Meghan Kenny Interview
This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Meghan Kenny who is the Director of the SVNA Home Assistance program. She is going to talk about the Kenny funeral home, the Indian Mountain Lower Campus where she worked and as the director of Home Assistance. Today’s date is Oct. 21, 2021. This is file #39, cycle 4.
JM:What is your full name?
MK:March 7, 1989
JM:I am going to talk a little bit about your career path. Tell me about your family business first.
MK:I grew up living in a funeral home in Sharon, the Kenny Funeral Home. As a very small girl, I watched my dad help families throughout their roughest time. I was able to identify with the fact that that is something I am passionate about. When I was about 12 year old, I asked him if I could help. Since then I have been working with the elderly and/or people who are going through a hard time emotionally.
JM:That is a wonderful background for anything. You have a degree as a funeral director?
JM:And an embalming degree? (See also Susan Vreeland’s interview)
JM:And an education degree?
JM:When did you get in touch with Indian Mountain?
MK:I was working at the Cynthia White Day Care after I graduated college in 2012.
JM:Where is that or was that located?
MK:It is the Hotchkiss School Day Care on the Hotchkiss Campus. Primarily they are used for campus faculty kids, but sometimes they will open to the public. I received a call from Trish Hockstedder who was the head of Lower School at Indian Mountain at the time. She was aware as she had been following me with my education degree. She asked if I would be willing to interview for the pre-k teacher position.
JM:You did interview for the pre-k position? Did you get it?
JM:How long were you a pre-k teacher?
MK:I was only the pre-k teacher for about a year. Throughout my first year AT Indian Mountain, I noticed that there wasn’t a department specifically for Lower School admissions.
JM:When did Town Hill merge with Indian Mountain?
MK:That was before my time.
JM:That was 2006 I believe. When did you actually become the pre-k teacher?
MK:2013 (She worked at IMS 2013-2016 Ed.)
JM:Is there was not a position for admissions, did you create one?
MK:I did. I had worked in Admissions when I was at college. I spoke to Mark Devey, who at the time was the Headmaster of the school. He knew of my background in admissions. I approached him and asked if I could potentially create the Lower School Admissions position. I did and from there I worked at Admissions at IMS and as a dorm parent.
JM:Oh lucky you. Who was the head of the Lower Campus at the time you were working there?
MK:Trish Hockstedder was for the first year.
JM:I have Kathy Preston down.
MK:Kathy Preston is the wonderful pre-k teacher whose position I took. She had been there for I think 30 years. It was a big deal to lose her.
JM:Indian Mountain now is pre-k to 9th grade.
JM:The Lower Campus/Lower School which used to be considered Town Hill is pre-k to 4th grade.
JM:The Upper Campus/Upper School is grade 5-9?3.
JM:Is there anything you would like to add to the Indian Mountain section before we go on to what you do now?
MK:I don’t think so.
JM:You are part of the Visiting Nurses.
MK:Yes I am.
JM:You are an actual agency.
JM:How did you switch from funeral home, education, into health care? What was the focus on that?
MK:I have this natural want to help people in general, since I was little. When I was at Indian Mountain I lived on campus where I had my first son. I saw that SVNA had been advertising for the Home Assistance Director. As a child, when I helped my dad, I remember specifically that Hospice nurses whether it is 3:00 in the morning doing removals or the Hospice Nurses coming to the memorial service to show their respect. I thought and knew at the time from the time I was 12 that they were the most incredibly dedicated people. It would have been an honor to have worked with them. With the funeral home, my dad is, as he would say, still young, and he is not ready to retire and wasn’t at the time, so I wanted to find something that was a little bit more toward what I knew I was going to do some day. Working with SVNA allowed me to work with the elderly, but also be a constant for them during the aging process which is overwhelming for most people.
JM:It can be. I am just going to clarify SVNA stands for what?
MK:Salisbury Visiting Nurse Association
JM:What area does the Salisbury Visiting Nurses cover?
MK:SVNA Home Assistance covers the northwest corner, primarily: however we are branching out as we continue to get inquiries. We are starting to get a lot of inquiries from Litchfield, Goshen, Colebrook and Torrington. If we can help a client calling from those areas and we are well staffed in those areas, we are beginning to branch out of the northwest corner to provide more services for people.
JM:Does the northwest corner have preference?
MK:Yes, we are a little town as most people know are tough to staff and tough to service, so we want to make sure we provide for them first.
JM:How do people find out about your services?4.
MK:Right now what we do is as one of the top industries in America, it is common for people to just do a simple good search. But I have also made a point to be a presence within the community and educate people on home care and home care agencies. A lot of people want to know the difference between the little “mom & pop” agency that we are and the big corporations which are…
JM:You are better.
JM:You give personal attention.
MK:Yeah I make a point to educate, reach out. I have been asked to do lectures through Salisbury Bank, Geer, and I have done my own on topics like Elder Abuse, and Long Term Care. I make sure that people know where that is coming from.
JM:When and how can we contact the Home Assistance Agency?
MK:We are actually open 24/7. It is not uncommon to get a call at 8:00 at night from a new client who needs help. You can always contact us at our 24/7 line which is 860-435-1266. Going back to that personal piece, a lot of companies now hire 3rd party after hours services. I don’t. I actually pulled it when I became the director. I am lucky enough to have people who work in my office go home, they take home their laptops, their phone and they are on from 4:30 when we close until 8:00 the next morning. If you call you will get somebody local and somebody who knows your case.
JM:How many staff do you have in your office?
MK:We now have 5 staff: 5 1/2 I’ve got a part time person.
JM:Where is your office located?
MK:We’re on Salmon Kill Road: we are right next to the Housatonic Day Care.
JM:So you are in the building with Family Services.
MK:Exactly, Patrice McGrath (See her interview)
JM:You have a young man in the office.
MK:I do. I have 2: this is new to the office. This year, actually in the last three months, we have hired two men which is great.
JM:Yes, it would be. I know that staffing has been difficult and this year has been really strange because of the pandemic, but approximately how many people do you have in the field now?
MK:Depending on the season, we have between 50 and 60 caregivers working for us.
JM:When somebody applies to be a caregiver, you have to do all sorts of checking on them. What are some of the things that you have to check?
MK:First and foremost we do drug test for all of our hired, background checks with the Dept. of Homeland Security and then I require three work references, not three personal references so we make sure that we can verify that way. Of course if they hold a license such as a CNA (Certified Nurse’s Aide) we want to verify that with the State of Connecticut as well. It is a little bit of a process, but people hire us knowing that we have trustworthy caregivers who are qualitied.
JM:That is important. How do you train them?
MK:We have several different ways. I have three ladies in my office that actually started with me as caregivers. Two of them have their CNA: one of them learned just through experience. We have the three of them who can teach caregivers how to do the hands-on work in office. We have all the equipment to teach them: however as we all know, a lot of these caregivers are very busy, work a lot of hours so we also now have the top on-line caregiver course that they can take. It has over 400 classes that ranges all specifically for nan-medical caregivers. It is called Care Academy. If we feel a caregiver would benefit from a course, we sign them up and pay for it. If a caregiver generally wants to learn, we sign them up and we make sure that they have as much education as possible. That goes beyond also we train anywhere from hand-on work: sometimes I do an educational seminar on how to work with a family member who is passing away. We teach them how to respond. I do a lot of the after care: if somebody passes away, I make myself available for caregivers and help guide them through that grieving process because they became so close.
JM:That is business, but there are qualities that you would look for in a caregiver. What qualities are those?
MK:First and foremost empathy-you can’t do this job without empathy. You are working with people who first and foremost= nobody wants us, nobody when they were my age said; “I can’t wait to have babysitters in my house some day when I am old.” That at all is not what people want. Empathy is having the ability to connect with a client. The first thing that I do when I go in and sign on clients, I actually just scan the room and see if I can make a connection, based off of maybe what is on their bookcase or a stuffed animal that is on their couch. It is learning and knowing how to connect correctly, but also just finding people who are committed and knowing the importance to consistency for our clients because this is not a job that you can just start and stop, not come in and think that a replacement is easy to find. The top three are empathy, commitment and consistency
JM:What do your care givers NOT do?
MK:We cannot cut fingernails, an odd one. We cannot pre-pour medication for aides or for clients. We cannot put our fingers into prescription bottles. Those are the top two things that we really can’t
do. We are also deemed as non-medical so administering any medication, especially towards the end of life, even if it is pre-poured, we cannot do.
JM:You can set it in front of the client, but they must take it themselves.
MK:Correct, but if it is pre-poured, we can help them with an apple sauce or yogurt and feed them, but it has to be pre-poured.
JM:I know this is going to sound silly, but has the need for your services increased over the years?
MK:Absolutely, especially since Covid. When I began in 2016, we had about 25 clients and 23 caregivers. Now depending on the season we have between 55 and 65 clients at a time and between 50 and 60 caregivers.
JM:You have said twice depending on the season, is it because of snow birds going to Florida?
MK:Yep I have my summer clients, I’ve got my clients who just come for the holidays, and I’ve got my snowbirds who leave for Florida 6 months out of the year. We are always prepared for them to come back. That is why we use “seasonally” because we also guarantee that they can have their caregivers back during that time.
JM:If I started with Jane, and in October I went to Florida and came back in April, you would guarantee that I would still get Jane?
MK:As long as Jane is willing to work with you again, yes.
JM:I knew there was a catch! Did you when you took over in 2016 form the agency or has it been formed before you joined?
MK:It had been formed before I joined and kind of an interesting story, Brenda Fife from Canaan, she actually started it as the SVNA Home Assistance in 2012 with the board. In 2016 she decided that it was her time to move on: she hired me and trained me and taught me everything, most everything I needed to know. In 2019 I decided that it was time to open up an office in Sheffield, Mass. because the need right across the border is just as big and there is nobody. It is tough! I actually approached Brenda to see if she would want to come back and run that office. She is. We have worked with each other through every aspect of home assistance.
JM:There is always the issue of money. Client cost?
JM;7 AM to 7 PM is how much per hour?
MK:$28 an hour
JM:And nights and weekends per hour?7.
MK:It is $30.
JM:When you have someone call up and say I want home assistance, how do you prepare with the client?
MK:When I get the initial call, I take down information that they know. A lot of people don’t know what they want or need. Some people are just gathering information, but mostly I want to know why you are calling? What kind of help your loved one might need? Do you have a schedule in mind? I also ask the question do you have long term health insurance because that is the only thing that does cover us, otherwise it is private pay. If the client wants to move forward, I always like to go to see the client in their home. That way I can get a better understanding of who they are and who they were and also the lay-out of their house. I look for safety. I look for ideas, 9 out of 10 times at the end of my visit most clients and their family members ask if I would have any suggestions of what they could do to the house now that I have seen it. Either they give me the schedule they want or I suggest one. At that point I go back to my office and I just describe the client, family dynamics, and client needs, location and anything that would be helpful to my schedulers. I give the suggestions of which caregiver on our roster I think would do best. From there they will start implementing that schedule. It is a little bit of a process. If clients have the gift of time, I encourage them to allow us time before starting any services, time meaning a week to 10 days. That way if could be successful. We can guarantee consistency and it won’t feel like thing are just being thrown into place because of a lack of time. That doesn’t always work.
JM:I don’t want this to sound difficult, but there is also in the community a service called “Chore Service” (See interviews by Ella Clark, Pat Wright, and Jane MacLaren) When we talked before, I got the impression that the two agencies worked together and share?
MK:Yes I have a huge respect for Chore Service. My goal when I came in was not to view them as my competition, but to work side by side together. Throughout the year Chore Service can do the same thing that we do, but we can do a few tasks beyond what they can do. As for example we had a client who has Chore Service to do the laundry, the dishes, and the clean-up, but that client needed help in the shower one day a week. I make sure to call Chore with the client’s permission, and say, hey listen we have a mutual client together, let’s work together. When are you there? Then I place my aide on a spaced out day and we stay in touch with the family’s permission. If we can work together, we absolutely will.
JM:Wonderful. Now we are going to get into money. What do you figure is your average yearly budget?
MK:To run the business it is close to $1,000,000.
JM:How do you get funding for this?
MK:All of it is private pay. All of our services are private pay because of that we don’t receive any kind of government funding or anything.
JM:So you can do your own thing: you are not regulated.8.
MK:We are not.
JM:Do you do fund raisers?
MK:We do absolutely do fund raisers, but for home assistance specifically one thing that we did create was a caregiver appreciation fund. It is very expensive to run the business. We want to find a way that we can reward our caregivers if we can. A client may have donated to that fund, the outside community has donated, or if a client passes away, they will put in lieu of memory to donate to the Caregiver Appreciation Fund. With that fund we do things like, next month we are hosting a caregiver appreciation party at the Great Falls Brewery. We are going to provide them with appetizers, and prizes and everything. That is really what we raise money for to show our appreciation for our caregivers.
JM:It is sort of like what they do at Noble.
JM:We all work together which is really good. What have I not discussed, oh I know! Patients advocate what is that? Tell me about the bubble pack.
MK:We do have a program called Patient Advocacy Program which primarily I run that by myself, without the office. Going through the aging process is extremely overwhelming and extremely confusing if you don’t know what you are doing. Most people don’t and that is OK because that is not what people want to read about. I created this program to help with anything from as simple as medication solutions all the way up to long term care, digesting their policy and explaining it. For example we have a couple of clients who we have helped who could not manage their medication. We have switched them over to bubble pack. Sharon Pharmacy is able to do this: they individually wrap each day’s medication based on AM or PM for that day. They list on the back of the bubble pack what is in it and what the dose is. That way the clients don’t have to second guess if they have just taken that one pill or they don’t know if they did or not. It is much simpler and it is straight forward. You can lay them out as it has that perforated line for each week. You can take one week and put it out and put the rest away so that there is no confusion.
JM:Do you have anything (your agency) to do with Hospice or is that a separate division?
MK:We work with Hospice because of a lot of family members. They don’t want Respite or they just want to be family during this time. They don’t want to be the caregiver. A lot of families feel extremely difficult to say that out loud, but I encourage them to say that out loud. You don’t want that to be your last memory if you can help it.
JM:What is the difference between Respite care and Hospice care?
MK:For Respite care this is when someone, whether Hospice or not Hospice, when the family member needs a break for a short period of time. We have clients who will call us and say I need 24/7
care through the weekend because I just need to go to sleep. They have been that family’s caregiver for a long time whereas Hospice care is more continued care throughout the long term. It might initially start as a couple of shifts a week, helping with meal prep, and changing the bed linen, but it might end with 24/7 care where we are making sure the loved one is comfortable. We are also making sure that you are resting also. That is a big thing. We have to tell people to go to sleep and it will be OK. Hospice is long term.
JM:Have I missed anything?
MK:The biggest thing I that I want to put out there for pricing which we talked briefly about, is that generally speaking, you always want to ask what the price includes because yes, while we are more expensive than most, at the time: at the moment our pricing included workers’ comp. so God Forbid that caregiver walks on your porch and slips on a piece of black ice and breaks her leg. If you didn’t have any agency which had that, then you would be responsible for their medical bills and time off from work. We cover our workers’ comprehensive, and liability: we also cover our caregivers. Each and every one of our caregivers are bonded and insured. It has not happened on my watch, and I am knocking on wood, but God forbid that something is missing, call me. We will take care of it. We do not guarantee scheduling, but we have a roster of 50-60 aides and we also have a second company with just the same amount of people so that if the caregivers were to call out, we are not going to call you immediately and say, “Good Luck! Have fun with your 12 hour shift.” We are going to do everything that we can to find a replacement as qualified for your loved one. We have that option since we do have a roster of aides.
JM:Anything else that you want to talk about? I want to make sure we have covered this well because a lot of people are going to listening to this. I won’t say it is a commercial but it gives you information that they need.
MK:The other thing that I think is important for people to know also is that our services do accept long term care insurance. That is a big topic in general with the aging population because first and foremost a lot of people didn’t think staying at home when it became available would ever happen. For a while people didn’t purchase it. For those who did, they may not be aware of the fine print. If you ever do want to use your long term care insurance, this is what I tell all of my clients. Start now if you can, because you will probably have what they call a 90 day elimination period which means you have to wait 90 visits before they start reimbursing you. For people who wait and all of a sudden need 24/7 care that takes a long time to hit those 90 days and it is expensive. If clients call inquiring, I always say listen why don’t you start with us once a week, use us as an excuse test. Let somebody else do your grocery shopping and run your errands. That way at least you are crawling to the 90 day mark and as we gradually need to increase, that is a much easier way of hitting that versus waiting until then, or you are at a point where you need full time care.
JM:You have a couple of dreams that I want to talk about. I thought both of them were extraordinary. Tell me about your children’s book.
MK:When I was in college, our final project we had to write a children’s book. Of course with my dual degree and mortuary plans and education, I wanted to integrate death into a children’s book, of which unfortunately is a bit taboo for people. However when I was growing up I was able to recognize that parents don’t have the conversation that death is a reality with their kids until it is too late. That is generally speaking. It is really hard for the child to then go from that experience and to be able to understand it. When I was at school, I, with parent permission, I met with several kids who had terminal diagnosis. I asked them what they thought happened when they died. The answers that I got were (I still get chills thinking about them) positive. One my favorite answers from a little boy was, “I think when I am going to go to Heaven, Heaven is going to be like jumping into bowls full of chocolate pudding all day long. When kids are faced with the unfortunate facts that they aren’t going to be able to live like everybody else, and as long as everybody else, they see death in a completely different way: all the answers that I got were positive. One kid said he can’t wait to go to Heaven because he is going to go to Disney World every day. Writing a children’s book on death where it doesn’t scare kids, but it will also allow them to understand that it can happen to them is my number one goal.
JM:That is very commendable. Then you have a business dream.
MK:I do. Of course growing up in a funeral home and going through SVNA there is a huge need for basically an aging expert in this area, but also nation–wide. It is my dream on mine to start a company where I can help guide the elderly, but also just the general ageing through navigating their elder years. There is a huge risk with elder abuse in the United States and everywhere. There are also a lot of things that people don’t know that could help them financially, but also in general. It just as simple as maybe somebody to come to their house and help make decisions when they need to downgrade of what they should go and what should donate and where do you want this? Which kid do you want each item to go to? That is such a difficult process for people so I would love to start a company that is similar to geriatric care management where I can guide people through there elder years so it is not so overwhelming. They can enjoy their elder years because they should.
JM:It is supposed to be their golden years.
JM:Is there anything else that you would like to discuss before we close?
MK:No, I think you have hit all the points.
JM:I hope so.
MK:Thank you very much.
JM:You are very welcome.