Company History

Never underestimate the power of families
and the love that they have for their children.

The advocacy and never-ending energy of passionate people with a common cause can make the seemingly insurmountable happen.  Family Lives began as a dream of parents in the mid 1990s.  The population of children requiring in home nursing supports was growing.  The existing supports were not meeting their needs.  Parents faced the frightening prospect of having to place their children in institutions, tearing their families apart. That option was unacceptable.  Families advocated for change.  They sought assistance from organizations that valued people with disabilities; organizations that believed people with disabilities have valued roles to fill in the community.  Shriver Clinical Services, as a part of its community based programs, offered trainings sessions for families and caregivers of children with complex medical needs.  The training sessions focused on teaching the process of finding valued roles for people with disabilities within the community.  The sessions were based on the belief that people with valued roles are less at risk for being placed in institutional settings, and that the more valued roles a person fulfills, the more likely they are to remain in their communities.

Conrad O’Donnell, the CEO of Shriver Clinical Services, used the time offered during breaks at the training sessions as an opportunity to speak with those attending.  He heard what they were saying.   He made time throughout the course of the following year to introduce himself to families and the amazing children they fought so valiantly to keep at home.  He befriended Tricia Luce, the parent of a child with complex medical needs requiring nursing supports at home.  She generously and unselfishly introduced him to her son Scotty and other families facing similar issues.  She advocated strongly for people whom she and her son believed had needs that could be met, but traditional providers were not meeting.  When her son passed away, Mr. O’Donnell made a commitment to find a solution. He would seek out and support new and innovative solutions to home care service provision that were desperately needed by families. 

Shriver Clinical Services applied for, and received, an innovation grant from the Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation.  In addition, Shriver Clinical Services generously agreed to fund all remaining costs of the project. Shriver Clinical Services next held focus groups with families and nurses, seeking to determine what worked and didn’t work for the population of people the organization was seeking to help.  Numerous families and nurses gave generously of their time and experience to assist Shriver Clinical Services in this endeavor.  The information obtained in the focus groups supplied the goal: for children to live in their communities with whatever supports were necessary, so that their families could remain together. The focus groups strengthened the belief of Shriver Clinical Services that improving the lives of these families was possible.  The decision was made to build a small organization that would provide quality care for 6 families, never imagining that 10 years later they would serve over 100. 

Family Lives was incorporated as a non-profit agency focusing on empowerment. The primary goal was to reshape the overpowering nursing concerns that many families thought of as the elephant in the living room, and transform it to a small figurine, requiring care but not overwhelming the home.   Families stated that they wanted nurses who were committed to their child and who were professional and caring.  They wanted nurses who were qualified to care for their children, and an organization that would ensure that.  They wanted the nurses to be respected by the organization for which they worked.  It was important to families that the nurses be allowed and encouraged to advocate for the people they served, without disempowering the family.  Families understood that they needed the skills to advocate for themselves, as well as an organization that would advocate for them when they were too tired. The focus, however, would always be empowerment and not enabling.

Nurses wanted the people they served to be respected.  They wanted a working wage and benefits that would allow them to care for their own families.  They wanted to provide quality nursing care and they wanted to practice the art of nursing.  Most important to them was that they wanted an organization that would care about the needs of the people served, the needs of the nurses, allow for continued learning, and stressed professionalism in nursing.

Family Lives’ founders, Conrad O’Donnell, Trisha Luce, Carolyn Brennan, Ann Flynn and Rollin Rickard designed a comprehensive benefit program, surpassing those benefit programs offered in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and unheard of in the home care community.  They set high standards for the families they would serve and the people they would employ.

Carolyn Brennan was chosen to run the daily operations and ensure compliance with state and federal regulations and requirements.  In many ways her life mirrored the lives of those Family Lives sought to serve and employ.   Shriver Clinical Services’ belief was that her focus would be on the needs of the families and nurses.  There was an understanding that parent/nurse advocacy would be instrumental, and ensure that the organization would not lose sight of families or the mission when times were hard.  Parents of the children served were asked to be members of the Board of Directors and the Professional Advisory Committee. 

The founders chose a goose as Family Lives' logo.  They believe that in a small way, geese represent what families work so hard to achieve and what they provide for each other.  They never leave one of their own to face hardship.  If one member of a flock is too weak, tired, or too ill to fly with the group and drops out of formation, a second goose from the flock stays with the first until it is able to fly and then they rejoin together.  No member is ever left alone.  The formation, when they fly, never seems quite perfect, never symmetrical, but it works for those who are in it.  When flying in formation, one goose takes the lead to break the way for the others.  When that goose becomes fatigued, it drops back and another takes over, allowing each goose the opportunity to rest and yet remain with the group, giving when it can and resting when it needs to.  That is what a true community is all about, searching for what each member has to offer and allowing each member the opportunity to lead regardless of their limitations.

Throughout each level of the certification process, Family Lives focused on the belief that people with disabilities offer the same things to communities as people without disabilities.  They simply have to do it in a different way.

The planning process was long and arduous.  Even the design of the questions that would be asked during interviews was considered important.  Clinical skills were of significant importance.  Equally important was an understanding that people with even the most severe impairments have much to offer, and enrich a community by their presence and the roles they fill.  Without a basic understanding of, and a belief in, these ideals nurses or families would not be successful at Family Lives. 

In August of 1999, Family Lives began serving children with complex medical needs.  Children served have varying needs.  Medical conditions range from complex seizure disorders to ventilator dependent patients with central lines. We serve over 100 of the most amazing and powerful people.  While we continue to focus on the pediatric population and admissions reflect that focus, a small number of adults are now being served as our population has aged.  We have committed to families as they have committed to us and we value their loyalty.  We employ almost 300 dedicated, talented nursing and therapy professionals.  While our focus continues to be block nursing, we have begun to expand and now provide physical and occupational therapy services on a very limited basis. 

Family Lives’ focus is to work collaboratively with people and organizations that can and do make a difference in the lives of those we serve.  How the organization operates is a reflection of the hearts and minds of parents and nurses who in the mid 1990s had a dream and were willing to do what they had to do to make it happen.  We are here because parents’ love for their children empowered them to take action.  We are here because nurses wanted to provide quality care in a respectful and professional way.  We are here because families and nurses wanted more. 

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