Carol J. Quinn, now chief executive officer of Mercy Home Health and Mercy LIFE, runs a $130 million operation that employs 780 people focused on the home care of the frail and elderly.
Much of what Quinn does as an executive, however, is governed by something that she noticed as a fledgling nurse working in community health: Patients often don't understand, or can't absorb, the discharge instructions they are given when they leave the hospital.
"They are under too much stress," she said. "They can't retain it. They go home and it's all a blur."
Too many, she said, end up back in the hospital, adding costs to an already overburdened health system.
Mercy Home Health dispatches caregivers to patients' homes. Mercy LIFE provides nursing-home-eligible patients with the care they need to remain at home and acts like a health insurance company, covering health-related costs. Both are divisions of Mercy Health System in Conshohocken.
As an executive, Quinn has pushed a technology-driven Telehealth system that gathers patients' vital signs at their homes and alerts staff if statistics are out of whack.
Hospital readmissions within 30 days for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease enrolled in Mercy's Telehealth program run 7.6 percent, about half the national average, the company said.
Question: What does the Telehealth technology do?
Answer: Basically, folks connect to some machinery. We can monitor a lot of their vital signs.
Q: Then what?
A: There's a little sensor. It all gets transmitted - and, if by 10 a.m., we don't get those results, we're going to be calling you. "Oh, Mrs. So and So, we didn't get your numbers." We do get them and they are out of line. There's a two-pound weight gain. Someone's holding fluid. The nurse will go out and make a visit. We'll call your physician. We'll adjust your medication and you're probably not going to the hospital. It's just that simple.
Q: You've been community health nursing most of your career. Why do you like it?
A: Health care is so much about prevention. If you can prevent an illness, you don't have to treat all these things and run all these tests. Some of it is not rocket science.
Q: What makes the difference?
A: You have to go into someone's environment and sit in their living room and understand how they live before you can design a path of education. You have to get down to the grassroots level. Show me what's in your cupboard.
Q: When you were a little girl, did you read the mystery series starring a nurse, Cherry Ames?
A: Yes, I did, and Nancy Drew. But I enjoyed Nancy Drew's books more.
Q: Did Cherry Ames make you want to become a nurse?
A: You have to remember the times. I graduated from high school in the 1960s. There weren't a lot of professions open [to women]. You could go into nursing or teaching. I preferred nursing.
Q: Do you ever get grossed out?
A: No. It never bothered me, blood and guts. I was always the person as a kid who put the Band-Aids on everybody and cleaned up the wounds.
Q: You take care of so many elderly. Do you worry about getting old?
A: Personally, I don't want to be hospitalized and two, I never want to go into a nursing home. I think the sad part of it is that most of us go through life thinking we're never going to age - that we're never going to be an invalid and have issues. When reality sets in, it's often too late. People don't want to deal with death or dying or infirmity. It's unfortunate, but that's life.
CAROL J. QUINN
Title: Chief executive officer, Mercy Home Health and Mercy LIFE; senior vice president, Mercy Health System.
Home: Newtown Square.
Family: Sons Michael, 40, Steven, 38, David, 32.
Education: Archbishop Prendergast High School; Villanova University, nursing; Widener University, master's in nursing.
Skill: Buying cars.
Tough lesson to learn: Patience. Not everyone moves as fast as she does.
Why: Coffee, at least six cups a day. No decaf.
MERCY HOME HEALTH AND MERCY LIFE
Territory: Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties.
2013 Revenues: $130 million.
Home health stats: 35,000 admissions a year, 400,000 visits.
What's new: In May, Mercy LIFE opened its first residential facility and adult day-care center for deaf senior citizens, in Elwyn.
Carol J. Quinn on admitting mistakes, curbing impatience.
Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.