Doing the Right Thing; It Can Come Naturally

by David Sprowl: Executive Director at Lutheran Towers, Atlanta; Director CCAL.

A recent and very personal experience put the concept of person-centered care in the forefront of my mind.  Last month, my 90-year old grandmother, Mama Dora, fell and broke her hip.  Until that time, she had lived independently in her own home and until her car was wrecked by her great-grandson, she was still driving.  Being the dutiful grandson, I immediately took the one and a half hour car trip to be by her side. 

In less than a two week span, she underwent successful hip surgery, a short hospital stay, rehab in another city, and was suddenly returned to the hospital with renal failure before peacefully dying.  As someone who is particularly sensitive to how individuals treat Elders, I was struck at how well the hospital staff interacted with Mama Dora.

From the aids to the nurses, to the doctors, everyone without exception focused on her.  They did not exclude my family in their  interactions, but it was clear that my grandmother held their primary interest.  They spoke directly to her, asked her personal questions about her family, about how she was feeling, etc.  Now, I must acknowledge that Mama Dora has never met a stranger, so she exerted her own personality in the exchange.

I suspected that each staff member providing care was not especially trained to be sensitive to the needs of Elders, but it was simply a natural part of who they were.  Upon asking one of the nurses, I  learned that they had not received any special training related to  eldercare.  It turns out that she and the others had only received basic patient care training delivered via educational videos.  She had never heard of culture change, patient-directed care, or person-centered care.

Often, we only hear the horror stories, but we have to acknowledge that there are those who are doing the right things for the right reasons, but lack the awareness and formal training that provides them a common language from which to speak and a platform for working at a higher level.

Although what I observed seemed to happen naturally, how much more meaningful would the experience have been if the individuals providing the care were given tools to enable them to create a culture of caring that would last beyond the current group of employees?

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One Response to Doing the Right Thing; It Can Come Naturally

  1. Cindy Kauffman says:

    Pardon my lateness in reading some of my mail including David’s. The story was not only lovely to read but I believe it also makes a strong statement of what we must keep mindful of when we talk about person-centered (or directed) services. With many years of working to promote person-centered (or family-centered with children), I have found the statement about staff and training to be a critical component that can determine if we ever “get” to person-centered services. I do not readily believe that we can train people to be truly person-centered in the way services and supports are delivered. If a person, or the system for which they work, is based upon the notion that professional expertise and rules make for quality services to people, the best tools and training will not ever develop into person-centered delivery. In fact, learning the right words only makes bad services harder to detect. I strongly believe that it is the foundation of the person/staff and the system within which they work that is inherently person-directed. Then the tools and training can help them to excel and assure that our parents, grandparents, and we get the kind of services David writes of.

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