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Justin Wolgemuth is leading a new division at Masonic Village in Elizabethtown that focuses on home health and hospice care.

When he was just starting out, Justin Wolgemuth admits he sometimes hesitated to tell people he was a nurse.

A 1992 graduate of Manheim Central High School, where he was an inside linebacker on the football team, Wolgemuth said he considered both construction and nursing as possible post-high school careers.

Although he admired his dad, who worked as a nurse, Wolgemuth said he was keenly aware of a negative stigma about men working in the field.

“I’m very comfortable in my own skin today, but it took me a little bit in the beginning as a young man to get there,” he said. “I was a little nervous about what people were going to think of me.”

Wolgemuth attended St. Joseph School of Nursing in Lancaster, where he was one of four men in his 39-member graduating class.

Wolgemuth’s first job was in the intensive-care unit of the former St. Joseph Hospital on College Avenue. On the job, he said, he got used to stocking his own extra large latex gloves while also dealing with patients who would assume their nurse would be a woman.

Yet, Wolgemuth says he felt like he was encouraged by other nurses who appreciated a male perspective, as well as the help in lifting patients.

“Men and women together on a team gives a nice complement of skill sets,” he said.

Along the way, Wolgemuth got a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Millersville University and continued to find new opportunities.

He eventually became a visiting nurse, then moved into management roles, including a job he got in 2016 as vice president of clinical services at Mennonite Home Communities.

Late last year, Wolgemuth was hired in a newly created position at Masonic Village in Elizabethtown, where he oversees the retirement community’s programs of visiting nurses.

The 45-year-old Wolgemuth said his own career path illustrates the possibilities of a career in nursing, showing why he thinks it’s something more young men should consider.

“It’s not something that most young men look at, unfortunately, but there’s so much of an opportunity, so much of a need,” he said.

New at Masonic Village

Since December, Wolgemuth has been president of Masonic Village Home Health, Home Care and Hospice, a newly launched division of Masonic Village at Elizabethtown.

His job is to provide oversight of visiting caregivers at Masonic Village who help people with shopping or laundry (home care), offer in-home nursing assistance (home health), and provide supportive care to people who are dying (hospice.)

“With all three together, it makes the transition of care smoother for someone who needs it,” he said. “We can be the best because we have the best setup.”

The program has 110 staff members, including 52 in home care, 25 in home health and 33 in hospice. Last year, home health averaged 65 client visits a month, and home care had 123 monthly visits. Last year, hospice cared for 346 people.

The common denominator is that caregivers are mobile, visiting people where they’re at. It’s an aspect of nursing that has been the focus of Wolgemuth’s career and which he says has become increasingly popular as providers try to avoid costly hospital stays.

“They don’t want to be (in a hospital),” he says of patients. “They would much rather safely be taken care of in their home than be in a bed somewhere in a hospital.”

Patients and physicians are more comfortable today with having care provided at home than they were in the past, Wolgemuth said.

“It’s much more accepted than it used to be,” he said, adding: “There’s still a lot of opportunity to educate around what can be offered right where they are in their homes.”

Wolgemuth credits the staff at Masonic Village for creating a robust program that he envisions offering service to anyone who needs it.

“We focus here, but our goal is to expand it to others,” he said.

Traveling care

Wolgemuth’s new role returns him to the type of nursing he’s done for most of his career.

After two years at St. Joseph Hospital, Wolgemuth got a job giving infusions in patients’ homes, a move he said some of his colleagues perceived as him not being able to “hack it” in the hospital.

But Wolgemuth says since visiting nurses typically are on their own, they have to be among the best.

“It takes a nurse that can flex, that can change, that’s adaptive, that has confidence, that has a variety of skill sets and that can function independently,” he said.

Since his job at Masonic Village has him overseeing caregivers who travel from home to home, Wolgemuth tries to stay in touch with what that’s like.

On weekends, Wolgemuth still does patient infusions on the road through Horizon Healthcare, the company where he spent more than 12 years as a visiting nurse and then worked as a manager.

“I never quite let it go completely. I didn’t forget where I came from,” he said. “I do a little bit of that just to remember what it’s like out there.”

Whether it is doing some direct care himself or setting up systems that can help caregivers focus on patients, Wolgemuth said he values being able to impact people’s lives, something that’s the hallmark of the career he now feels confident telling anyone about.

“We get to make a difference to people at their worst times,” he said. “It’s a privilege to be able to do that.”