Agency History

You are here

More than a century of caring traced back to 1888

Visiting Nurse is a community-based, non-profit agency that has operated in Fort Wayne for nearly 130 years.

The roots of Visiting Nurse can be traced to 1888 when the Ladies’ Relief Union distributed food to the poor. Two years later the Union expanded and formed the Visiting Nurse Committee to bring food to the ill.

In 1900, the program, now renamed the Visiting Nurse League, hired its first nurse, Josephine Shatzer, who worked largely alone for the next 23 years. Being paid just $10 per week throughout her career, she certainly didn't take the job for the money.

In 1922, the Visiting Nurse League began to receive support from the Community Chest, the predecessor of today’s United Way of Allen County. In 1935 nearly 60 percent of its funding came from the Community Chest.

The 1930’s saw the Visiting Nurse League working in conjunction with the Allen County and Red Cross Nursing Services under shared supervision. The groups disbanded their relationship in 1942, reunited again for a time under the name “Public Health Nursing Service of Fort Wayne and Allen County,” and then parted ways again. The Visiting Nurse League formally changed its name to the Visiting Nurse Service in 1954. The first “housekeeping aides,” later known as home health aides, began visiting patients in 1958.

Competition from other agencies began to affect the Visiting Nurse Service as early as 1979. The first strategic planning for the Visiting Nurse Service occurred in 1982, when goals were set to increase referrals, visits and productivity, and to decrease visit costs.

In 1983, in response to shorter inpatient stays, hospitals entered the home health care field. Ultimately, Parkview and Lutheran Hospitals merged their hospice programs with Visiting Nurse Service under the new agency Visiting Nurse Service and Hospice.

The next decade was fraught with change and saw the dissolution of the Parkview-Lutheran-VNSH partnership. Visiting Nurse Service and Hospice reverted to being a freestanding, community-based agency without formal ties to either hospital.

Still, such was the demand for our service that the agency expanded into Adams, Wells and Huntington counties. In 1995, following a nearly three-year feasibility study, Hospice Home of Northeast Indiana opened on the eighth floor of the former Lutheran Hospital on Fairfield Avenue. Hospice Home was devoted to patients who were unable to remain in their homes and was the only in-patient facility dedicated solely to hospice care in the region, and one of only five in the entire state.

In 1998, Visiting Nurse Service and Hospice refocused its mission to exclusively provide end-of-life care. The board sold the traditional home health care program to St. Joseph Hospital and, at the same time, closed the private duty nursing program.

In 2001, Hospice Home as a free-standing facility became a reality. A capital campaign raised $2 million to construct a new building on Homestead Road, where the Visiting Nurse offices and 11-bed Hospice Home are now located. In 2004, the Agency was renamed Visiting Nurse & Hospice Home.

In 2006, Visiting Nurse & Hospice Home expanded the Hospice Home, adding three patient rooms (for a total of 14), a larger family room and conference room, and team work space.

The agency's first full-time physician joined the staff in 2010 as well as a team of nurse practitioners who greatly enhance the clinical team.

A celebration was held in November 2013 to commemorate 125 years of service and the agency's name was shortened to Visiting Nurse.

Visiting Nurse continues to provide hospice care in patients' residences (including nursing homes) or in its Hospice Home. We proudly serve families in eight northeast Indiana counties: Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Huntington, Noble, Wabash, Wells and Whitley. The agency's Palliative Care program provides nursing care to homebound patients with serious illnesses who are receiving curative treatments as well as palliative consultations in area nursing facilities and by appointment at the Palliative Care Clinic at Lutheran Hospital. Visiting Nurse's bereavement programs provide grief support services for patients' families and the community at large, free of charge. Hospice involvement is not required.

After more than three years of planning, Visiting Nurse opened the area's only Community Grief Center in June 2015 to serve grieving adults in our community. The Grief Center is located adjacent to Hospice Home and features a peaceful, healing environment for individual counseling, support groups and various gatherings. The lower level houses agency operations (human resources, billing, etc.) and features a large, dual-purpose seminar room for a wide variety of education programs that is available to the community. A capital campaign helped fund the creation of the Grief Center and endow a new Visiting Nurse Foundation that will fund the ongoing operational costs for the Grief Center - where services are provided at no charge. In June 2016, the facility was named the Peggy F. Murphy Community Grief Center in honor of Peggy F. Murphy, whose family has been involved with Visiting Nurse since its infancy.