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OH, by the way…

December 1, 2007
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This Month's Victim:

A widely respected MDS expert and frequent presenter at state and national conferences, Leah has been called “the Erma Bombeck of long-term care.” Never at a loss for words, she brings her own unique insights and humor to any discussion. I tracked her down at her Alliance, Ohio office, where she was just kicking back after an intense week of nurse training.

Hi. Is this Leah?

There's nobody else here at this time of night, honey.

Let me make sure my recording device is working.

Would you like me to sing a few bars of the “Star-Spangled Banner” while we're waiting?

That's always a good way to start.

I have been known to spontaneously vocalize at various times in my career.

Such as?

When I have a seminar group that's not paying attention, I use all kinds of ulterior and alternative methods to get them to focus.

Such as?

Leah Klusch makes an MDS fashion statement

Leah Klusch makes an MDS fashion statement

My style has always been on the edge, and I do a lot of things spontaneously. I'll move people around the room, or sit on the lap of a participant. I have placed lipstick-laden kisses on the foreheads of men with receding hairlines, particularly when they say something profound related to my topic.

As positive reinforcement?

Right. It brings a certain sense of camaraderie and enjoyment to the learning environment. Usually I try to focus on the most unsuspecting members of my audience, especially those who try to hide in the back row.

So who were you working with today?

All week I've been training nurses to be excellent teachers of caregivers.

Did they pay attention? Did you have to throw an eraser or send anyone to timeout?

No, but I had to make them relax. Nurses are so serious.

Do you use any special tricks to train nursing home administrators?

Something I suggest is for them to show up to work in sweats and actually stay in a resident's unit for half a day. Get in the bed, listen to the noises, experience things from the resident's perspective. Ideally, I have them do that for a 24-hour period, where they have to ask for assistance to get to the bathroom, have their meals brought to them, and are actually a recipient of care. Those who do this tell me how much they've learned, but it takes a certain degree of bravery to put themselves in that position.

Do any of them crawl into bed, pull the covers over their heads, and refuse to return to their jobs as nursing home administrators?

I think that on various days that would be an excellent escape.

For people who aren't familiar with your enterprise, you're the founder of the Alliance Training Center (ATC). Is that in any way connected to the shadowy international organization that was Sydney Bristow's nemesis on the TV show Alias?

No, I have no part of that. In fact, the ATC is a fabulous nonprofit foundation that was conceived to focus on caregiving and caregiver education.

You've never met anyone named Sloane? You have no knowledge of the Rambaldi device?

I do not have any knowledge of that, nor do I wish to. That's beyond my skill set.

The show seemed to center around people in tight-fitting costumes performing late-night spy tasks in Baltic countries.

I have traveled in Baltic countries in loose-fitting clothing and found it to be very enjoyable.

So what exactly do you do at the ATC?

Among many other things, I've been running a caregiver education program since 1989. We're also the only company in the country that offers a nationally recognized MDS competency program for interdisciplinary professionals.

As a young girl, when was the first time you remember lying back on the grass, looking at the clouds, and dreaming of the day you could spend every waking moment immersed in nursing home regulation?

At the age of 17, I was told by my mother that I was going to be a nurse. I didn't have any significant introduction to the profession, other than that I had been a candy-striper in the hospital snack bar. I enjoyed working there because we could have two hot fudge sundaes every day. So basically I got into nursing because I liked ice cream.I was the first child in our family to go to college. My parents packed me in the car one day and dropped me off at the campus with my two little suitcases and bedding. It's a far sight different from the way kids go to school today, renting the U-Haul truck and making 14 trips.

Did you immediately know you'd found your niche?

Yes, but when I graduated, the dean of my school of nursing warned me that I should never work in institutional care because I was much too unbridled. This was back in the early 1960s, and I was one of the nurses who wouldn't stand up when the doctors came on the unit.

Why not?

I didn't see any reason why I should. I was busy.

So you left hospital nursing and gave up all that ice cream?

No, I didn't give up the ice cream.

And now doctors stand when you walk into the room.

Well, I hope some of them do.

How did you get into long-term care?

A friend of mine was the director of nursing at a local nursing home, and needed another nurse. I had a bachelor's degree, and she named me the assistant DON. I had no idea what that meant. It was a rather large facility and I became absolutely dedicated to improving the lot of the residents. I also discovered I had an innate skill to communicate to groups, so I started teaching and have never stopped.