100 Years in the Community

VNSNY’s focus is home health care, but we still believe that healthy individuals thrive best in healthy communities. We were founded on the belief that illness often had underlying social causes, so Lillian Wald and the Henry Street Settlement arranged for patients and neighbors to experience life beyond the crowded tenements and factories with country excursions, picnics, and concert tickets. Bank accounts were opened in children’s names. After completing their afternoon visits, nurses taught classes in English or cooking. Eventually, the Settlement established or oversaw kindergartens, boys’ and girls’ clubs, scholarship funds, and classes in carpentry, sewing, diction, music, and dance—by 1912, more than 28,000 took advantage of these programs.

As New York City and the needs of its residents changed, so has the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. Classes in parenting have replaced cooking lessons. More of our patients are elderly, so more of our services address the chronic conditions they live with. Here, a glimpse of VNSNY over the years.

1910—The nursing service had outgrown the Henry Street Settlement. Other houses were opened throughout the city, but the nurses lived in the neighborhoods where they worked. The staff of 54 nurses also ran a convalescent home, three country homes, and first aid stations; they cared for 15,492 patients and made 143,589 home visits.
VNSNY nurse with child in the Lower East Side
1926—More than 49,000 patients received care and the nurses made nearly 347,000 home visits. By the 1920s, the number of nursing centers had grown to 18, with 164 field nurses and 28 supervisors.  

1933—Lillian Wald retired. Her staff of 265 made 550,000 home visits to more than 100,000 patients.

1944—The Visiting Nurse Service of New York was established as an agency separate from the Henry Street Settlement, devoted to home health care.

1957—VNSNY hires its first mental health nurse consultant, whose role is to address the emotional problems patients face as a result of coping with illness. Fifty years later, more than 600 social workers address patients’ emotional and mental health needs.

1965—Legislation creating Medicare and Medicaid was signed into law, making the federal government responsible for financing health care for the elderly and for low-income people in need of medical care. These programs had a profound affect on health care because benefit payments to agencies such as VNSNY reduced the serious gap between income and expenditures. As a result, services and programs expanded and diversified.

1976—VNSNY began participating in a program with the Maternity Center Association’s Childbearing Center. Mother and infant were discharged after 12 hours, and follow-up care was provided at home by VNSNY nurses. VNSNY is still involved with this program.

1983—VNSNY inaugurated its Hospice Program. Within six years, the program has grown to serve more than 260 New Yorkers, and in 2006, VNSNY opened the first hospice residence in New York City, located on the Upper East Side.

1987—The National League for Nursing created the Community Health Accreditation Program in response to patients’ concerns about the quality of home health care. Agencies accredited through CHAP must meet specific criteria, and since the program’s inception, VNSNY is the only CHAP-accredited, certified home health care agency in New York State.

“First Steps,” a project coordinated with Harlem Hospital and VNSNY’s Maternal/Child Health and Pediatric Care program, was established in the late 1980s to address substance abuse problems of mothers and their babies. It soon became the fastest growing service within VNSNY Home Care.

1989—VNSNY nurses saw almost 600 adults and children with AIDS on a daily basis; by 1993 this number doubled, and VNSNY became the largest home health care provider for AIDS patients in the country. Various programs were implemented to assist those with AIDS and HIV-related illnesses, including the At-Home Options Program and the AIDS Mental Health Demonstration Program.

2003—VNSNY adds Westchester County to its service area, which already includes all five boroughs of New York City and Nassau County.

2005—VNSNY launched its Nurse-Family Partnership in the South Bronx, and within two years, more than 700 families enrolled. In 2008, the program is expanded to the Lower East Side.