It’s my privilege to serve as the new President/CEO of the VNA of Northwest Indiana. I’m humbled and honored beyond words to lead this organization and know that I’m standing on the shoulders of giants of past board members, supporters, and especially founder Laura Harting. To be given the trust of our board and staff, of our patients and community is an awesome thing. Trust.
It’s a big word. It means a lot of things in different contexts; bankers think about it one way, investors have a different take, but for most of us it is the foundation of our relationships. Trust is the conglomeration of a lot of different components such as integrity, faith, loyalty, and commitment. It is not to be taken lightly, nor is it a commodity whose value fluctuates with whatever conditions exist. I take it very seriously.
I know this community has a large stake in the VNA. It is a valued non-profit, a valued service provider, and a trusted friend during deeply sad and heartbreaking times when we lose loved ones. It’s hard to find anyone in our region whose life hasn’t been touched by the VNA in some aspect.
I also know that there’s been some confusion in recent years about the VNA. When the decision was made to transition our home health services to our valued partner Porter Health, some thought that was the end of the VNA. It wasn’t. It was really a new beginning.
Today we are a vibrant hospice provider that is expanding into palliative care. We provide thousands of Meals on Wheels to our neighbors, install and maintain LifeLine emergency services in hundreds of homes, and provide bereavement services for kids in our Phoenix Center. Our Horton Inpatient Unit is going through a beautiful transformation and modernization to make it even more comfortable and reassuring for patients and families. Our caring providers visit dozens of homes and nursing facilities every day to provide comfort, relief and support for patients and their loved ones.
We value your trust in us. If we’ve done anything to lose it, please let me know. Losing trust in anyone or anything can be tragic. I’m asking for your continued support, for your feedback, and for your renewed trust in YOUR VNA.
But mostly, I thank you for supporting this organization for nearly 50 years and for giving us the privilege of your trust when it matters most.
Robert J. Franko, formerly President and CEO of HealthFirst Bluegrass Community Health Center in Lexington, Kentucky, became President of VNA of Northwest Indiana effective January 1, 2019. Franko is a native of Northwest Indiana. He was Vice President for Development and Marketing for Portet-Starke Services from 1996 to 2010. He was Vice President, Marketing, for Marketing and National Training Coordinator for Cherokee Health Systems in Knoxville, TN, for six years before joining HealthFirst Bluegrass Community Health Center. He earned his BS and MBA Degrees from Purdue University.
In announcing his appointment Cindy Kaarianen Tougaw, Chairperson of the VNA Board, indicated his selection came after a national search. “We had about 70 responses that were evaluated before our Search Committee focused on Mr. Franko. His extensive experience in healthcare, his record of community engagement and his experience as a Chief Executive Officer were important criteria that he met. The fact that he is a native of our area and “knows the territory” was a definite plus factor. I’m pleased that our employees and volunteers were represented on the Search Committee. Their perspective was very helpful”
Franko said he was particularly pleased to join VNA of Northwest Indiana. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to be a part of this remarkable organization. I’ve known about it for years, of course, but I see it as an increasingly important component of the region’s healthcare system. The Hospice and Palliative Care programs of VNANWI are enabling people with terminal illnesses or difficult to manage pain and distress to have a higher quality of life than would otherwise be possible. The VNA Meals on Wheels Program for Porter County, the Lifeline Emergency Response System and the Phoenix Center are incredibly important regional services as well.”
During his previous tenure in the region, Franko was active in a number of community and regional organizations, serving as Chairman of the Board of Directors of both HealthLink and the Mental Health Alliance of Porter County as well as the Boards of Directors of Housing Opportunities and the Valparaiso Kiwanis Club. He was a surveyor for the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities and earlier in his career he was a sports writer for the Post Tribune and the Northwest Indiana Times. He replaces Leigh Morris, who has served as Interim President and CEO since June.
Zachary Jesko, FNP-C, ACHPN, an advanced practice nurse with VNA of Northwest Indiana was recently notified that he attained certification as an Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (ACHPN) by the Hospice and Palliative Credentialing Center (HPCC), HPCC is the only organization that offers specialty certification for all levels of hospice and palliative nursing care, administrators and perinatal loss care professionals.
Together with the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association and the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Foundation, HPCC works to advance expert care in serious illness. Certification in hospice and palliative care for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (Clinical Nurse Specialists and Nurse Practitioners) had its first national testing in May 2003 as a partnership with the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Jesko is one of slightly more than 950 nurses who hold the ACHPN credential nationally.
In addition to successfully completing the HPCC national examination, candidates for certification must complete three core courses (advanced physical assessment, advanced pathophysiology, and advanced pharmacology) as well as a clinical practicum. They must also have been functioning as a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) or Nurse Practitioner (NP) with hospice and palliative advanced nursing practice of 500 hours in the most recent 12 months or 1,000 hours in the most recent 24 months prior to applying for the exam.
Jesko earned his Associate and B.S. Degrees in Nursing Science from Purdue University North Central and his Master’s Degree in Nursing Science from Purdue University Calumet, fulfilling the requirements to become a Family Nurse Practitioner. Prior to earning his Master’s Degree, he was an Emergency Department Nurse for six years at Methodist Hospital Southlake and an Intensive Care Nurse and House Supervisor at Porter Regional Hospital. He was a Family Nurse Practitioner at Vale Park Medical Center and the Hansa Medical Group in Merrillville before joining VNANWI in 2017. He also served three tours of duty in Iraq as a member of the U.S. Army.
The 2nd annual Last Chance for White Pants Gala celebrated the care and compassion of VNA Hospice of Northwest Indiana on Saturday at the Blue Chip Hotel and Casino. Staff, volunteers, donors and those affected by the work of VNA broke out their still-summer fashion to raise funds to update the Horton Hospice Center in Valparaiso.
Guests were treated to an open bar sponsored by MacLennan & Bain Insurance, a filet and chicken dinner sponsored by Thrivent Financial of Northwest Indiana, and a DIY sundae sponsored by Chester, Inc. The cocktail hour allowed guests to mingle with friends and bid on silent auction items, while The Unit played smooth tunes to lend a little atmosphere.
As the silent auction drew to a close, a live auction raised more than $5000, with winners receiving trips to Mexico and New Orleans. After dinner, a “last donor standing” cash donation round offered guests the opportunity to donate at tiers starting at $2000 and ending at $100. The “last donor standing,” or the last guest to donate $100, won a stay at the Blue Chip with breakfast and a wine set gift basket.
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VNA of Northwest Indiana is a regional not-for-profit provider of hospice and palliative care—and more! Based in Valparaiso, VNANWI has a vibrant area of 250,000 with potential for growth. It’s minutes from the shores of Lake Michigan and great transportation access.
This is an excellent opportunity for a motivated, collaborative, mission-driven leader to join an organization that is highly committed to patient- and family-centered care and support services through a great team of interdisciplinary caregivers.
Key requirements will be at least a Bachelor’s Degree with a minimum of five years of executive management experience which includes setting and achieving strategic objectives, budget development and monitoring and problem-solving. Specific experience with hospice and/or healthcare preferred. Specific strengths will be needed in communications, financial management, leadership skills, team building with a highly competent clinical staff.
Leigh Morris, former Chairman of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, has been appointed Interim President and CEO of Visiting Nurse Association of Northwest Indiana (VNA of NWI), succeeding Ann O’Heir, who served in that role since 2015.
In announcing Morris’s appointment, Cindy Kaariainen-Tougaw, Chairperson of the VNA Board of Directors noted that the Board is very positive about the future of the VNA Hospice and its mission to be the region’s most patient-focused provider of aging, hospice, palliative care and grief support services. “We are confident that Leigh Morris will help us continue to move ahead during his tenure as Interim President and CEO as we work with him to search for exactly the right person to provide ongoing leadership to the organization.”
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