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Former TV reporter now appears in training videos she produces

Friday, November 10, 2000

By Joyce Gannon, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Debra Fox left a high-profile, on-air reporting job at WTAE-TV in 1986 to become a full-time mom. While raising four children in the South Hills suburbs over the last 14 years, she worked occasionally on public television shows and as a media consultant.

Former WTAE reporter Debra Fox holds a monitor displaying one of the interactive CD-ROMs that her company, Fox FarSight, produces.

But Fox, who admits to missing the "pressure-cooker" rush of producing daily spots for the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts, frequently wondered if she'd find a way to reconnect professionally with her passion for writing and telling stories.

She found it through her husband, Jules Rosen, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. An expert in geriatrics, Rosen for decades has tracked the escalating problem of keeping good, skilled workers at nursing homes. He figured his wife would be a natural at writing, producing and narrating computer-based programs to train nursing home personnel.

The idea sprouted into a company, Fox FarSight Productions Inc. Since incorporating in 1997, it has produced a series of 13 CD-ROMs on aging and caring for the elderly, Fox said, and has 60 more on the drawing board.

Fox appears in the computer-based videos, in which she conducted on-site interviews with nursing home residents to provide the series with both a news documentary feel and "an emotional connection" that she contends text-based training doesn't have.

Besides being the primary researcher, writer and producer, Fox is the chief executive and sole owner of Fox FarSight. She has three full-time and four part-time employees who handle the technical side. Her husband consults on certain program topics.

"I'm the company; he has a full-time job at Pitt," Fox joked one morning this week at her offices in a small Bridgeville professional building.

The training "modules" in the "Solutions for Long Term Care" series include programs on the aging process, depression of the elderly, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, medications and elder abuse.

Fox funded the first 13-part series through a $350,000 grant from the National Institute on Aging. She's now scouting for more money to produce more.

Though her first round of research funding is gone, she's kept the company going through sales to long-term care facilities, including the Charles M. Morris Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Squirrel Hill; Villa St. Joseph's, Baden; and Longwood at Oakmont.

The series is priced at $13,000 -- or $1,000 for each program, which runs approximately 30 to 45 minutes.

Fox said buyers like the CD-ROM format because it provides care facilities with scheduling and training flexibility.

A nursing home aide working an overnight shift, for instance, could pop the program into a computer at 3 a.m. instead of being asked to attend a training session on overtime.

"It saves money because [the nursing home] doesn't have to send people out for training," she said.

By using either a computer mouse or touch-screen display, the interactive format gives trainees an opportunity to answer questions while the program is running. It also allows them to repeat sessions or parts of programs they've already viewed.

A native of upstate New York, Fox spent a decade as a general assignment reporter for WTAE, starting in 1976.

After working a full shift at the station one day in January 1986, she went into labor and delivered her first son -- five weeks before his due date.

"I always anticipated going back after a year," said Fox, now 50.

But by the time she gave birth to her second son in October 1987, Fox was committed to full-time motherhood. Her family in Upper St. Clair now includes another son, 10, and a daughter, 7. As an entrepreneur running an expanding start-up, Fox is back to a full-time work schedule. And thrilled to be there.

"I'm proud of this product ... I've been able to take my skills and hopefully make a difference in the [nursing home] industry."

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