Around Arbour SeniorCare in Haverhill, Mass., clinical nurse specialist Michael C. LaFerney is known as “Mike from Psych.”
“That’s kind of my nickname everywhere,” he says. “I like it. It has a nice ring to it.”
All joking aside, however, LaFerney takes very seriously his job of providing comprehensive mental health services to skilled nursing residents, including those with dementia.
“It’s an interesting area where you can combine psychology, nursing and counseling,” he says. “It’s all there in the geriatric area.”
LaFerney’s interest in psychology began in college. He attended nursing school while in the Air Force. Later, he was an officer in the Army Reserves, serving as a psychiatric nurse. His own aging process heightened his interest in working with older adults, he says.
The beneficiaries of his expertise include not just the residents for whom he cares and the people with whom he works; he also is an adjunct professor at Quincy College, Quincy, Mass., where he teaches psychology one night a week. And he has shared research as well as his thoughts and experiences through articles published in publications such as Current Psychiatry, Advance for Nurses, Nurse Recruiter Magazine and Reflections on Nursing Leadership, the magazine of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, of which he is a member. He writes about three times a year for the latter publication.
“You see a lot of things that are interesting. I want to bring an awareness, and I like to hear what other nurses experience,” LaFerney says of his writing. “When I got into working in nursing homes,” he explains, “there were a lot of issues to write about. There are a lot of things going on, and there’s not a lot of research on [nursing home] patients compared with other areas of mental health.”
LaFerney has written about suicide in nursing homes and workers who treat residents like infants. The latter behavior can devolve into abuse, he says. “A lot of people use terms like dear and honey, and it’s meant with affection, I guess, but it comes across as demeaning and as not taking the person seriously,” LaFerney says. “We should be aware that these people need respect and to be treated as adults. We’re all going to be old someday, if we’re lucky, and we should treat our elders with respect.”
Another frequent topic area for his writing is medication—the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness of some drugs; medications used unnecessarily; drug side effects; the fact that sometimes, as in the case of residents with some mental illnesses, antipsychotic medications are useful; the need for drug monitoring so residents only take medication as long as it benefits them—as well as alternatives to drugs when caring for residents who have mental health issues. LaFerney says his next paper will address the lower priority that some facilities seem to be giving to their infection control efforts.
He also is a member of the Society for Social and Personality Psychology, the International Association of Holistic Psychology and the New Zealand Association of Positive Psychology, among other organizations. He has been honored by the American Association of Ambulatory Behavioral Healthcare and other organizations. In addition to being a registered nurse and an adult psychiatric-mental health clinical nurse specialist and holding a master’s degree and certificate of advanced graduate study in counseling, he earned the equivalent of a U.S. doctoral degree in psychology from the University of Central Nicaragua.
When asked what advice he would give anyone working in long-term care, he says: “I would recommend that people get to know the patients so you can work with them better and understand their issues, personality and style. I always enjoy reading the work history. You see the patients who are in nursing homes and who are frail or have dementia. Then you read about the lives they’ve led, the interesting things they did and the accomplishments they’ve had, and it really makes you understand the person.”
Read about the other 2015 Long-Term Living Leaders of Tomorrow here.