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Setting an example

December 28, 2017
by Bruce Williams
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Guest Blog

The long-term care industry is in a state of constant evolution and continued effort to improve the quality of resident care. In light of recent negative headlines, I feel compelled to commend the thousands of caring, competent and devoted long-term care workers who often sacrifice much of their personal lives in an unrecognized effort to watch over our society’s most frail and vulnerable population.

One outstanding role model is Jean Rogers, who in 1981 was the newly-appointed, executive director of a large continuous care retirement community (CCRC) in Houston. Jean was raised in north Texas, possessed a natural “Ivory Girl” sort of beauty and had an innate love and compassion for nearly everyone she met.

Houston has twice elected a lesbian candidate as their mayor in recent years, but it has a checkered past in terms of homophobia, intolerance and bigotry. Long before the growth of the current cultural competency movement and even amid the adversity of an open Ku Klux Klan storefront less than 10 miles from her campus, Jean created an atmosphere of acceptance and inclusivity for both her residents and co-workers. Jean’s setting a tone of tolerance in all areas of the community that resulted in superior resident care both on a daily basis as well as during unanticipated emergency situations.

The retirement community consisted of 330 independent living apartments, was licensed to serve 54 intermediate care and 70 nursing care residents and was but one tiny holding in the portfolio of Lomas & Nettleton Corporation, one of the nation’s largest mortgage bankers. Lomas & Nettleton was based in Dallas and was the epitome of opulence as portrayed in the television series Dallas. With no other healthcare entity in the Lomas & Nettleton portfolio, there was no “corporate” to set policies and procedures or to turn to for help, either. Jean had to do everything on her own. She did—and did it well. Jean taught her staff the day-to-day provision of quality resident care reduced the panic of city and state inspections. Consequently, she was frequently awarded a Superior Rating by state surveying officials. When faced with emergencies, such as utility outages or hurricanes, Jean and the majority of staff with their respective families would move onto campus in a united effort to serve and to safeguard the residents.

Jean had a unique ability to read, assess and anticipate the needs of our senior population. Having worked closely with her for more than a decade, I truly feel she is one of the foremost outstanding founders of what is today known as assisted living (AL).

This particular CCRC’s independent living area consisted of six three-story apartment buildings while the nursing and intermediate care units were housed in a separate two-story healthcare center. Both floors of the healthcare center were lovely to look at but also very institutional in their appearance. I recall in the very early 1980s, Jean was troubled by the significant emotional and psychological impact of transferring seniors from a home-like setting in independent living to the sterile hospital-like setting. She set out to create a healthcare center that would afford her residents comfort, dignity and independence.

The first floor of the F Building consisted of 24 apartments and a spacious lobby area. Jean left 23 apartments just as they were but completely gutted the last to create a community dining area. She redesigned a large storage closet to serve as a small nursing station, added a part-time licensed practical nurse and some full-time certified nursing assistants. When her independent living residents began to experience some ambulation issues and/or needed a small degree of assistance with Activities of Daily Living, they were offered the opportunity to move (with all of their treasures) from their original apartment to a similar apartment in the newly-created area. At the time, the area was simply referred to as “First Floor F Building.” Looking back, it had the appearance of the ghost of AL’s past and is similar to the various types of models presently found throughout the United States.

A successful executive director of a CCRC needs a skill set that includes dedication, strength, caring and adaptability to meet the changing needs of our nation’s elders. A good executive director creates an aura of compassion, acceptance and inclusivity. Jean was a brilliant executive director.

At first my boss, she later became a devoted mentor and to this day remains a life-long friend. I was humbled and honored to be a recipient of I Advance Senior Care’s Leadership of Tomorrow Award in 2016. Any good I may have done in the field of long term care is a result of following Jean’s lead. I would like to thank her for setting such an example and showing me the way.

Bruce Williams works as the senior services coordinator with The Pride Center at Equality Park, a nonprofit center that serves the LGBT community of South Florida.

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