Staff Profile: Meet Sharon Jones, RN

Sharon Jones, RN entered the healthcare field more than 40 years ago – and is showing no signs of stopping. As the President and CEO of the Southcoast Visiting Nurse Association going on 10 years, she has most recently become a key figure on the newly established Southcoast Health Diversity and Inclusion Council.

A Cleveland native, she was previously with the Visiting Nurse Association of Ohio for 31 years as Chief Operating Officer. “Then I had the opportunity after being contacted by a search firm regarding my interest in this position and decided to take the plunge.”

She is an RN with a Master of Science Degree in nursing, with a focus on both family health and administration. “I had considered going the business route and getting an MBA but I felt a calling to remain within the nursing realm.”

Sharon knew from childhood that she wanted to have a future healthcare career. “I always wanted to be in healthcare working in a hospital or at least in a health care environment.”

Originally she thought of becoming a physical therapist due to a fear of blood. “I felt therapy would keep me in healthcare without any blood. My counselor felt I had what it took to pursue a baccalaureate in nursing because of my academics, being a minority, and few minority baccalaureate-prepared nurses at that time. She encouraged me to go into nursing. My parents supported the counselor’s suggestions and I did too.”

Her counselor encouraged her to attend a small catholic college, due to her introverted personality in her teens. “It was traumatic because I was not only a minority in terms of race, as there were only five black students in my class, but I was also not catholic, where the other four were catholic. I felt like a double minority, but I did very well. The nuns picked up on my weakness in not coming from a private school, and really worked with me to make sure I succeeded in the program.”

Sharon knew she made the right decision of pursuing healthcare during her college clinical. “I enjoyed the home care and community health center rotation the most. At that point, I made the decision that that is what I wanted to do. I loved going to people’s homes and working with them in their own environment.”

Aside from assisting patients in their home environments, Sharon enjoyed providing More than medicine. “You also deal with many of the socio-economic issues when you are dealing with someone in their home. While many of the situations were very depressing, I felt good in being able to help people overcome some of those issues so they could manage their illness much better if they had their other needs met. I also enjoyed dealing with the family as a unit.”

Oftentimes Sharon would help a patient over the holidays by inviting them over for Thanksgiving or Christmas. “I was more concerned with this person who might have been home during Christmas and depressed. My family treated them just like another place at the table. Because I had a high maternal-child population, I would find ways to provide a few toys for the children and gift baskets, through collections at the office.”

Sharon carried this practice of giving here. “We still do that to this day at the VNA. Every thanksgiving we contribute to have baskets made for patients. We also have a fund where half of our employee campaign dollars go towards buying things for patients that insurance doesn’t cover.”

A compassionate heart, and an eye for recognizing the greater need in healthcare, Sharon has extended her attributions into helping ensure that demographics that are overlooked are being included and accepted as a member of the Southcoast Health Diversity and Inclusion Council. “I think it is great that the system is making this recognition. Even the diversity within the African American group was just fascinating to have the dialog around it. The nice thing about this area is that there is so much diversity. I like it. It is good to be around other cultures. You learn so much more and experience different things being around different people.”

Eliminating racism and empowering women is part of Sharon’s background as she previously served as the chair of the board of the YWCA in Cleveland. “It has always been something that is near and dear to my heart because I think everybody should be included. There is no room for the exclusion of any group. I have always in everything I have done somehow tried to make sure that gets demonstrated. I am pleased that we are taking this initiative.”

Sharon says recognizing diversity and inclusion is good, but you have to take it one step further. “I also think if this is going to be successful we have to kind of live it, you know. You have to make sure people who may be different in race or sexual orientation, religion, whatever those things are, that there is equal opportunity for them to be involved in everything we do. Whether that is in recruitment practices, who gets put into the cue for promotions, it has to be a part of the daily operations of the organization. To me, that is the best indicator of how committed an organization is to diversity and the only other thing is for me, personally, you don’t have to try to be inclusive, just don’t be exclusive. It is easier just to not be exclusive. If you approach everything with that in mind, it will happen.”

The last ten years have gone by quickly for Sharon. Looking back, she sees how far the VNA has changed into the largest not-for-profit, community-based home health and hospice agency serving Southeastern Massachusetts and East Bay, Rhode Island. “When I moved here we had two totally separate homecare agencies under one roof but they operated totally separately and independently. When I came on board, the system decided to bring those two together. I had the responsibility of doing that. I am happy to say that it is seamless now, you wouldn’t know that there were two separate organizations. I think that was a real accomplishment and then just the evolution of bringing hospice and palliative care to the forefront. While it had taken longer than I had hoped, I think we are finally at a point now where the system has accepted those programs and we really have a robust hospice and palliative care program today.”

The future of Southcoast VNA will continue to expand, according to Sharon. “I think we are going to continue to see expansion within the homecare space. We are expanding the Telehealth program. We are implementing things like standing orders which allows patients to be managed in an acute state without having to go into the hospital. As the entire system undergoes a transformation and all the competition from every kind of organization getting into the healthcare business, they are going to rely more on home healthcare to support and take their patients as opposed to them being on the inpatient side of things.”