Wednesday, May 23, 2012

No Complain – No Gain.

I am always confused and disappointed when a resident moves out of the community because they are dissatisfied with our customer service.  I am especially frustrated when I discover that the events that precipitated the move could have been easily remedied.  I would much prefer to have a family member call or stop by my office with a long list of complaints, than disappear without giving me the opportunity to address the things that displeased them.

Several years ago I transferred from Tallahassee to a new community in South Florida.  The first day in my office, before I even had time to collect my thoughts, the phone rang.  The caller, irate and upset, was a young woman who said her name was Evelyn.  Without warning, she began bombarding me with strong words and harsh complaints.  Then, minutes after calling, she physically appeared at my office door waving her arms and threatening to call her lawyer.  She was rattling on about an incident that involved her mother, Irene.  

To avoid a yelling match, I calmly and quietly led Evelyn into my office.  I sat facing her in the two comfortable chairs that I saved for visitors rather than hiding behind my desk.  I told her to repeat her story slowly so that I could take notes.  Admittedly, at the time, I was irritated by her attitude, and categorized her as rude and demanding.   But now, in retrospect, I appreciate that, despite her methods, she was challenging me to correct what she felt was a serious shortcoming in the community. I now realize that by complaining she was giving me an ideal opportunity to win her confidence.

I listened while she told me her concern.  At dinner the previous evening, one of our wait staff had given her mother, Irene, who was a diabetic, a cup of regular ice cream rather than the sugar-free.  Irene knew she should eat only the low sugar or sugar -free desserts that we have available from our kitchen, and the server, who was trained to monitor the food offered to diabetics, should have known not to give Irene the bowl of chocolate ice cream.  Instead, when the server offered it to Irene, she accepted it without a word, and according to her table- mate, who tattled on her, Irene relished it without reservation. Luckily, she suffered no serious consequences, but the error needed to be corrected.  I promised Evelyn I would investigate the situation immediately.

After speaking with the Dining Services Director and the employees who worked the shift in question, I surmised that the system of tracking diabetics was broken. In the kitchen there were pictures posted of the residents who suffered from diabetes, but there was no way to identify them in the dining room unless the servers knew the residents personally.  The server in question was new, and therefore did not recognize Irene. 

Residents often neglect to tell their waiter they should be restricted to sugar free options (what could be better than big dish of chocolate ice cream?).  If an unseasoned server is not familiar with the residents who are diabetics, a resident could easily sneak by with a choice that may or may not be life threatening.  It appeared it was not unusual for a diabetic to receive a dish of the wrong ice cream.

My Dining Services Director decided to put an inconspicuous small white doily between the cup and saucer at each place setting where a diabetic sat.   The doily alerted the server the resident was not to have an excess of carbohydrates or sugar filled deserts.  The solution, inexpensive and simple, solved the immediate problem.

The second solution presented itself inadvertently.  Due to a high demand in the scorching summer heat, the kitchen ran out of the traditional ice cream.  The staff filled the requests for ice cream with the sugar free rather than disappoint anyone. No one seemed to know the difference.  From that day on we ordered only the sugar free.  No one was the wiser and everyone was much healthier. 

Evelyn and I had our good and bad days throughout her Mother’s tenure at our community. Despite the ups and downs we became good friends. The two of us worked together diligently to ensure that her Mom was happy and satisfied.

Yesterday, I received an unexpected notice from a resident’s son saying that he is moving his father to another community.  He did not offer an explanation in his letter, just an end date for his father’s residency.  I was surprised, and I felt I had been blindsided. The son had never come to the Director of Nursing or me. He never brought any concerns to our attention. In fact, I asked him daily as he passed through the lobby, “Everything going OK?” “Just fine,” he would answer. Of course, I called him immediately upon receiving his note, but he was not forthcoming with any details.  I am forced to accept that I am losing a resident without any idea of the reasons why.

Consistently meeting the needs of over a hundred residents is one of the toughest aspects of my job.  I continually face the challenge of finding creative solutions to numerous new and different problems. I cannot do that without our resident’s family members and loved ones being honest about our performance.  I need to know about small problems before they become big ones.  It sounds trite, but communication is the key.  My philosophy:  “How can I fix it, if I don’t know it’s broken.”

Neither of the above mentioned solutions were necessary in my present community.  My current Director of Nursing and my Dining Services Director have a precise method to track diets.  My story occurred years ago in a different community in a different city. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mother’s Day Model… 95!

Mother’s Day is just around the corner, and I lovingly recall one of the more memorable traditions that we shared with the mothers and daughters in a community in northern Florida.

For five years, the Community Lifestyle Director, Sarah, and I planned a traditional tea along with a non-traditional fashion show on the Friday afternoon before Mother’s Day.  We hosted a high tea with scrumptious crumpets and scones and a fashion show featuring our residents. We sent out hand written invitations and dressed the dining room to resemble an elegant English tea parlor. We patterned a runway around and between the dining tables, and I acted as the commentator, always prepared to eloquently describe each unique outfit a resident was wearing.

At that time, I moonlighted at Casual Corner Women’s Fashions, so each year the store generously volunteered to provide the clothes. Sarah recruited the six ladies, 
(Walkers, canes and scooters acceptable) who were willing to parade through the large dining room and proudly display the donated items. 

The week before the event, Sarah and I accompanied our “models” to the store located at the nearby mall.    She and I swooped through the racks of woman’s clothes, carefully choosing fashions that would suit the various tastes of our illustrious crew. The dressing rooms were chaotic as the ladies tried on the dresses, pants, skirts and blouses that appealed to them.  It took at least a couple of hours to find the perfect fit with the perfect appeal, but eventually, each of our residents left the store content that they would look and feel “stunning.”

 Marion was a small quiet woman who modeled for us for each of the five years.   She was 90 years old at the first show, and she was 95 for the last.  She appeared frail, but she wasn’t.  She had been decorated for her courage and strength during her career as a nurse in the U.S. Army.

During those five years, Marion headlined our fashion show.  The clothes she modeled were simple, not fussy; she carefully chose them to fit her frail thin frame. She walked slowly, taking each step cautiously and deliberately.   She possessed a contagious “can do” attitude when making eye contact with the audience.   Everyone applauded her gumption as she circled through the crowd. She was the oldest model in every show.

“You are my inspiration,” I would tease her.  “I want to be just like you – a stunning 90 year old model.”  The next year I repeated,  “ a stunning 91 year old model,” and so on until I left the community convinced that my goal had been set at 95.

Recently, Marion celebrated her 100th Birthday.  I doubt that she is modeling, anymore, but I haven’t changed my mind.  I still aspire to follow in her footsteps.  At 95 I want to be a “stunning 95 year old model” just like Marion.