By Susan Marquez
Sta-Home’s Marvelous Matriarch
At age 84, Joyce Caracci shows no signs of slowing down. “I keep 220 hot,” she laughs as she tells how she travels from her Northeast Jackson home to Dayspring Community Church of the Nazarene in Clinton. “I’m there several times a week, for church services on Sundays, then Bible study and prayer meetings.”
That’s not the only thing that keeps the energetic Caracci busy. She has been actively involved with the Center for Pregnancy Choices for 30 years, donating a building to them last December. She volunteers with the New Way prison ministry, and she sponsors a home for troubled girls ages eight to 18 in South Jackson. She does all that and still manages time to travel the world. “I just recently took a group to Italy.”
Staying busy must be the key to Caracci’s longevity. She is certainly one of the busiest, and happiest, people I’ve ever encountered. With all her activities, she still has her hand in the business she and her late husband, Vic, started in 1976.
Sta-Home Healthcare and Hospice is a business Caracci and her vacuum cleaner salesman husband began with a $5000 loan and a card table they set up in donated office space. It was an idea that came to her while visiting nursing homes for her job. She realized that it removed the decision-making from the patients. She knew there had to be an alternative.
She worked for what at the time was called the State Board of Health where she conducted surveys of operating rooms and nursing homes to make sure safety codes and fire regulations for Medicaid and Medicare. A mentor talked to Joyce about the concept of home health care and how it could be the answer. “She said it was the wave of the future,” recalls Caracci.
The business got off to a good start. “Vic assumed an administrative roll, and I did all the nursing. I took care of the patients and he took care of the money!”
The business has grown over the last 40 years to have 50 home health and hospice sites from Southaven to Natchez with over 1,200 employees.
Born to Nurse
Caracci says she has wanted to be a nurse since she was born. “I’m not sure why. I was an avid reader as a child, but I don’t remember reading any books about super nurses or anything. It has always been a calling for me.” Caracci grew up in rural Neshoba County in a sharecropping family that raised everything they ate. “I didn’t think we were poor, I just knew we didn’t have any money.”
Because of that, she thought she’d never be able to follow her dream of going to nursing school. “But I always wanted to be a nurse, and I put in a lot of effort to do it.” She graduated from Arlington High School in 1950 (“I was Miss Arlington High!”) and decided to work her way through nursing school as a waitress. Working back-to-back shifts, she began training as a registered nurse at St. Dominic Hospital in downtown Jackson. Then she met Vic.
“I was sunbathing in my aunt’s backyard on Court Street in Jackson and went inside to get a glass of water. There stood a dashing door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman talking with my aunt. She said ‘Are you going to sell me a vacuum cleaner or date my niece?’ He did both!” Caracci said that Vic was from New Orleans and came from a “very nice” family. Their marriage had a 57-year run before he passed away in 2010.
After marrying Vic, the couple had their first child and moved to Vicksburg, where Caracci completed her nurse’s training at Lutheran Hospital School of Nursing. She went to work for a short while at what is now Baptist Medical Center in Jackson before going to work at the newly built University Medical Center in the late 1950s.
Recalling how she cared so much about her patients that she often brought them home with her, Caracci said that she had a difficult time simply caring for the patients. “I got too involved,” shares Caracci. “It was suggested to me that I work in the operating room. I would work with one patient at a time, give it all I had, but then they’d go to the floor and I didn’t have time to form a relationship with them.”
One of the most famous operations she was involved with was the first-ever heart transplant surgery at UMC. “Boyd Rush was the patient, and he had irreversible heart disease. There was really no hope unless he had a new heart. When no donor heart was available, the decision was made to use a chimpanzee heart. We had a chimp in the lab that was anesthetized and Dr. James Hardy placed his heart in Mr. Rush’s body. The main thing he wanted to prove is that brain impulses would transmit to a foreign body, in that case, the chimp’s heart.” For 90 minutes the surgical team watched the heart beat until it stopped. “Then we cleaned up and went home.” It was a groundbreaking surgery that helped lay the foundation for the first human-to-human heart transplant in South Africa a few years later.
A Family Legacy
Sta-Home Health is a true family business. “Our youngest, Michael, was the first to be involved in the business after getting his degree in business administration from Southern Miss.” Eventually, daughter Christina, who has a degree in human resources, came on board, as did son Vincent, who has served as legal counsel. Vincent’s wife, Denise, ran the hospice program. Technically, Caracci is retired, although she said she is still “slightly involved” running the marketing side of the business.
Caracci is proud of the business she built. “We started something that will go on forever.” At her retirement party, she told everyone that she had taught them everything she knows. “They know what to do. Now it’s their turn to rock the baby!”
Susan Marquez, a professional writer and “empty nester,” Susan enjoys life in Madison with her husband, Larry. They enjoy watching their son, Joe, play football for Millsaps College and they marvel at the miracle of daughter, Nicole, who has survived the unimaginable and is now a sought-after motivational speaker. Susan is currently writing a book about Nicole. (To learn more, visit www.youcantstopthisdancer.com.)