Sheena Hensley picked a challenging time to start her business, Senior Solutions.
It was December 2014. She had one client, $1,000 in capital to invest, a husband in law school, and a 5-year-old to take care of.
Oh, and she was pregnant.
“I’m a multitasker,” she says briskly. “And I believed so strongly that I could provide something people needed. I love helping people.”
Less than a year later, she would be honored as Butte Local Development Corp.’s Woman Entrepreneur of the Year.
Today, Senior Solutions is a thriving, 36-employee business and has the only accredited Medicare hospice program in the area.
Hensley’s passion for helping people started with home care — taking care of people who preferred staying at home to convalescing in a nursing facility.
Now, Senior Solutions offers both home health care and hospice services. The company’s driving philosophy — and a key factor in its success — is that patients do better and are far more comfortable in the environment of their own home than anywhere else.
Another key factor in that success is the determination of the company’s multitasking CEO. Now, she has three children at home (her youngest is 4!), and her husband, Clark Hensley, is an attorney for Northwestern Energy.
The passion she has for patient care rings through everything Hensley says and does.
“Both with home health care and hospice care, the main focus is the patient’s quality of life,” she says. “We love helping the aging population age in place, maintain independence wherever possible, and enhance that quality of life.
“We provide care with love and compassion,” Hensley said. “That’s at the heart of everything we do.”
Hensley stresses, “This industry is a calling. The financial side is not the main motivation. It’s emotionally difficult, but it’s something we are called do do.
“So I listened to my heart. And that has been incredibly rewarding.”
Hensley said, "I have to give so much credit to my staff. They provide one-on-one care to patients in individualized, special ways. The amount of care we can provide, the ability to make decisions here locally in regard to our patients and their care, the love and support that they give, is what sets us apart."
Hensley consults with patients and their families personally and does an assessment so clients can decide what services are needed, and to make sure it's the best possible fit. There is a Medicare benefit that helps with hospice services.
"People live longer when they can stay at home, and they have better quality of life," she said. "I know all of our patients have such a better life being in their own home."
In the time of COVID, home health care and home hospice are great options, Hensley said. "If someone is in a facility of some sort, family members won't be able to see them," she said. "These facilities are locked down, and there's no interaction with family members. So keeping the patient at home is a wonderful alternative for patients and families.
"What I would like to get across to the community is that there are a lot more options than an assisted-living facility," Hensley said.
“Every patient I’ve ever had wanted to stay home.”
That's from Dr. Paul Siddoway, a cardiologist and family practice physician who is Senior Solutions' medical director. He's held that post for two and a half years, ever since Senior Solutions initiated hospice services.
"I've always been attracted to hospice," Siddoway said. "Our role as helpers should be to follow the wishes of patients, as long as they are safe and can be kept comfortable in a compassionate and loving way."
Siddoway said he chose Senior Solutions because it was clear that Hensley and the company practiced that philosophy on a daily basis.
"It was clear that the goal here was to provide each patient with the love and compassion they need. That's been my philosophy practicing medicine since day one.
"I'm a member of the team here," he said. "Essentially everyone is on the same page: What's the right thing to do for this patient?"
That philosophical alignment makes it a great place to work, he said.
"In a small community, it's all about reputation, about integrity and quality of care," he said. "Both in hospice and home care, we're available 24/7 if we're needed. If someone is being taken care of at home, caregivers know that if there's a crisis they can call us."
He added, "Most of the people we serve just don't want to go to the hospital any more if they don't have to."
"I've found my soul here," Dan McGrath says.
McGrath has been an ordained deacon in the Roman Catholic Church since 1992. But the Butte native says he has found the hospice work he's doing with Senior Solutions to be "enormously rewarding in a direction I never thought."
McGrath said his first exposure to hospice came when he was a caregiver for his wife in her final illness about four years ago.
"When I came and interviewed here I felt the philosophy of care Sheena advocates very strongly," he said. "This place is patient-centered and patient-focused."
For the Butte native, being there at critical times for people he knows is a profound part of his job.
He has served personal friends in his role as spiritual director at Senior Solutions.
"That thread of connection can be very meaningful," he said. "But it also makes the job tougher."
McGrath said the hospice experience often results in him forging deeper relationships with patients' families. "I don't just minister to the patient," he said. "It's the whole family." He makes a point to follow up with bereaved families.
"Jesus always went where the pain was, where people needed comforting," he said. "That tradition of faith in history has made such a difference in so many lives."
“Home is where the heart is.”
“A nurse’s heart is where it starts.”
Those two mottos, on plaques in the nurses' office at Senior Solutions, seem to sum up the place pretty well.
On a recent day, Julie Tresidder and Shamia Forman tended to the ever-present paper work before heading out to visit patients.
"We sort of become part of the family" in hospice and home care situations, Tresidder said. "We are in the home so frequently, helping, interacting."
She said she is drawn to this part of nursing because it is so much more interactive than many other specialties.
"I was a surgical nurse for a time and you were only with the patient for a very short part of their experience, maybe even five minutes," she said. "It's ... procedural. Not like this at all. This is more one-on-one care, compassionate care, with families and patients together, taking care of all of them."
Tresidder agreed. "There is more autonomy and more judgment involved," she said.
"It's a lot of work that not everyone can do."
Senior Solutions' success has led to expansion.
"Because of our success in Butte, we've been able to acquire an organization in Missoula," she said. "The company, Consumer Direct, was eliminating their home health and Medicare hospice business. We stepped in, saved 35 jobs in the healthcare community, and we're offering a range of services in Missoula and Ravalli counties — Home health care, physical and occupational speech therapy, palliative care and hospice."
For Hensley, meanwhile, the work her Butte team does is a source of deep pride, and the passion she brings to the mission is unabated.
"This work has taught me a lot," she said. "More than anything, it's shown me that every day we have is a gift."
"We bring honesty and integrity to this," she added. "Everybody wants that at these critical stages of life.