Friday, April 29, 2011

VNA of Boston loses a dear friend

The Visiting Nurse Association of Boston said farewell to Peggy Buckley this week.  Here, from the Boston Globe, is her obituary.  This will give you a good idea why she was so special... and why we'll miss her.
Traits that made her an accomplished social worker and a friend to whom everyone turned were apparent when Peggy Buckley was growing up in New York City.
“She had enormous insights into people and knew how to provide comfort and assurance to them, even as a young child,’’ said her older sister, Marlene of Bronxville, N.Y. “She would feel bad if another child was picked on at school. It bothered her. She always had an unusual sensitivity to the feelings of others when they felt hurt or wounded.’’
During about 40 years as a social worker in Boston, mostly in Charlestown and Dorchester, Ms. Buckley went beyond counseling clients. She worked to ease racial tensions during school desegregation and to reduce the number of lead poisoning cases among children.
Ms. Buckley, who since being diagnosed with cancer three months ago used her dwindling ability to speak to ask friends how they were coping and to give thanks for their care, died Monday in her Jamaica Plain home. She was 67.
“Over the past 20 years, she has helped thousands of seriously deprived and impaired clients reach their highest level of function,’’ Dr. Bennett Gurian, a former colleague of Ms. Buckley’s at Bowdoin Street Health Center in Dorchester, wrote in a nomination letter for the Bernice K. Snyder Award for excellence in social work, which she received in 2001. He added that “my life, as the only psychiatrist in this mammoth agency, has been made so much better by having Peggy Buckley as my collaborator.’’
As a clinician, Ms. Buckley “was always championing the underdog,’’ said her friend Tish Allen of Jamaica Plain.
Ms. Buckley also made time to champion the passions of her friends, as deft a social worker in private life as she was professionally.
“She was the most fantastic listener I have ever known,’’ Allen said. “You would have that feeling when you left of, ‘Oh, my God, I spoke 90 percent of the time.’ She would support you and make you the hero in her stories.’’
Ann Anderson of Jamaica Plain, whose friendship dates to when she and Ms. Buckley both lived in Charlestown, said: “Everyone felt free to tell her anything about anything. I think the single most striking thing about her, which is why she had so many friends, is that she was a wonderful listener.’’
That was also true when Ms. Buckley was a child, her sister said.  Margaret Buckley, whose father was from County Kerry in Ireland and whose mother was from County Laois, was named for her maternal grandmother and grew up in the Bronx. While attending parochial school, she encountered classmates who had been wronged.
“She would come home and be very upset, and she would cry,’’ her sister said, “and my mother would suggest ways to handle it and how to approach the child and make the child feel better.’’
Ms. Buckley graduated in 1961 from St. Nicholas of Tolentine High School in the Bronx and went to the College of New Rochelle in New York, from which she graduated in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology.  She became a volunteer through VISTA, Volunteers in Service to America, a national organization formed that year, and worked first in Richmond, Calif., developing youth educational and recreational programs.  Then she moved to Chicago, where through the Hull House Association she worked with low-income adolescents, principally Native Americans and teens who had moved with their families from poor Appalachian regions.
“She was not in an office,’’ said her former husband, Zachary Klein of Jamaica Plain, who met Ms. Buckley in Uptown, a neighborhood on Chicago’s north side. “She worked with gang members who lived in the neighborhood we both lived in at the time.’’
Ms. Buckley, he said, “was very, very good at picking out leaders of kids and would work with the leaders in order to actually sway more than just that one kid’’ away from gang activities and back into school or toward programs that helped them earn general equivalency diplomas.
“She was always someone who believed in social work and that clinical social work was absolutely imperative in society, especially for poor people who couldn’t afford the services that the middle class got,’’ Klein said.
The two married in 1970 and divorced after moving to Charlestown, where Ms. Buckley was executive director of the Charlestown Community Center. Along with coordinating counseling, education, and recreation programs, she turned the center into a place where those with opposing opinions of court-ordered busing knew their views would be heard.
At home, Ms. Buckley and Klein voluntarily had their son bused to a magnet school in Roxbury, where he studied in a diverse student population.
“Peggy worked against racism, but she also understood there was a lot more going on here,’’ said Anderson, who lived in Charlestown at the time. “It was about people who had no control over their lives, except for their kids, and suddenly they didn’t have control over that, either. The community center was a place where it was safe to voice different opinions, but where there was a firm line drawn against violence.’’
Ms. Buckley received a master’s in social work from Boston University in 1978, the year she began working at Bowdoin Street Health Center in Dorchester. Along with counseling clients, she played a key role in a collaborative that helped reduce lead paint poisoning cases among neighborhood children.  While at the center, she received a master’s in public health from BU in 1994, and “was very supportive to all the staff and helpful on a personal level,’’ said Kathy Cook, a pediatric nurse practitioner at the center. “If there was trouble with a shooting in the neighborhood and the family came in, she would not only console them, but she would help the staff deal with the trauma. She really did multiple roles.’’
Ms. Buckley, who spent the past several years working for the Visiting Nurse Association of Boston and Affiliates, vacationed with friends annually on Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard, always insisting they rent houses strategically positioned to be buffeted by restorative cool breezes.
She loved Christmas because the holiday brought families together, said her son, Matthew Klein of Brooklyn, N.Y., and took care to tell the story behind each ornament she placed on the tree.
“Materially, she was the opposite of self-indulgent,’’ he said, with one notable exception. She had a sweet tooth that was legend among family and friends.  Sometimes when mother and son went out on errands, “we would stop at a corner store,’’ he said, “and she would let me get one treat, and she would get two treats.  “She would say it was because her stomach was bigger.’’
Bryan Marquard can be reached at

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Twentieth Century Follies of the Public Health Nurse

Our clinicians may not have to climb fire escapes every single day, but they still do go to great lengths to care for their patients.

Here's part two in the series from Rebecca...

While at the Simmons College archives looking for material on the relationship between our early organization (the Instructive District Nurses Association or IDNA) and The School of Public Health Nursing at Simmons, we found an absolute treasure….a 15 page book from November 1920 titled the “Twentieth Century Follies of the Public Health Nurse” filled with humorous and satirical poems, stories and cartoons written by the students and staff based on their experiences as visiting nurses.

The School of Public Health Nursing was founded in 1918 as a joint effort between the IDNA and Simmons College in order to provide college level training that was specific to the needs of public health, visiting or community nurses – one of the first programs in the country to do so. Up to this point, most nursing training took place in hospitals and the teaching was focused on issues faced by hospital patients and the nursing skills required for this population, as well as the unique needs of the particular hospital. The new School of Public Health Nursing was chronically short of funds in its early years and frequently appealed for support from both private and public sources. The students and staff created this book to help raise money for the school.

I will periodically share some of the gems from this collection – with GREAT gratitude to the original authors, who are unfortunately anonymous. I hope you enjoy these fun entries, many of which still strike a chord today!

An Everyday Occurrence

A call came into our office today
To visit a patient right away.
The flight was not known but you may know
‘Twas up to the roof where the nurse must go.

She finds the door and gently raps,
Gently, I say, for she’s near collapse.
With scarce any breath she asks the name
And would you believe it – it wasn’t the same.

She looks at her book to see if she’s right,
Where it is written in back and white.
She must call the doctor, and runs for a phone,
His message she takes with an inward groan.
“Did I say Blank Street? Oh, I meant Blank Alley,”
And out again we see her sally.
At last she reaches the highest flight
And wonders if the end is in sight.

She opens the door and walks into the room
She is greeted with tears as if some doom
Were there to stay, “Where is the patient?” we hear her call,
(Now wouldn’t this answer make you bawl?)
“She’s just gone to the hospital.”

Monday, April 18, 2011

History of the VNAB: The People, The Times and How We Became Who We Are

VNA CEO readers know that we're celebrating our 125th continuous year as the very first Visiting Nurse Association in the United States.  Thank you for your comments, questions and emails asking about our origins and storied history.  I'm happy to announce that, starting today, our very own Rebecca Dempster, a talented writer and our education program coordinator, will begin the process of formally telling our story. 

Here's the beginning...

My name is Rebecca Dempster and I am the Education Program Coordinator at the Visiting Nurse Association of Boston (VNAB). Over the next few months I will be a contributing writer chronicling the agency’s history and how it has been such an integral part of our community’s rich history. We are celebrating our 125th year in business, 1886 – 2011. Wow! That just goes to show what a great idea Miss Phebe G. Adam and Miss Abbie C. Howes had in 1885 and what an essential resource a visiting nurse is – then and now!

As we celebrate this anniversary we find ourselves gazing back over the decades and centuries. We dig out the boxes of old photos and see the serious and determined faces of our predecessors from the 19th century , the spiffy and energetic nurses of the mid-20th century and our coworkers at get-togethers from a the past 10 or 20 years. We revisit the bound volumes of annual reports sitting on an obscure shelf gathering dust, intending to spend a couple of minutes casually flipping through the pages, only to emerge an hour later having been drawn into the stories of the dedicated and passionate ladies who first envisioned visiting nurses in Boston and with vivid images of the valiant efforts of our first nurses.

This year, in addition to celebrating our 125th anniversary, we are also celebrating the re-establishment of our relationship with the School of Nursing at Simmons College – a relationship that was first formed in the early 1900s. We are working on exhibits displaying our rich history, so my colleagues and I headed out to the archives at Boston University and Simmons College to delve a little deeper into our past and to see what we could dig up in terms of original letters, articles and photos relating to important events in our history.

On a blustery day in March we were ushered into the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at BU by Diane Gallaher, Nursing History and University Archivist. Diane issued each of us a pair of white cotton gloves, asked us to place all our bags, coats, sweaters, and scarves in a locked closet and to leave our IDs at the front desk. Then the 35 boxes of VNAB archival material were rolled into the hushed room. It was totally overwhelming and I couldn’t imagine how we were going to cover all this material. I randomly picked up Box 1 and started sorting through the collection of letters, notebooks and articles inside. While my colleagues efficiently absorbed the contents of several boxes, I sat there feeling pretty useless as I tried to decipher the spidery handwriting of Elizabeth Cordner, tried to understand what the Instructive District Nurses Association was, marveled at the extensive correspondence regarding fundraising and networking, and wondered who Mrs. Codman and her brother Ingersoll Bowdtich were.

Back at the office the next day I told anyone who would listen about how amazing these people were, and the amount of work that went into founding the VNAB and the energy and dedication that shone through all the activity revealed in that box of documents– and most of all how reading these documents brought to life what were otherwise just names on a page. I think I was starting to drive everyone crazy sending out long “Did you know….!” and “ Can you believe….!” e-mails, so the company has kindly offered me an outlet for my enthusiasm in the form of this blog and hopefully I will stop clogging in-boxes with my latest revelation!

As I read the original documents and think about our history, one of the things that drives me is a curiosity about the people – who they really were, what motivated them, what influences, personal and social, led them to do what they did. What were their strengths and weaknesses, how did they manage the work, did they like each other, was there friction, what were their family and social connections, did they do a good job? I also find myself curious about the social and political environment in which we operated and how that influenced the steps we took as an organization and perhaps how that differed from the track community health took in England. It is also interesting to see some of the same themes and concerns that we still talk about today: poverty, lack of education, infectious disease, chronic disease, tracking outcomes and finding money to keep the doors open. Does this mean that we have not succeeded in solving the public health problems we were facing 125 years ago and that we are still fighting the same battles? Or is it just the human condition, and the role of people in the “helping” professions is, and will forever be, to fight human tendencies that compromise our personal health and that of our communities and to support and facilitate change in behavior, provide opportunity, form healthy communities, and educate?

Lastly, just a couple of disclaimers before I finish up this week’s entry. I am not a historian and due to my limited time and expertise I am certain I will miss many events, that many of my thoughts will be na├»ve, and that I may even be downright wrong about some things. My guide is curiosity and my goals are to share some of the original material which would otherwise remain hidden away in boxes in archival collections, to put the path of our history into the context of what was happening in the world around us, and to try to bring to life the women…and even a few men, who played a part in establishing and the continuation of our venerable organization. Hopefully, in sharing what I find interesting and what I am curious about I will be able to create a kernel of interest in others. I also hope that readers will add their own comments, knowledge and reaction to the topics covered in the blog – and also perhaps suggest topics for investigation if you see a gap or are curious about something that an archival resource or a bit of historical research might shed some light on…or even to do some of investigating yourselves and share what you find! There are numerous on-line resources that provide Finding Aides for original material kept at repositories in Boston…the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston Public Library, the Harvard Archives, Boston Atheneum – not to mention what we might find just scanning the VNAB bookshelves and looking in closets! Searching Google Books and the Boston Globe Archives can also be very informative.

Check back each week as I unearth and dive into the rich, sometimes ironic, but always interesting history of the VNAB.