Among those of us who care deeply for and about people with developmental disabilities, I hope to hear emerge a new voice, ours, rising together for the benefit of all, harmonizing with reason, respect and hope, and transcending divisions, giving birth to a new era of creative cooperation.

Toward this potential, DD EXCHANGE is for conversation, civil sounding off, sharing of stories, experience, information, resources, and inspiration, giving and receiving support, and creative problem solving.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

The House Where Kathy Lives


Hawaiian theme, marathon kareoke, shy smiles and out-loud laughter, home cooked potluck, old friends, family, professional and regular staff dropping in, and eventually, great giggles from Kathy as she whirled in her dancing wheelchair: The party at Kathy's house started outside on the covered patio, but came inside as breezes blew cooler.

Twenty years of familyhood at Elm Hall is something to be celebrated! Though a few residents have moved to other houses, the manager who opened the house and one AC-3 ("attendant counselor" supervisor) along with 3 of the original residents are still there. Elm has been home especially to medically fragile people (with dd); and so it is not surprising that in that time, several have "gone on to watch over us," as" Manager Mom" put it. (I am calling her "Manager Mom" for this post because I have not asked permission to use her name; and though she does manage the staff and their care of residents, her role is very much that of "Mom." She shows the love of a good mom to residents and staff, alike. Somehow, everybody gets what they need. )

Today, for the first time, I heard about the preparation for Elm's opening 20 years ago. From Manager Mom's speech: "One challenge was: How do you find staff who want to work in an area with total care, fragile people, lots of lifting and all wheelchair?" As it turned out, just enough people really wanted to work under those conditions, and they were just the right staff for the job!

This was the beginning of a housing change at Fircrest; and Elm had just been remodeled to accommodate half as many residents as Fircrest had formerly housed together. The conversion to nursing facility would follow soon after. A careful selection process had occurred so that the right folks would be transferring to the new house. They were to move all-together; so, for 3 months, the entire new staff worked side-by-side with their usual caregivers in order "to learn all of their idiosyncrasies, what they needed and liked in their daily routines as well as how to meet all of their medical needs." This also gave the residents time to get to know and trust their new caregivers before changing environments.

When Kathy moved there from another house on campus about 8 years ago, staff were oriented to her very extensive needs in a similar way. Manager Mom first learned every little nuance of her care, wrote procedures and trained staff, often one-on-one, so that Kathy absolutely got what she needed in the way that she liked and needed it. She is loved there and she feels it. She has been truly blessed to have had the same, wonderful manager-habilitation professional (HPA) and direct caregiver team for all of that time. A few have left and a few have taken their places, but turnover with it's accompanying disorientation has been minimal.

Just one parting thought. As a nurse, I know that having family around can be stressful, especially if they are like I am, wanting everything to be perfect for their loved one. On the other hand, as family, it was essential to my peace of mind to be there on a daily basis to be sure the details of Kathy's needs were attended to in the right way. Manager Mom handled me and my daily requests wonderfully, almost always accommodating them and/or helping me understand why not if she could not meet one. Problems never went unsolved. When, eventually, I did not come as often, I had confidence that Kathy was in the hands of people who knew the importance of each task and, truly caring about her as well as feeling supported, themselves, would not short-change her in their hurry to accommodate all the other, equally important needs of everyone else in their care.

As you might have guessed, I am extraordinarily grateful.