2007-03-01 / News

Consistent Care adds quality to lives on and off the island

By Michaela Kennedy

Gail Sheehan, owner of Consistent Care. Gail Sheehan, owner of Consistent Care. A friend of Gail Sheahan, owner of Consistent Care at 8 Clinton Ave., asked her recently, "How does it feel to do what you were meant to do?"

Sheahan responded with a smile and said she was lucky to have a career where she looked forward to going to work every day.

Hundreds of people look forward to Sheahan's work day, as well, for her company provides a service well described by the name. Consistent Care is a home health-care agency, servicing clients from pediatrics to elderly, acute and long-term care. More than 40 employees, mostly visiting nurses and healthcare workers, make about 11,000 home visits annually, on and off the island.

Sheahan started Consistent Care as a home-based business in February of 1991. With a $1,000 gift from her mother- in-law, Inez Sylvia, "the first nurse practitioner in Rhode Island," and an unsecured line of credit from the bank, Sheahan made her home care official.

Sheahan laughs about the bank loan for which she was eligible because of her minority status. "In those days, women were considered a minority. I couldn't get that now," she says.

Sheahan graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a bachelor of science in nursing. After marriage and a child, she soon found herself in home health care. Her first client in private care was Eleanor Pennock, a cousin to Mark Twain. At the time, she also took on caring for her friend's father, "who had Lyme disease before they knew what it was."

Her son Tucker was only nine months old at the time, "and I did it so I could be an at-home mom," she recalls.

The business has been neither an easy road, nor a cash cow, she admits. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 reduced funding to health-care providers through cutbacks for Medicare and Medicaid. "'Stretch the buck' has taken on new meaning," Sheahan says with a chuckle.

The rewards come in other ways, she continues. "It takes a certain kind of person to do consistent care, and we've been lucky with staff, and we have a very low turnover," she notes.

Sheahan stresses the need for health care on the island and in the surrounding area. She voices amazement at how far people travel for services, "some going as far as Woonsocket in a given day," she adds.

Sheahan also notes a difference in having the company located on an island rather than in another community. "We function as an extended family here. There's a sense of unitedness that doesn't exist elsewhere," she says. The relationship between her employees and clients is a two-way street. "We learn a lot from people on the island," she adds.

An experience with her own children who grew up with exposure to her work made her understand the importance of community interaction. When her second child reached grade school, a teacher quizzed Sheahan on the "extraordinary sense of compassion" that her son and daughter both showed toward others. She observed the same sense in some of the workers' children who also spent time around the business. "I realized compassion is a learned trait," she says.

Sheahan and her brother, Charles, recently bought property on North Main Road to provide space for Consistent Care and an additional business, an adult social and medical day-care center.

They received a nod of approval from the Board of Water and Sewer Commissioners last month for utility service expansion and change of use for the center, and also received a unanimous recommendation for zoning relief from the Planning Commission.

The Sheahans are scheduled to present their development plan to the Zoning Board of Review on Feb. 27.

"If all goes well, we'll start construction the next day and be open for business by the end of the summer," she says, waving crossed fingers in the air.

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