Stoer, Nancy

Interviewee: Nancy Stoer
Narrator: Jean McMillen
Place of Interview: Scoville Memorial Library
Date of Interview: Feb.10, 2022
File No: 51 Cycle: 4
Summary: Nursing background, Hospice nurse, Board member of SVNA

Interview Transcript

Nancy Stoer Interview

This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Nancy Stoer who is going to talk about her nursing background, being a hospice nurse and a member of the Salisbury Visiting Nurse Association. Today’s date is Feb. 10, 2022. This is file #51, cycle 4.

JM:       What is your name?

NS:       My name is Nancy Stoer

JM:       Your birthdate?

NS:       January20, 1940

JM:       And your birth place?

NS:       I was born in Omaha, Nebraska.

JM:       How did you come to the area?

NS:       My father worked for IBM. I should say that is how we came to New York.  We came up to this area because at that point my family had grown. My husband and I were looking for a second home. We lived in Westchester County in Hastings on the Hudson.  We were looking for a place on a lake and we remembered this beautiful area from an American Field Service hike that we had taken up here on the Appalachian Trail.  It was a champagne hike which was a fund raiser for our AFS chapter.  We had had several students living with us.  We had a girl from France; we had a girl from Norway. We had a Chinese teacher who lived with us for a year. We did a lot of work with the American field Service. My kids were also exchange students. One son went to Turkey and another son went to Germany. So we had a real connection with American Field Service

We came up to this area and fell in love with it.  We ended up looking around for maybe a house to buy, realizing it seemed to be a fancy area and we didn’t know if we could afford it because this would have been a second home. We found a real estate agent named Gene Greene who took us to a little house on one of the Twin Lakes, Lake Washinee. We found this very dilapidated little cabin: my husband took one look at it and he turned around to Mr. Greene and said, “We’ll take it.” Mr. Greene was totally shocked because it had been on the market for a long time and it was in quite bad shape. My husband loved the area and loved the feeling of the house and he wanted us to be on a lake so we ended up buying it.

JM:       That was what year?

NS:       The year I am not exactly sure of but it was approximately 20 years ago.

JM:       So we are going to say about 2000.

NS:       Yeah

JM:       When did you come up here full time?

NS:       Full time we came up here about quite recently because of the pandemic. My husband wanted to be here full time, but me Nancy really wanted to stay in the city. At that point we had a little apartment in NYC where I was very happy because I loved being in the city being near my grandchildren and all that the city has to offer culturally.  Then we would come up here on weekends.  That seemed to be a terrific combination until Covid hit.  Since Covid hit my family said, “Mom & Dad you have to leave.” So one of my sons helped up pack up and we came up here full time so that was about 2 years ago. We have been here full time since. It has been an adjustment for me because summers are great, but winters are hard with all the ice and getting out and moving around.  We are now here full time.

JM:       Wonderful and an asset to the community.

MNS:    Well, anyway…

JM:       We are going to talk a little bit about your nursing background and I am going to briefly refer to it. You graduated from Columbia University in NYC. You taught at Columbia clinical nursing. You worked in Boston at Boston Presbyterian?

NS:       No I worked as a visiting nurse in the Roxbury neighborhood.

JM:       In New York you worked at Sloane Kettering Memorial Hospital. You did clinical training for 5 years at the Rush Institute?

NS:       No I actually ran the Spina Bifida Clinic. I did not do any training there: I took the job there because someone recommended it.  They were starting a new program and children came in from all over the country to this particular center.  They had all the different specialties there to care for children who had Spina Bifida. I was the nurse who organized it: I ran the clinic and then I did a lot of visiting of the family.  I went to their home, I went to the schools: I went to summer camps to set up programs for these children. I also ran a support group for the teenagers and for the families because it was a devastating element at that point. I became very attached to all these kids and their families. It was an incredible job.

JM:       You were very good at it I am sure.

NS:       I loved it. I had a lot of incredible experiences.

JM:       Now can you give me a definition of what a public nurse is?

NS:       Well there are 2: there is a public health nurse and then the other kind. We always divided it. When I was in training public health was working for the Department of Public Health.  There used to be clinics that were connected with the Public Health Department where people would come in for shots, women’s exams, and children would get various shots. These clinics were held all over the city. The nurse would also go to the public schools.  She would be responsible for setting up immunization programs, seeing the kids who got sick and going into the projects. I did this briefly and it is a very difficult job because you saw some pretty grim things. It wasn’t really for me. That is when I decided to be a visiting nurse which is different. A visiting nurse goes to an office in the morning; you have a case load and you go out into the community and take care of sick people whether it is changing dressings, giving injections, seeing babies after they have been born, teaching mothers how bathe a baby and do that sort of thing. I did that up in Boston.  That was another wonderful job. I loved it. Then I came back to New York.

JM:       Then you became a hospice nurse.

NS:       Let me just say that for a little bit before I became a hospice nurse, I had a family. I stopped nursing for a while. I had three sons (Michael, Christopher, Eric) and I was very involved with the community of Hastings between cub scouts, the League of Women Voters and all kinds of things in schools. I was a nature guide. I used to take kids out on nature walks and did lots of things like that. Then I decided that I really wanted to go back to work. My youngest son was in second or third grade and I had someone who would come in to the house in the afternoon to help. I took a refresher course. I felt I needed that because I had been a mom for a while. I refreshed my skills and worked briefly at a hospital and then got a job as a visiting nurse up in Mt. Kisco. That lasted until I found a job that was closer to home over in Bronxville, the town was East Chester.

I went to the office and at this point they were starting a hospice program.  I was asked to take on this job with another nurse. We were the first 2 nurses for Jansen Memorial Hospice in Westchester.  It was an incredible job.  The only problem was we also had to be working at night. Even though we did not have very many patients at the time, if you were called out at night and then I would have to come home and be mommy to three boys and go to work the next day. Finally we said that as we both had children we couldn’t do this anymore: they had to get an “on call” nurse. When that happened it became a much more doable situation.

While I was doing that, the other wonderful thing that I offered to do when hospice started, was a program called “The Tree House”.  This was a program for children who had lost a parent or a sibling or a grandparent.  We were involved with the 911 tragedy and we had a lot of these kids in our program.  We also had a separate group for the parents. That was another amazing job that I did that I loved.  It was very difficult but it was amazing.  I did this for many years. I was a hospice nurse with Jansen Memorial Hospital for almost 25 years.

I worked only 4 days a week. One day a week I did other things. I belonged to a garden club, I did gardening. I would do things in the city. I never worked full time. I always worked Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesday was my day off. It was a wonderful way for me to do it.

JM:       A hospice nurse takes care of terminally ill patients?

NS:       Those who have a diagnosis of 6 months or less to live.  That is unusually the criteria. I did this and when I left that job, I worked for something called “The Cancer Support Team” which is very similar. I was a public health nurse or visiting nurse over in Merrimack.   It was started by a group of doctors and their assistants in the Merrimack area for people who had cancer who needed extra support.  Many of them couldn’t afford certain health care support. Many could afford it, but we took care of people who were even un-documented who needed drugs or needed to get back home or make arrangements.  We had a wonderful group. I did that for many years.

JM:       With the hospice patient, did you work by yourself or did you create a team?

NS:       There was a team: you had your own patients. There was a hospice nurse, a social worker, a minister.  We had a nutritionist, a physical therapist, occupational therapist.  These were not steady, but were called in as needed.  The people who were steady on the team were the nurses, social workers, and ministers and the support team people in the office.  We would meet as a team altogether once a week with a medical doctor and a psychiatrist: we would review all the patients in depth to go over their plan of care and any advice they had for us.  WE gave each other a lot of support. It is a tough job.

JM:       Why did you leave?

NS:       I left because for me personally I loved the work.  It was a great job and I was too young to leave it anyway, but it became very much a new situation.  We had new people who came in and they were all about money-making.  They took in a lot of patients that were not appropriate. You would go out and make a visit and see that they were not appropriate.  They would bring them on because they knew they could get money. I did not feel that this was appropriate.  It was very difficult for me. They also let people of my team go for, I felt, personal reason. That became unpleasant so I decided to leave.  That is when I went to the Cancer Support Team to work. I always loved the job.

JM:       I can tell for your passion for it. Now when you came to Salisbury, you were a volunteer first for hospice?

NS:       Yes I had done that even at our hospice, when I left the hospice work, I also as a hospice nurse had trained volunteers.  We had a program in Westchester that was quite different from the program in Connecticut.

JM:       Let’s keep with Connecticut, please

NS:       I came up here and one of the things I wanted to do was to volunteer. I remember meeting Kathy Spaulding.  She was walking her dog and we talked about the program. I said I would love to do something with it. I came and took the training, even though I use to give the training. I started volunteering. I did this for several years until again I felt it was hard for me because it was only a friendly visitor and I couldn’t do anything physical like helping someone get into a wheel chair, or go to the bathroom. I felt that was very difficult for me as a hands-on person. So I stopped doing it with regret. (She is also a volunteer friendly visitor at Noble. Ed.)

JM:       When were you asked to join the SVNA board?

NS:       Again I am horrible at dates, but it has been about 6 years ago at least. One of my neighbors felt because I was a nurse, especially a hospice nurse, that I would be an addition to the board.

JM:       Who was your neighbor who asked you?

NS:       Louis Fox who was very insistent that I join the board.

JM:       You have been on this board for quite a few years.

NS:       I have and really my job when I was on the board initially was because of hospice I was the liaison with the nursing staff. We used to go over and we would have breakfast and I would go to their meetings, their weekly meetings and sit with them to find out what was going on.

JM:       I bet they asked you for advice.

NS:       Yes

JM:       You were able to give it because of your experience.  When does the local board meet?

NS:       We usually meet once a month, but that has changed now because we have combined with the merger.

JM:       On the local board first of all, when do you meet and now many on the board?

NS:       Now the board is quite small: we only have about 5 members because we recently lost a member.

JM:       Then there was this merger.

NS:       Visiting Nurses of Litchfield County (See Nancy Deming’s interview on the merger.)

JM:       Is there a member of the local board that is on the merger board?

NS:       People on our board are Louis Fox, Mary Robertson, and Ann McDonald: they are also on the other board.

JM:       You mentioned a scholarship. This is from the local visiting nurses?

NS:       Right one of the things that we have done and we feel very strongly that we want to help people in this community to go on into the medical profession.  We spent reviewing what was available in the whole northwest area.  We spent a lot of time talking to the local schools, not just the HVRHS but even the private schools. We now offer a scholarship for seniors who are planning to go into a medical profession, NOT doctors at this point. We just are doing people who want to go into nursing physical therapy, occupational therapy, any of the therapies.

JM:       How much is the scholarship?

NS:       $10,000 a year renewable for each year of study in the medical profession.  The first scholarship we gave was for $10,000. (This is a true scholarship: it does not have to be paid back. Ed)

JM:       That is a very generous scholarship for that kind of training. It is for all high school seniors, private or public.

NS:       Right. The first student (Micah Matsudaira Ed.) is going for physical therapy over at Springfield College.  They have a physical therapy program. He is a senior at Housatonic Valley Regional High School.

(After we taped this scholarship section, she called me with additional information. Ed)

JM:       “Village to Village”, now this is a new program.

NS:       Well this is definitely something at the beginning stages. It is not definite, but it is a thought that many of us have had about getting involved.  I would say one of the people who is very involved with this is Donna DiMartino.  Donna was head of Hospice and she also took over the nursing organization for a while when we were looking for a new director (now Nancy Deming Ed.) she is one of the great nurses in the area, Another involved person is Dr. John Charde who is on the board and a local pediatrician. Leslie Allyn who is also on the board lives over in Canaan and me.  We got together one day and thought we ‘d read about this” Village to Village” concept which started in Beacon Hill, Boston.  This is a concept for helping seniors stay at home.

JM:       I love that idea.

NS:       This program is now over all the United States.  It is an enormous network: every program is different.  We started interviewing various programs to see how they worked.  One was in Greenwich, one was in New Canaan, one was up in New Hampshire, and one in the Berkshires. The one in the Berkshires is a hub and spoke concept with the center being Lenox, the spokes are outside like Pittsfield, Stockbridge, and the Egremonts.  We decided that we would think about becoming a spoke in the northwest corner because there is already an organization in place and it seemed easier to join that then start from scratch. Whether this happens or not, we don’t know as we are still in the beginning stage.

JM:       But that is good to know. It is something for the future.

NS:       Right I say the biggest drawback is that people have to pay to become a member.  This can be done on a sliding scale which depends on whether you are single or a couple.  The concept is having volunteers go out to the home, make home calls, take you to doctor’s appointments, do shopping.

JM:       Chore Service (See Pat Wright and Jane MacLaren’s interviews)

NS:       Yes. We have been very involved with Chore Service and talking with them about this.

JM:       They are an organization that I have used.  I know about that one.

JM:       There is a North West Care Handbook?

NS:       This is a booklet that we are actually republishing.  It was last published in 2017.  We just happened to find it.  It has absolutely everything in it that is available for people in the northwest area in terms of services, churches, everything. All of us took sections of this booklet to update it. Our visiting nurse organization gave money to this.  We asked the various towns to support it.  We have a person who is doing the publishing for us and is now in the process of being published.  It will be available locally.

JM:       Where?

NS:       It will probably be town halls: we are looking for everybody.  We want to make it available for everybody.  It will be in the library, maybe even real estate people who will give this out.

JM:       They should.  Was there a committee that worked on this particular handbook?

NS:       The same committee who worked on the “Village to Village” investigation.

JM:       So it would be Dr. Charde, Donna DiMartino, Leslie Allyn and you,

NS:       And Ella Clarke (See her interview). I forgot to mention Ella Clarke.

JM:       You can’t forget Ella Clarke!

NS:       She is a member and very involved.

JM:       She is wonderful. Before we close is there anything you would like to add that we haven’t covered?

NS:       I think what you are doing is terrific. Thank god I am happy to be here. I am hoping that the winters…

JM:       They aren’t always this bad.

NS:       Then I can start going out walking again and get to know people. Thank you.

JM:       Thank you.