In July 1999, Kenny Vargas, a native of the Dominican Republic who lives in the Bronx, had a serious accident that rendered him quadriplegic at level C-3 on his spine at age 23. Suddenly, the physically active construction worker and some-time auto mechanic found himself sitting in a nursing home, waiting for his residence to be made accessible.
“You’re like a baby,” Kenny, who is now 42, recalls. “You have to learn how to do everything all over again. If you’re an active person, it affects you. It’s like you’re going a hundred miles an hour and then in a second, the emergency brakes are on.”
After he was finally able to gain access to his house in a wheelchair in early 2000, Kenny received a visit from a social worker named Karen Davis who asked if he would be interested in joining a brand new long-term care management plan called Independence Care System. It would cost him nothing, Karen said, and was designed to enable people with disabilities like Kenny’s to live at home and stay as independent as possible.
The company was so new, there were only a handful of employees, and all of them worked at its one office on Park Avenue South in Manhattan.
“I thought ‘I want to try it,’” Kenny says. Not that he had any great hopes. “It was like anything else: I thought, ‘I’ll see how it goes.’”
As it happened, Kenny was the very first member to enroll in ICS. If you look him up in the ICS membership database, you will see one lonely numeral in the “Member ID” line: 1.
Kenny laughs when asked if there were any privileges that come with being number 1.
“To be honest,” he says, “I didn’t know I was number 1! I was surprised when someone told me that.”
And how did ICS do from Kenny’s perspective?
“It’s been a positive experience,” he says. “ICS has helped me a lot. They’ve helped me with equipment, getting around, and my health. It’s actually been a life-changing experience being with ICS.”
Eighteen years later, ICS has three offices and over 300 employees. Karen Davis has risen to lead a number of departments—she is currently Director of Nursing Home Services.
And Kenny Vargas is still number 1.