Thrive by IU Health

June 01, 2021

Social worker who knows what it’s like to be hungry, helps feed homebound

Social worker who knows what it’s like to be hungry, helps feed homebound

Lora Millsaps knows what it’s like to be stuck at home with little to no food. She also knows what it’s like to live with limited means. So she is helping the homebound with those same challenges.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

They live as far south as Evansville and as far north as Fort Wayne. Lora Millsaps’ patients are some of the most vulnerable. They live with advanced disease and financial hardship. COVID-19 has added another challenge to their lives – food insecurity.

An Evansville patient has experienced multiple heart problems and recently suffered a stroke. She can’t leave her home. A woman in downtown Indianapolis has a tracheotomy. She is afraid to answer her door.

Many of the patients don’t qualify for senior citizen services like Meals on Wheels. Even the ones who live in housing where meals are provided are scared to leave the security of their dwellings.

Millsaps was the first social worker hired a year and half ago as part of IU Health’s population health team. The team’s focus is on patient follow up in an effort to reduce readmission. When a patient leaves the hospital a plan is set into place to provide support outside the hospital setting. Millsaps currently has a caseload of 80 patients across the state. A lot of her patient contact is done telephonically, but she feels like there is no replacement for face-to-face interaction.

She’s been known to deliver medical equipment and food to her patients. She takes a proxy form to the food banks, stands in line and accepts what is available. There are usually some canned goods, a couple of meats such as turkey sausage or ham, a couple of fresh vegetable options, and a staple such as pancake mix or pasta. After she picks up the orders she washes all the produce, bags them and then leaves them in a safe place where they will stay clean.

“Lora is absolutely amazing. She lives the IU Health values and acts as a cheerleader for the entire population health team,” said her supervisor Wilma Carrier.

Millsaps, who has 25 years of experience in the field of clinical social work, said she doesn’t see her role as anything extraordinary.

“The truth of the matter is I grew up on a farm in the Appalachian hills of Kentucky. We were very poor and had no water or electricity. One winter we had a blizzard and I was out of school for three months. I had counted on that food and we had very little. One day we had a pack of crackers and an onion,” said Millsaps, speaking in a distinct southern mountain dialect. “My mom was 15 when she had me but she didn’t quit school. She was Valedictorian of her graduating class and got a scholarship to the University of Kentucky,” added Millsaps, who was the youngest of three. She has two older brothers.

Her mother went on to oversee the Kentucky Revenue Department and impressed on her children the importance of education. In addition to a doctorate in social work, Millsaps holds three master’s degrees, including health science and public administration. She is board certified in traumatology with experience treating patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Until recently, Millsaps also worked supplemental at IU Health Methodist Hospital conducting emergency psychiatric assessments.

“When I was 10 my parents were watching ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and I was astounded by how Nurse Ratched treated the patients. I decided right then I was going into social work to make a difference,” said Millsaps. In the movie, Nurse Ratched runs a psychiatric unit with an iron fist.

Robert on her farm posing with her sheep

Two years ago when her husband, Robert bought a farm in Coal City, In. the couple moved from Kentucky. “There are 214 people who live in Coal City so I knew I’d need to travel for work and I feel IU Health is one of the best employers in the state,” said Millsaps. On their 150-acres they raise cattle and sheep and harvest corn and soybeans. They also plant a quarter of an acre garden with a variety of vegetables. She cans vegetables and makes fresh salsa. It’s not unusual for Millsaps to gift her coworkers with her homemade salsa and eggs from her hens.

“I know how important it is to have fresh produce in your diet and it isn’t readily available to everyone,” said Millsaps. “I work with some of the sickest patients out there and they need proper nourishment.”

In recent weeks she has arranged for some patients to receive 28 frozen Mom’s Meals delivered to their home in coolers. She’s also arranged for an Indianapolis patient to receive deliveries from Gleaners. Patients must meet certain requirements and the services are made available for a period of time associated with COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.

“I went to Gleaners once and there was a two-mile wait just to get into the parking lot. It’s a sign of the times and my fear is the longer people go without work the worse this is going to get.”