Just one more question

Like Lieutenant Columbo, the great TV detective, Long-Term Living

columnist Gary Tetz (Funny You Should Ask) always has one more question. In this bimonthly feature, he talks with long-term care leaders about anything that pops into his mind. He’s as surprised as you are that they’ll speak to him.

This Month’s Victim:

Tim Dressman

Executive Director

St. Leonard

Centerville, Ohio

Tim Dressman has more than 25 years of health and housing experience in acute and long-term care. He’s currently executive director of St. Leonard, a 240-acre senior living community in Centerville, Ohio, and is also the Chair of the Board of Directors of the American College of Health Care Administrators.

His will be the final “Oh, by the way…” interview conducted for this magazine, an emotionally wrenching fact I withheld until the last possible moment.

Are you still willing to subject yourself to this ordeal?

Oh sure. You can abuse me all you want.

How did you get started in this profession?

This is my 20th year as a nursing home administrator. I could go back to when I was 13 and had my first job in a nursing home, but I don’t think you want to hear the whole story.

What was that first job?

It was taking residents up and down on the elevator to eat. I picked them up in their rooms, wheeled them to their dining table, and then took them back when they were done.

What did you think of them?

Because of my own grandparents, I knew they deserved a lot of respect. They wanted to be friends with me, so I ended up playing cards with them in the afternoons, for instance. I got to appreciate them as people, not just as a job.

How did that experience shape your view of what senior care should be?

I’ve always said that the most effective senior care leadership and philosophy comes from folks who have done all those jobs before. In fact, when I talk to students each year at the universities, I remind them that they need to work as nurse aides, and in jobs like housekeeping, maintenance, and dietary. They need to be able to roll up their sleeves and do what they expect their people to do. I’m a big advocate of that because it gave me a better understanding of the profession. And you get more respect when people know you’ve done the job they’re doing, and are still willing to do it.

So at age 13, you already knew this is what you wanted to do for the next few decades?

I didn’t know it back then. I just worked there because my dad made me do it. But years later, when I finally got my license and was able to walk into a nursing home and be the administrator, I knew that’s what I should have done years earlier.

Twenty years later, where is your profession headed?

I think there are a couple things we’re going to have to consider. First, we need a wellness initiative. We see people out jogging and working out in fitness centers. Those are our future residents, and we better be ready to offer them the things they’re enjoying now if we want them to live here. That’s why we’re investing in a wellness center at St. Leonard. Second, I think the future of institutionalized nursing home care is going to be in dementia care.

What about the Boomers? There are a lot of us, and we’re going to be cranky.

I suppose every generation has its share of cranky people. But the Boomers are definitely going to be demanding and expect more.

We’re going to feel entitled. We know what good customer service is, and what we think we deserve. And you’re ready for that?

(laugh) Oh yeah.

You’ve been working on some innovative dementia care programs. What new directions are you exploring?

I think what hasn’t been working very well in the past is that we do too many things as a group with dementia residents. We expect them all to participate, and some of them get bored or frustrated and start wandering around, which leads to falls. So we partnered with Wright State University and came up with a very simple program for individualized dementia care.

We call it the Behavior-Based Ergonomic Dementia program because the professor we work with is from the College of Engineering and has a very extensive background in ergonomics and safety. He looked at the care and services we were offering and suggested that if we offered individualized care, we probably would reduce falls and also the amount of staff time trying to control behavior.

It has been so successful, we’ve had no falls. And our staff are happier than I’ve ever seen them because they’re able to spend more time interacting with residents on something that is individually meaningful. It was a simple change from somebody who saw it outside our industry.

What did you call it again?

The Behavior-Based Ergonomic Dementia program.

That’s quite a name. If you can remember it, you probably don’t have dementia.

No, you probably don’t. (laugh)

What keeps you in this profession?

It’s my passion. It’s my calling and my vocation. I can’t imagine not doing this, and I don’t even think of a day I would retire. That’s the way you have to be to do this job. There are so many arrows coming our way with reimbursement, regulations, bad press, and lawyers that if you don’t have that passion, you’re not going to make it. And you’re not going to be happy.

Most of us in long-term care are lucky enough to be surrounded by great people. We’re here because it is something we were meant to do, and we’re going to keep doing it no matter what gets thrown our way.

When you talk to college students, what’s your sales pitch for the profession?

There is no other position or job you could ever have where every minute of your day is an opportunity to make a positive change in somebody’s life. You know how the baseball player Lou Gehrig said he was the luckiest man in the world? I tell them that those of us in long-term care are the luckiest people in the world because they pay us for making a difference. If that doesn’t get your heart rolling and your soul crying, I don’t know what will.

Since this is the last “Oh, by the way…” column I’ll be doing in this magazine, I was hoping you’d say something particularly memorable. And I think you just did.

Well, it all comes from my heart. I’ll tell you what, I just love this job.

Long-Term Living 2010 December;59(12):51-52

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