There are more than 18 million healthcare workers in the United States; 80% of them are women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While women make up the vast majority of home health care workers, they are a minority in the C-Suite. Only 40% of the industry’s key decision makers are female.

Homecare is a tough space to succeed in, and while org charts may not reflect it, this industry is loaded with strong, determined women doing incredibly meaningful work — they simply don’t get the recognition they deserve!

Here at HHAeXchange, we’d like to take one small step towards changing that. ‘Extraordinary Women in Homecare’ is a series of feature articles designed to celebrate women who bring strength, passion, and creativity to their roles in the homecare industry.

For this first edition, we chatted with Louise Weadock, the Founder and Chief Nursing Officer of ACCESS Nursing, a Joint Commission-certified health care services agency operating in private and hospital-based offices in New York City, Westchester County, and New Jersey. Read on to learn how Louise started her own business, what makes her tick, and her best advice for women in the industry.

What sparked your passion for the homecare industry?

I was raised in Baltimore, Maryland. I’m one of four kids, we’re all a year apart, and I’m the only girl. The boys were a rough crew, athletic and on every sports team. My older brother was ranked No. 5 in the nation in tennis. At age 15, he had a terrible diving accident. He dove into a nearby lake that he thought was deep. The water was only six inches deep, and he ended up paralyzed.

The doctors told us to put my brother in an institution, but my mother wasn’t having that. She said, “We’re going to count the muscles we have, not the ones we don’t, and we’re going to move on.”

My brother went on to become a Paralympic table tennis player. He died at age 60 as the chief financial officer of the largest bank in Maryland.

I was at my brother’s bedside a lot [while in rehab]. I witnessed the pain inflicted when the hands that touched, didn’t care. It was then when I decided to go to nursing school.

What was the first step of your career?

I wasn’t hugely interested in the medical aspect of nursing. I liked the psycho-emotional aspect of nursing, as it can really affect someone’s overall well-being. I became a child psychiatric nurse and established a program in Baltimore for children with emotional disturbances. I then went on to earn my master’s in public health administration from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. I helped redesign the Baltimore city school system to accommodate and educate kids with learning and behavioral disorders. I was on the committee that created the diagnostic criteria for the disorder autism within the school system.

You did some incredible work, practically right out of school. Why did you decide to start your own business?

I left nursing because it drained me emotionally. I decided I would get into the business of nursing management and started my nursing service career in 1980. I was the first female vice president of a large nursing service organization, Kimberly Nurses, which is now Gentiva.

In the ’80s, women were toys you put out there. We were like the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders of the nursing world — smart, enthusiastic, competitive, hard-hitting — but men were directing all the shots. They thought a nurse should only be at the bedside, not in the boardroom. That’s why I decided to start my own business.

What were some of the challenges you faced in opening a business?

I started ACCESS in 1985. I built my business one nurse at a time, one patient at a time, and one social worker at a time. I had $5,000 to buy an apartment and get myself going. I ran out of money very quickly.

I went to the banks and was told, “No, we don’t lend to women.” I went to the women’s bank and was told, “No, we don’t lend to health care businesses.” At the time, there was a big scam in the nursing home industry. I ended up in a world of secondary, high-risk lenders. I just wouldn’t take no for an answer. I kept knocking on doors until I found someone that would help finance my business without me having to give it all away.

Where is your business today?

Today, ACCESS has offices in all major hospitals in New York City, Westchester County, and New Jersey. I’ve developed a great crew of people. The service we deliver is excellent.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way your agency provides care?

Our service is more critical now than ever before. We formed a COVID Care Force of 2,500 RNs and PAs from all across the U.S., and they’re being deployed to testing sites, hospital ICUs, nursing homes, and into the homes of patients in the New York and New Jersey Metro area to save lives and fight this volatile virus. ACCESS Nursing has also been donating PPE to hospitals and health care facilities and providing housing in apartments and hotels for the out-of-state nurses that have joined our COVID Care Force.

Where does your tenacity come from?

My brothers were all athletes, getting into all kinds of accidents. I could always hear my mother saying to me, “Don’t dive in!”

My fight comes from having to break my mother’s mold. She wanted to keep me in one spot, because that’s how good girls go. Growing up in the “small town” of Baltimore, I knew by age 20 what house I would live in, what clothes I would wear…I just didn’t want to know that much of my future. I was more adventurous.

What has been key to your success over the years?

A sense of humor, a sense of anticipation, and flexibility. You’ve got to be in the moment to feel and see what you’re doing, but you also have to look forward. Changes happen so quickly. If your people, processes and platforms aren’t flexible to the volatile, dynamic, fast-paced changes within the industry, you’re not going to survive.

How do you keep your staff motivated and happy on the job?

My jam in all of this is developing a crew of individuals that are here, in this moment, to care. It’s my job as an employer to get them to the next level, to get them to the next moment.

Fun is a huge value for our staff. Spirituality is one, too. We call each other out on our culture all the time. We’ll say, wait a minute, that’s not being responsive. Empathy will be our next value — we all need to connect more.

What role does technology play in your work?

We are dealing with a lot of minutia, and the government wants to see data. My technology’s ability to deliver on that data is going to determine our survival in this industry. You have to be able to adapt to change and deliver data that shows “how our hands cared,” which is our mission. We have a certain vision of how data needs to flow, and we’re able to communicate that to HHAeXchange, our management software. Their ears are large enough that they can listen to us and customize the solution to our needs.  

Now, with artificial intelligence, the doctors don’t have to do as much “guesswork” anymore, they don’t have to connect the dots because the technology does it for them. This frees up the space for us to look up from the books, to talk with our patients eye-to-eye, and to create those relationships that are so important.

How has the homecare industry changed for women since you began your career?

I think this industry is much kinder to women now than when I first started. But male nurses still are getting paid 18% more than their female counterparts for doing the same exact job. I still find myself in meetings where the men in the room will only look at each other, because what you’re saying isn’t as important, and who they are trying to impress is not you.

We still have a long way to go, but we’re getting there. As women, we need to help each other.

Lastly, what is your best advice for women considering entering the homecare industry?

My advice to any woman who wants to go into this business is this: Count the muscles you have, forget the ones you don’t, and move on. Go for it!