City commission candidate Judy Bellome seeks to make change from caregiver to commissioner
Judy Bellome can tell you that the emergency room of Kings County Hospital in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., isn’t exactly a place where a lot of kings come to visit.
But as a nurse in the hospital’s emergency department from 1969 to 1971, she can attest that it is a place where you learn a lot.
Like, if young children do eat lead paint that has chipped off from a tenement wall, they really will have seizures and convulse. Or that gunplay in Flatbush isn’t too uncommon, and that — perhaps not unrelated — there were reasons even the children’s ward of the ER always had security guards.
Mainly, though, it taught her about being a part of something bigger than herself.
“It really taught me about team,” Bellome said. “You can’t do it all by yourself. You have to have a team of people around you, and you have to be willing to learn how to do whatever is necessary to get the job done.”
Bellome has a team she is interested in joining now. Bellome is one of 11 candidates who has filed for a seat on the Lawrence City Commission.
Address: 5605 Villa Drive
Profession: Retired health care administrator
Education: undergraduate degree in nursing education from University of St. Mary, Leavenworth; master’s in education from Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.
Family: Married to husband, John; three grown children
Being part of a team that runs a community is appealing to her, in part, because she’s lived in a lot of them. She grew up the daughter of an Air Force father who moved his family to eight states during Bellome’s education.
“I attribute my flexibility and comfort level with being drawn toward change,” Bellome said. “I am a change agent and a risk-taker.”
Bellome, 67, retired in December as the chief executive officer of the Lawrence-based Visiting Nurses Association. It completed a career that has been spent in the caregiving field, and began about age 16.
As a high school student in the small Air Force town of Burns Flat, Okla., Bellome took an interest in a young grade school-age neighborhood boy who had cerebral palsy.
“I would just read to him when he and his parents would come over to our house,” Bellome said. “Then his mother started asking me to come over and help care for him. It was a turning point. I found I really got a lot out of being a caregiver, and I was good at it.
Good enough that Bellome got accepted into medical school at the University of Oklahoma, but instead chose to pursue a degree in nursing in order to be closer to her family, which already had moved from Oklahoma by the time she was ready to start school.
For years, Bellome largely lived in the Kansas City area, where she was the director of the nonprofit nursing organization Clinicare for 10 years. She then moved into a corporate job with Atlanta-based GranCare, where she helped set up home health care agencies in markets across the country.
Bellome also taught nursing classes at Avila University in Kansas City, and there she put her philosophy of change into practice when she happened to see a Navy recruiter on campus one day.
“I told him that I kind of had always wished that I had joined the Navy,” Bellome said. “Being a good recruiter, he said, ‘You still can.'”
For eight years, Bellome ended up serving as a Naval Reserve officer, ultimately rising to a commanding officer status on a hospital ship. She left the service right as the Desert Storm conflict was beginning, in large part, because her husband — who is an oral surgeon — was on active duty in Iraq. She needed to stay home and care for their children.
Bellome’s final act in the caregiving business was at the Visiting Nurses Association, where she served as the nonprofit’s leader from 2005 to 2012. The association has been a long-time provider of home health care throughout Douglas County, but under Bellome’s leadership the organization expanded into Topeka. It also started a new practice that allowed the organization to service patients with private insurance, rather than just relying on Medicare reimbursements.
The changes helped the organization’s annual budget grow from about $2 million when she started to about $6 million nearly seven years later.
“You definitely learn how to set your priorities and spend your money in ways to support those priorities,” Bellome said.
Bellome plans to remind voters that she is the only candidate who can bring a retiree’s perspective to the commission, which she said may be useful as the city considers ways to make the community more of destination for retirees. Bellome said she strongly supports those efforts, as well as making the community more attractive to retirees who already live here. On other issues, Bellome said she:
• Wants City Hall to start taking a longer-term look at community needs as part of the city’s annual budget process. “I want the City Commission to be planning at least three to five years down the road,” Bellome said.
• Will look for ways to improve communication between City Hall and residents. “There are a lot of questions that arise because people think they don’t know or think they haven’t been told everything,” Bellome said. “I would like to address that.”
A Feb. 26 primary will narrow the field of 11 city commission candidates down to six. The general election — where the top three vote winners will take a seat on the commission — will be April 2.