DON Daphne Wall: ‘Your place in the sun’

In our facility we hold great appreciation for our retiring director of nursing, Daphne Wall. Guiding us to excel in advocacy for our residents over her 20 years of experience, Daphne has always challenged her staff to look into the future, to ensure that the LTC nursing profession and the care delivered in the facility are something to be proud of.

She has done this in many ways at SunBridge Care and Rehabilitation for North Conway in North Conway, New Hampshire. Daphne has been actively involved in maintaining the facility's “Walking Works” program, an exercise program that involves all administrative and nursing staff in walking residents who require assistance to the dining room for their noon meal. Without her dedication to this program, it would have diminished and disappeared years ago, leaving residents less independent than they've become.

She diligently attends resident care conferences on a weekly basis, and regularly takes residents out for a favorite meal of fish and chips, or to the Fryeburg Fair, or to see the ocean.

She has helped to create and enhance a wonderful social model, bonding the nursing home staff with residents and families alike. She has created a cohesive nursing team atmosphere, ultimately providing a higher quality of life, greater dignity, and improved self-esteem for both staff and residents.

As a leader, Daphne focuses on employee relations, recognizing her nursing staff's essential role in contributing to SunBridge's overall objective of providing the highest quality of care.

She leads by example, motivating and supporting staff to continually increase their knowledge base, whether by subscribing to and reading journals, attending state Board of Nursing conferences, or attending community events for the older population.

She also encourages autonomy and independence of her staff while fostering a team spirit. Her leadership capabilities and active promotion of quality geriatric nursing are measured by the facility's low staff turnover rate, positive feedback from employees, and high scores on residents' and families' annual satisfaction surveys. Having seven deficiency-free years with the state survey agency has added to her stature.

Upon her departure, we, the professional staff, feel that Daphne Wall's exemplary service and dedication to the geriatric population of our community, and to creating the professional delivery of care here at SunBridge, make her the candidate of choice for recognition of life achievement.

Her story started years ago with a mission—a grand plan in 1988 for building a “dream” place where our elderly population could come and live out their golden years, the “brick building on the hill.” It would be the best long-term care facility in the valley.

The search was on for leadership. Barbara White accepted the administrator's job with great honor. She knew she needed a great cocaptain. Daphne arrived to establish the nursing department, and many of the original team members are still with us today.

Daphne has always had high expectations of her team. Proper dress code for themselves and conscientious use of soap and water, good skin care, and mouth care for the residents all are a must. There had better be “hospital corners” on those made beds along with bedspreads, call bells within reach, and fluids always offered.

Every morning Daphne comes down the stairs, making her rounds and checking in with her staff. She is always there to extend a hand to help out the staff; “many hands make light work” is her motto.

The hardest part for her is creating that dreadful work schedule. Every month she spends hours trying to grant every wish that is taped to her door. You often find her balancing shifts to meet the needs of residents and staff, accommodating holi-days and vacations: Every year it is “pick your holiday,” but you have to be available for at least two of them.

She is always able to negotiate with staff to cover when staff numbers are low. She is a miraculous problem solver. Her ability to get people to commit to that extra mile for our elderly always amazes me. She is “The Great Negotiator.”

On occasion, Daphne's “A-Team,” of which I am a member, would feel compelled to pull a prank. Once we set out to switch the furniture in her office to another office. The expression on her face as she entered her empty headquarters was priceless. We also had her arrested and placed in a jail—a mock jail, to raise money for charity. Her assistant, Jackie Lamb, raced around frantically with hat in hand to raise money to bail out our DON. To our surprise, she had been lost in the system! She was at a different jail from the one we thought. We eventually found her and brought her home, with enough money raised to strongly benefit the charity.

Barbara felt it was important to have the administrative staff switch jobs for a day so that everyone would experience the responsibility of another department.

One morning, Daphne worked in the kitchen, Kitchen Manager Sandy Stone worked in nursing, Sally Olsen, payroll, became the administrator, and Barbara handled payroll, to the great enlightenment and enhanced mutual respect of everyone.

The day came when William Gilmore, the owner, was approached by a corporation that wanted to buy into his lifetime dream. He thought long and hard and decided, finally, it would be for the best. Things started to change for our home away from home, with people showing up in three-piece suits admiring the facility's layout.

But staff were muttering to themselves, “What is all this? What are they doing here, coming to our facility on the hill?” Barbara and Daphne had to explain the changes and that Corporate America had arrived with a mission in hand. But the two were beside themselves. “Can we pull this off?” they wondered. There were so many changes happening—a PPS system, Speech/Physical Therapy programs, Restorative Programs, Occupational Therapy and, most importantly, writing the budget. Staff members came and went over the years, and it became more of a challenge to meet the numbers for scheduling. Call-ins started to happen.

Daphne was not one who tolerated call-ins, but she had to come up with a plan. So Barbara and Daphne pulled the A-Team together and asked for suggestions. Many incentives were offered—for example, higher education would be paid in full for all who were interested. Several staff members obtained nursing degrees and medication certifications. Soon we were back up to full staff and good scheduling. And we have a dedicated and, for the most part, long-experienced staff who treat residents as family.

Now, as Daphne Wall prepares to retire, we say this to her: You have excelled to perfection as our DON. You have created a team that has traveled the path with you. We have learned a lot that we will carry with us throughout our careers. Meanwhile, you will always have your place here in the sun.

Catherine Pinkham is a Licensed Medication Nursing Assistant at SunBridge Care and Rehabilitation for North Conway, North Conway, New Hampshire. A version of this article was written to honor Daphne Wall's retirement.

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