, and east to New London.

McLaughlin, now in her 60s, was first attracted to VNH because of the opportunity to improve the financial situation, as well as the chance to lead a larger organization and to get closer to her home state of Maine, where she still owns a home, her family — including two grandchildren — still lives and where she plans to return upon her retirement.

Her approach to managing the organization’s finances has included finding efficiencies, in part by using technology. Though the staff is spread out over the large service area, each employee has a laptop and communicates through encrypted text messages.

In a recent example of her eye to the bottom line, the organization for the first time moved into its own space on Prospect Street in White River Junction late last year. It had previously rented space on Benning Street in West Lebanon. The goal was to “make sure our costs are as fixed as we can get them,” she said.

The tight labor market topped McLaughlin’s list of challenges facing the 110-year-old organization.

It’s been a challenge since she arrived, following a stint leading Finger Lakes Visiting Nurse Services in upstate New York, and it has continued to be a challenge. The organization is always looking for skilled therapists, nurses, chaplains and home health aides, she said.

The organization’s capacity is constrained by its workforce, she said. For example, “You can’t take on an IV case if you don’t have a clinician who can go in and do IV antibiotics,” she said.

While she was familiar with workforce challenges from her time working with nursing organizations in New York and Maine, she said she had “never experienced the challenge so great as I have since I came here.”

There are currently 19 job openings listed on the VNH website. Nine of those openings are in nursing; five in professional/managerial roles; three in home health support; a speech pathologist and a human resources coordinator.

McLaughlin said the workforce challenge prevents VNH from expanding into new programs, services and areas of New Hampshire.

She also focused on what the organization is doing to adapt to those challenges. Those adaptations include ensuring that each employee is able to provide care at the highest level for which they are qualified, and employing virtual visits and telemonitoring.

Collaborating with D-H and its affiliates to identify and help patients who are able to stay home and out of the hospital is another high priority for VNH, McLaughlin said.

“A day’s worth of cost for us compared to a day in a hospital, it’s no comparison,” she said.

Mayo also said continuing to develop the relationship with D-H is a top priority for the future. Under the affiliation agreement, D-H has the final say on VNH’s top management, financial and programming decisions and the composition of its board of directors. That board, while subordinate to D-H’s, retains control of VNH’s $14 million investment portfolio, according to documents spelling out terms of the deal.

But, as important as the D-H relationship is, about half of VNH patients are not D-H patients, which means that in addition to coordinating with D-H clinicians and affiliates at area hospitals such as Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital, Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center, New London Hospital and Cheshire Medical Center, VNH staff members also work with clinicians at other hospitals around the region such as Gifford Medical Center, Springfield Hospital and Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Mayo said.

Another area of challenge McLaughlin sees is in the acuity of the patients’ needs. VNH staff are seeing people suffering from addiction, as well as other conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and mental illness.

She expects that this challenge will increase as the population ages.

It’s the puzzle of how to continue to provide this care while struggling with workforce issues that McLaughlin will miss in her retirement.

“It’s a wonderful time; a wonderful opportunity,” she said.

In her retirement, McLaughlin plans to do some teaching and consulting, but at a slower pace with more time to spend with her grandchildren, ages 2 and 5.

Having worked for a number of organizations over the years, McLaughlin said, “You just know it’s time.”

Valley News Staff Writer Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.