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Conducting the orchestra of Lifetime Care

Patricia Heffernan likens herself to a conductor of an orchestra and her staff are the musicians. She sees the collective work they do as a team as the beautiful music she has the joy of hearing every day as the president of Lifetime Care.

In her role, she oversees its certified home health agency in eight upstate counties, hospice in three, a licensed home health agency and an infusion pharmacy.

With its main office on Winton Road, Lifetime Care serves 33,000 home care and hospice patients each year in the Rochester and Finger Lakes region, including Monroe, Wayne, Seneca, Cayuga, Yates, Schuyler, Ontario and Livingston counties.

The revenue of Lifetime Care was $106 million in 2015, with approximately 1,500 employees.

“The best part of the job is my team,” Heffernan said. “Doing right by patients first and employees second is my golden rule.”

She lives this motto by holding employee focus groups several times a year to gauge their workplace satisfaction and perception of the “state of the agency.” Staff members are able to take extended leaves of absence to care for loved ones, to heal from the death of a loved one, or to bond with a newborn or newly adopted child.

“Helping them achieve home and work balance is important,” Heffernan explains. “I know they could be making more money in a hospital, nursing home or doctor’s office, so it’s up to us to respect a balance to keep them here.”

Keeping a trained, steady workforce is one of the biggest challenges Heffernan has, she said. There are not enough trained physical therapists, occupational therapists or home health aides to fill the shifts available.

“Often we have to stretch our workforce,” she said. “They’re always giving so much already.”

The second biggest challenge is the ongoing decrease in reimbursement funding. Medicaid cut its rates a total of 28 percent for 2015, Heffernan explains, while at the same time there has been an increase in regulatory oversight. This has led to higher expectations of home health aides.

“I had a cardiac nurse tell me the majority of the people he cares for now are people who were once cared for in ICU (intensive care unit). The level of acuity of patients has increased. The burden of care is on the home care staff.”

Heffernan joined the company in 1993 when it was known as Genesee Region Home Care. She started as director of family life services, was promoted to hospice administrator and in 1999 was named president.

Before joining Lifetime Care, she spent years with Lifetime Assistance Inc. serving clients throughout Monroe County with developmental disabilities.

Heffernan earned her master’s degree in social work from Syracuse University. She sees herself as a social worker at heart; nowhere is that more apparent than in her hospice work.

More than 3,000 families have been served by the Elizabeth G. and Jennifer J. Hildebrandt Hospice Care Center built in Greece in 2007. Patients and their families find end-of-life care at the freestanding hospice center. Heffernan points out that hospice care can be provided in a patient’s home as well.

“We really feel we’re making a difference to help people. The frustration is people think they have to wait until the last two weeks of life to come to hospice,” Heffernan explains. “But hospice is open to those who need it from six months to a year from the end of life. Hospice isn’t a place. It’s a philosophy.”

Heffernan would like to see more people find the benefits of hospice.

“Hospice is effective pain management and support for the family,” she said. “A lot of beautiful things happen at the end of life. People mend fences, make peace. It’s a privilege for us to be part of that.”

John Doyle, the president and CEO of Doyle Security Systems Inc., has known Heffernan for several years and always admired her compassion.

“Health care is a challenging enough field anyway but home health care is especially so. Pat has a remarkable, optimistic, positive approach,” Doyle said.

“Being in a meeting with Pat is energizing. She has such a passion. Her enthusiasm translates to everyone in the room. To have the ability to rally people is a special talent and to move them toward the creative vision she has is incredible.”

Heffernan is retiring in late April. She plans to spend some time traveling to national parks across the country, to Ireland and the Greek Isles with her longtime partner, Kathy Murphy. The couple married just two years ago.

She would also like to continue to serve while she can.

“I’ve been a manager for a long time,” she said. “I think I will volunteer for a hospice. Do comfort care. I’m willing to be a mentor. Teach classes. It will be good to do little things here and there.”

3/18/2016 (c) 2016 Health Care Achievement Awards Special Section. Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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