BY JEFF FALK
NORTH LEBANON – Hands-On Nursing’s title is more than just some fancy slogan or catchy phrase. It’s an idea, a commitment, a way of life.
It is that type of approach that distinguishes Hands-On Nursing from every other care agency in Lebanon County. The people, nurses and caregivers at Hands-On just care, and that translates into superior service for their patients.
Founded on those beliefs in 1997, Hands-On Nursing is owned and operated locally by Maggie Fortna and husband Steve Fortna. The fact that Fortna herself is a compassionate nurse should come as no surprise.
“I just started putting things out there,” said Fortna. “I was trying to think of a good name for the business, and my sister helped me with ‘Hands-On’. But yeah, you’ve got to have a good heart to do this type of work.
“We’ve been in business for 16 years,” Fortna added. “I’d say there’s thousands of people we’ve helped in one way or another. And there are some cases that stay very fresh in your memory.”
“They’re very professional and caring,” said Lebanon resident John Stuckey, whose brother Irwin Stuckey’s life was touched by ‘Hands-On’. “Their name says it all. They mean it. I saw it first-hand.
“To me, it was a God-send with the timing,” Stuckey added. “It’s one thing I’ll always be grateful for. I virtually entrusted every level of my brother’s life to them, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s none better.”
Hands-On Nursing, located at 2035 Weavertown Road north of Lebanon, delivers all levels of excellent care for home-bound and nursing home clients. It features many levels of home medical care, housekeeping and errand services, as well as hospice care.
“We have a rapid response, with all levels of care,” said Fortna. “We’re available 24-7. We never turn clients away. I never say, ‘No’.
“It’s like a puzzle,” Fortna continued. “When someone calls with needs, or if it’s a new client, you need to provide for them. You have to find someone (nurse) who is compatible with that client. You’ve got to know the girls and who’s good with what.”
“He had a stroke and esophageal cancer. He was being fed through his stomach,” said Stuckey of big brother Irwin. “Maggie had an available room and Maggie took care of him until the day he died. Maggie gave him some very intense care. It was the best. He loved it there. It was a blessing. It really was.”
At any given time, Hands-On Nursing employs up to 90 RNs, LPNs and CNAs. Administratively, they are supported by Fortna herself, husband Steve, daughter Lauren Finger and Jamie Hockley.
“The girls make their own schedules and people do come and go,” said Fortna. “But after 15 years, you get a feel for what’s going on. It’s our reputation on the line, and it is unsupervised work. We encourage families to call with any discrepancies. That’s something the girls are told, ‘It’s your performance. It’s your reliability. There’s somebody waiting for you. And if you don’t show up, they’ll have nobody.’
“Our clients just call, or they get referred,” continued Fortna. “I’d say eight out of ten hear about us by word of mouth from someone who has had our services. Most of them are older, but if they’re hospice patients they can be any age. The word ‘older’ has changed so much over the years. Sometimes family members call us, and that’s where the rapid response comes on. We say, ‘We can do this. We can make this work to the best of our abilities.’ I think that’s very important to the families.”
Hands-On Nursing services all of Lebanon County, and beyond, from Robesonia to Palmyra to Jonestown to Cornwall. The territory which it serves has expanded since its inception, a trend that Fortna sees continuing .
“It’s a much bigger industry now,” said Fortna. “I think there’s a lot of agencies out there which have popped up all over the place. In Lebanon County, we’re definitely one of the most reputable agencies. I like to keep the work in Lebanon County, and I want to keep getting my workers from Lebanon County. Lebanon County needs that. Lebanon County needs growth.
“I think it’s seen as an ‘A’ business,” Fortna added. “We’re very proud of what we’ve become, and the fact that we got where we are on our own. We’re partners. I consider a lot of our employees partners.”
Since starting the business 16 years ago, Fortna has seen a distinct shift in the industry, away from nursing homes and more towards home health care. It’s a trend which her business has had to evolve right along with.
“It’s very true,” said Fortna. “You can see more people are doing what they can to stay home. We send nurses and CNAs to nursing homes as they need them. And we have a group of employees who just go to facilities. Actually, when I started it, nursing homes were the foundation of our business.
“Who wouldn’t want to have care in their home?,” Fortna continued. “That’s a gimmee. You’re not told what time you’re eating and what you’re eating. You eat when you get up. We can really take the burden off the family. I’d say that when we get calls, nine times out of ten it’s a family member looking for help. They’re in distress. ‘I don’t know what to do.'”
Like most family own, home-based businesses, Hands-On Nursing has grown from modest beginnings. Initially, Fortna saw it as a way to supplement the income for her family of seven.
“We had five children and we moved out here,” said Fortna. “I was a nurse. I’m still a nurse. It was basically trying to supplement everybody’s life. It was scary, but I’m driven. The worst thing that can happen is that people say, ‘no’. It literally started as a supplement and turned into a full-time family business. It went beyond our expectations. But it was just hard work, having good employees and treating people right.
“We built it from the ground up,” Fortna continued. “It literally started in our basement, moved to an upstairs bedroom and then into the dining room. And then we built an office on ten years ago. A lot of people say, ‘You don’t want to move?’ Nope.
“I think the kids know how hard we’ve worked. I didn’t ask to become a business woman. It just fell on me.”
A 40-something young lady, Fortna is still going strong. But it is her hope that one day the business is passed on to the next generation of Fortna.
“We’re looking to expand into 55-plus communities like Arbor Gate,” said Fortna. “And we’re thinking about establishing an office in Lancaster.
“That’s (passing it along to the next generation) a futuristic goal,” Fortna concluded. “I don’t think we’d ever get out of it totally. We want to see how things go over in Lancaster.”