NAUGATUCK — At 94, Marie Tortora still relishes her independence. When doctors at Yale-New Haven Hospital said she ought to live with her daughter, she acquiesced for all of two weeks before moving back to her own Oak Terrace apartment.
And when the same doctors told Tortora, who has what she describes vaguely as “a heart condition,” that if she was going to live alone, she’d need bimonthly appointments with a visiting nurse, the spunky nonagenarian figured she wouldn’t tolerate those very long either.
“Oh but they’re wonderful,” Tortora says now. “They’re so pleasant. I love when my nurses, Debbie and Barbara, come to visit.”
Marie is one of about 125 patients served by the Naugatuck Visiting Nurses Association, which last Thursday held an open house to celebrate its 90th birthday.
The organization opened in 1919 with a single nurse. It was funded for a year by the Whittemore family then the American Red Cross bore its costs until 1949, when the VNA, then the Naugatuck Public Health Nursing Service, became a borough agency, as it is today.
The VNA is Medicare certified and Community Health Accreditation Program accredited, two credentials its director, Anne Butler, states with pride. Its staff has grown from one to 22, which includes eight full-time nurses, three per diem nurses, two physical therapists and four home health aides.
In July 2008, the VNA moved in to its new office at 600 Rubber Avenue, where last week’s open house was held. Butler and her staff greeted patients, politicians and residents, offering informal tours of the building and even a spread of sweets not usually advocated by health professionals.
For the director, it was perhaps her last big event in that role. Butler is one of six borough department heads taking an early retirement package, along with Parks and Recreation Superintendent Fran McMullen, Dog Warden Debbie Wilcox, Street Superintendent Hank Witkowski, Jr., Assessor Joyce Alegi and Borough Clerk Judy Crosswait.
Some of her co-workers have started a countdown in jest; last Thursday, it stood at 98 days.
“I’ll miss being part of a team,” Butler said. “This is a special group of people, and we work well together.”
Early retirement might be a misnomer in Butler’s case—she’s worked at the Naugatuck VNA for 32 years, starting as a staff nurse in 1978 and becoming director in 1986. While promoting her agency at the Naugatuck Senior Center’s block party a week before the open house, Butler shared a realization:
“I was thinking about our 90th anniversary,” she said, “and it occurred to me, ‘I’ve been here more than a third of that time.’”
By another count, Marie Tortora can do her one better.
“Ninety years. I said, ‘I’ve got to be there [for the open house],’” she said. “I’m older than the place.”