By Marianne Delorey ©
In the Sound of Music, the nuns sing How do you solve a problem like Maria? because Maria is not well suited to life in the Abbey. In the world of elder care, I have had a similar quandary. Although I will spare you the singing, if I could give this a title, it would be, “How do you explain the solution that is Liz?”
Liz does not work for my company, but we are lucky enough that her company provides service to our residents. Liz is a home health aide. She helps get the residents out of bed, washed up and dressed for the day. She cleans their apartments, does their shopping, washes their clothes, makes sure they take their medications and gets them breakfast. This is a standard job description for a homecare worker.
What makes Liz exceptional is her ability to focus on details for each person while seeing the big picture in our building.
We joke that Liz doesn’t walk through our building. When we see her, she bounces. Her unbridled energy and enthusiasm show in everything she does. She brings smiles to all of her residents, but also to the families of those she serves and to the housing staff, who know that when Liz is around everyone is better off.
Liz pays attention to the details that make her clients live comfortably. She is cheerful and upbeat with people who are sometimes inclined toward depression and sadness. When someone doesn’t feel like taking a shower, she tells them the temperature is just right and that “the spa” is waiting for them. She makes sure to get the soaps and moisturizers they like so that when they are done, they truly do feel better.
Liz pays attention to the details of others. When she is heading to the store for a client, she will often check on other residents who don’t have caregivers to see if they need anything while she is out. When there is a bad storm and families can’t come, she will pick up milk on her own time for residents so they don’t try to get out.
Liz sees the bigger picture. In her spare time, Liz writes beautiful calligraphy and posts inspirational messages for our residents on the bulletin board. She makes a point to check in with management when there is something that they need to know about. These issues can range from an overuse of the laundry machines to concern about a resident. If she sees something that needs to be done or that can become a bigger problem, she will make sure to take care of it or make sure someone else knows well in advance.
Liz also understands how her role supports the role of the family. One of her clients reported that because Liz cares for her so well, when family members visit, they actually get to spend quality time together instead of running to the store or doing housework.
As we prepare for the graying of America, our society needs to find ways to promote and appreciate our caregivers. This appreciation needs to come not only from the elders and their families, but from society as a whole. Next time you see a caregiver in action, validate the work they do. Encourage them to pass on their skills to the next generation of elder care providers. We will need more and more people who have that perfect balance of hard work and compassion to fill the growing need for elder care workers. Let’s not shortchange ourselves as we age. Let’s create the Solution that is Liz.
Marianne Delorey, Ph.D. is the executive director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or firstname.lastname@example.org and www.colonyretirementhomes.com. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com