PITTSBURGH (CNS) — The leaders of Ladies of Charity USA have taken a bold step into one of the fastest-growing sectors in health care: the field of home care.

Such care provides patients with services in the comfort of their home, such as light housekeeping, meal preparation, and assistance with bathing and other personal tasks.

Ladies of Charity Caregiving Inc. is a pilot project the organization initiated about two years ago that is beginning in the Pittsburgh region. It was formally announced during the Ladies of Charity national assembly in mid-September in Pittsburgh.

The organization’s national board had given its approval after hiring a consultant to evaluate the ideal location for the project. Pittsburgh was chosen because of its highly organized diocesan Ladies of Charity association, which is one of the largest, if not the largest, in the United States.

“The Pittsburgh association, with 1,500 women, they know who they are, they know where they are and they work together very well,” said Mary Ann Dantuono, a Ladies of Charity Caregiving board member from New York. “That’s a real asset to us nationally to come into an area to work with a group like this.”

One of the driving forces behind this project is Marilyn Martone, a retired associate professor of theology at St. John’s University in New York, whose daughter was a senior at the University of Chicago 20 years ago when she was hit by a car.

The young woman was severely brain injured and unconscious for eight months, she said, and was in institutions for almost two years before being brought home. For 18 years, Martone has managed her daughter’s care at home with the help of paid caregivers.

Many of those caregivers, Martone said, struggle financially to the degree that they can’t afford home care if they ever need it. One goal of Ladies of Charity Caregiving is to offer just wages to employees.

“I want, and we all want, I think, the caregiver to feel like they’re not just an employee, but they’re part of this relationship that we want to develop, where we’re concerned about their needs as well,” she told the Pittsburgh Catholic, the diocesan newspaper.

“And we recognize we need a structural change where we as a society begin to value caregiving. It’s the most important work we do, and yet it’s viewed as nothing really,” Martone added.

A top priority is offering the best level of care possible that respects the client’s inherent value as a human being — care that borrows from the history of the Ladies of Charity and St. Vincent de Paul.

Sister Carole Blazina, a Sister of Charity of Seton Hill, who has worked with the Ladies of Charity in Pittsburgh as their diocesan moderator, said that 400 years ago in France the charism of charity was first demonstrated when St. Vincent arranged care for a sick family.

“And that entire national/international experience of charity grew from that. So we’re going to try to carry that on with today’s needs and meet today’s social concerns,” said Sister Carole, former clinical director of the Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center in downtown Pittsburgh.

Tina Ondish, who was hired in March as administrator of Ladies of Charity Caregiving at its newly established Pittsburgh office, has more than 10 years of experience as a certified nursing assistant, said she was drawn to the project by the Vincentian mission.

“Their vision of how they want to care for their clients and also their caregivers and employees made me want to be involved in it because I know how easy it is to be undervalued as a caregiver,” she said.

Ondish explained that, as a nonprofit corporation, Ladies of Charity Caregiving will put any proceeds toward better wages and benefits for employees and more care for those who can’t afford it.

“Right now we’re hoping to get referrals from the Ladies of Charity and from the parishes themselves of people in the community who need the assistance and that can reach out to us,” she said. “We’re pretty confident that that’s going to work out well. Word of mouth, especially with caregiving, is huge in these tight-knit communities.”

Besides looking to hire caregivers, the organization is seeking Ladies of Charity to mentor employees and keep them connected to the Vincentian mission, said Bernadette Jakectic, a member of St. Catherine of Sweden Parish in Hampton Township. She was recently installed as president of the Association of the Ladies of Charity for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Eventually volunteers also will be needed as liaisons between the mentor and the family receiving care, Jakectic said.

As this pilot project gets off the ground, other Ladies of Charity associations across the nation are watching and eager to start their own home care business.

“One of our guidelines is that we will not start an office where there is not a Ladies of Charity organization,” Martone said. “And so we have been in dialogue with two other places that have expressed interest, but we really want to get this place up and running and sustainable before we spread ourselves too thin.”

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Cone is editor of the Pittsburgh Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.