This morning I was looking through one of the storage closets near my office, trying to locate whatever it was that I was looking for….As soon as I opened the door, I immediately forgot what prompted me to search for it. You think that’s bad, the other morning I was putting away dinner dishes from the night before, putting everything in its proper place before I left for work. Having completed the task, I searched high and low for my freshly poured coffee. I retraced my steps, looking in the bedroom, bathroom, patio, deck, living room…..my coffee was nowhere to be found. That evening as I was retrieving dishes for dinner, guess what I found, sitting right beside the dinner plates? Yep, my “not-so-fresh” coffee. I wonder how it got in there? Hmm.
Anyway, now that we all know I am an absent-minded professor, back to my story of this particular morning. What was talking about? Oh yes, the storage closet. As I am rooting through the contents, looking for whatever it was that I no longer needed, I found a VHS tape that had been donated by a former resident’s daughter. Peggy. I will never ever forget Peggy. I may lose my glasses, my car keys and my coffee, but never will I forget her. She was a thorn in my side for over ten years.
Back in 2000, I was working for a large health care corporate facility in northern Virginia. I had been sent from Richmond to this location to bring this poorly performing building up to speed..I was sent with a very heavy agenda of who to fire, how to increase revenue, and to “save” the building from the chopping block. This was not an easy task by easy means. The former administrator worked an average of ten hours a week. Yes ten. Ten hours. A week. Ten. Needless to say, the corporate office finally caught on to her lack of work, hence sending me to revive the facility.
My first week there, I had three state agencies hot on my trail, demanding reports, files, open adult protective service claims and Peggy. Yes, Peggy comes straight into this story right off the bat. I was extremely busy trying to divert the facilities closure, and I constantly have this annoying family member standing in my office demanding my full attention. I really lacked the time for her, but I sat and listened to how the staff performs poorly, how we have lost her mother’s pink pant suit, how we shrunk her sweater in the dryer and why I allow the kitchen to serve “slop”.
Corporate office was pushing for results, demanding increased revenues; agencies were running me over for plans of correction, threatening to close the facility; yet Peggy was demanding I find, or replace her mother’s pink pant suit. REALLY???
Over the course of many months, things were fixed, poorly performing employees were fired, quality of care improved, agencies were satisfied with the progress and the pink pant suit was located. Yet, Peggy remained in my office daily. She found the most trivial things to fuss about, from the wrong denture adhesive being used, her mother not wearing matching clothes, her mother not having on her glasses, blah blah blah blah. Wait. These things are not TRIVIAL. These things are important to her mother’s care. The more Peggy fussed, the more I paid attention and realized I was one of the poorly performing employees.
Over the years, Peggy taught me about person centered care. She taught me to NOTICE the small details of every patient in my care. I began noticing pink pants accented with red shirts. I could hear Peggy’s voice in my head, “Would you go out in public dressed like that?” Ummmmmmm, NO. Why should we dress our patients in mismatched clothing? Because we are too lazy to look in the closet and find matching clothes that look nice together, that’s why. That’s what Peggy told me over and over again, until I caught on to what she was REALLY saying. The more I listened to Peggy, the more I came to understand and agree with her thoughts. I learned how to be a better person and a better administrator simply by listening to Peggy, and heeding her advice.
Years passed, and I took another job in northern Virginia, attacking another troubled facility ;setting out to rescue it from failure. Sitting at my desk one day, I looked up to see Peggy standing in front of my desk. ” You left your mouse pad behind, so I thought I would bring it to you”, she offered. No hello, no warm fuzzy hugs, just a direct statement. The mouse pad was a picture of my beloved Jack Russell Terrier, and Peggy knew I would be looking for it. I thanked her as she turned to leave. “I want to move my mother here.” No, polite you’re welcome”, just those words blurted out. ” Okay”. That was it. Two days she moved in.
Peggy’s mother lived in my facility for another 5 years. She passed away on a Tuesday with Peggy at her bedside. Peggy herself did not well in the days before her mother’s decline. She appeared weak, short of breath and pale in color. Nurses took her vitals, encouraged her to visit her doctor, but Peggy refused, insisting that she “be there for mom”.
On Saturday, I received a phone call from Peggy’s daughter. I thought she was calling about her grandmother’s things left behind at the facility. Instead, she was calling to tell me Peggy was in the hospital and probably would not make it through the night. Without hanging up the phone, I raced to the hospital.
There she was, hooked to wires, cables, IV’s and monitors. I took her hand, as she opened her eyes and smiled at me. Jokingly I said to her, “get up off your lazy bum and go harass some poor administrator somewhere in the world.” Peggy squeezed my hand tightly and whispered, “Thank you for taking care of mom.” That was it.
Sunday morning, Peggy died. I attended her funeral a short time after and was moved by how many lives Peggy had touched. The church was overflowing. Her husband spoke at the service,describing her as a woman who loved her family, especially her mother. He used words to describe her such as “caring,compassionate, gentle, loving and bold.” Peggy was indeed all of those things. I just had to learn to accept the fact that what Peggy saw when she walked into the facility was really indeed the truth. She taught me to get up from behind the cherry desk,put down the phone, stop adding revenue numbers,and get up and pay attention to the care being provided to the residents. She cared about all of the residents, and boldly put me in my place.
Today, a 5×7 picture hangs in my office. It’s of Peggy. I have it there to remind me of the lessons she taught me, and the standard of care she held me accountable for. We, as administrators have our college degrees, state licenses and certifications plastered all over our walls to show people our “mastery of expertise” in long-term care. Peggy earned her place on my wall, teaching me more than any class, seminar or workshop ever could.
She was a thorn in my side for ten years or more, but she made me a better person and a better administrator. Her legacy will live on in every facility I manage. I think every long-term care facility needs one family member like her, daring to hold us accountable, even for the trivial things.