Shortage of home health care nurses; Meyersdale family wants to go home

Seventeen-year-old Tyler Henderson lives in Meyersdale, but he hasn't been home in nearly a year. (WJAC)

MEYSERSDALE -- According to a survey of registered nurses from 2012 to 2013, there are more than 160,000 nurses in Pennsylvania. The problem for many families is only 7 percent of those nurses work in home health.

Seventeen-year-old Tyler Henderson lives in Meyersdale, but he hasn't been home in nearly a year.

"This is the longest we've ever been gone from home,” said Tyler’s mother, Dawn Thomas. “We've spent 3 1/2 months in the PICU last year when he was really sick. Basically out of the last year, we've been hospitalized for seven months."

Tyler was born with cerebral palsy and now has scoliosis. Because of the scoliosis, only one and a quarter of his lungs are functioning.

A tracheostomy and a ventilator help him breath.

"We're far away from everybody. We don't get to see anybody,” Thomas said. “My parents come down once a week. His dad comes and visits, but everybody's just so far away from us."

But here's the catch. Tyler was discharged from the hospital 2 1/2 months ago.

He's stuck in Pittsburgh at the Mario Lemieux Children's Home.

His mom just can't find nurses to work the overnight shift at their house in Meyersdale.

"So Tyler's a really cool kid who loves Elvis and bracelets and keychains,” Liz McNulty said. “Tyler's always smiling."

McNulty is a pediatric family support specialist with Bayada Home Health Care, the company Thomas has been using for the past three years.

"Tyler shouldn't be living his life in the children's home,” McNulty said. “He should be at home. That's where he should be living his life, with a nurse that loves him and cares for him and can experience his joy every single day."

McNulty knows this first hand. Her 6-year-old son Case needs 24-hour care. He was born sick and will remain chronically ill for the rest of his life. She says there is a need for more home care nurses.

"When somebody says ‘Oh being a nurse for sick kids. That must be so sad,’ They didn't meet Tyler. They didn't meet my son,” McNulty said. “They don't watch these children and all the life, like you said. That's exactly it. They have so much life to live."

"He is completely there mind-wise,” Thomas said. “He interacts with you like he's a normal 17-year-old. And I know that we're not the only people who are awaiting nursing. There's a shortage all around. There's many people in this home that are awaiting nursing, some for over a year."

Thomas has been out of work to be with her son, and she says Tyler needs 16 hours of care a day, mainly nights, because of her job.

"His overnight is fairly easy. He sleeps pretty much all night,” Thomas said. You're just basically administering medicine and you're hooking the feeding tube up before he goes to bed. He's on a 24-hour feed so you're just filling the bag."

Kristie Voyda is the director of Bayada Pediatrics, based in Blairsville.

She says they employee about 130 nurses for about 100 clients, but they need more licensed practical nurses and registered nurses.

"It's a career and it's a calling is what we say and what we hear from them oftentimes,” Voyda said. “And even if it's something they feel nervous going into, once they actually start working they just feel that they're really making a difference in the lives of children."

"He loves to interact with people, and we just want someone who's going to treat him like their own,” Thomas said. “And I just think we need to get the word out about the nursing situation, not just in our area but everywhere."

If you’d like to follow Tyler’s journey, you can follow his Facebook page, Miracles for Tyler.

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