Friday, November 24, 2006

Key Learnings from the Little Sisters of the Poor

This is my wife's aunt Mary Ellen on the left.  Sister Caroline is on the right.  Mary Ellen is 95 and just lost her 88 year old little sister Cecilia.  I am honored and blessed to have MaryEllen as a part of my family.  I only tell you this to set up the story.
3 weeks ago we recieved news from St. Anne's Home that Cecilia was nearing her last days.  My wife (Linda) and oldest daughter flew Mary Ellen to SanFran to be with her sister.  Linda and Emma returned home after a few days leaving MaryEllen in the caring hands of the Sisters in the Home.  It was also MaryEllen's birthday that week and we had plans to take her to SanDiego for the following weekend.  We changed our plans and flew the whole family to SanFran to be with MaryEllen who requested we be there and skip the beach.  This began our amazing experience with St. Anne's Home and the Little Sisters of the Poor.
My wife works with Hospice of the Valley as an Occupational Therapist and also contracts with many, many care facilities in the state of Arizona.  She is passionate about her work, but often comes home in tears telling me stories of abuse, neglect, and incompetence at state run, and private facilities.  She refers to them as the "pits of hell".  She raves about the service of Hospice of the Valley (they help people die with dignity and comfort in their own home), but I can't recall any facility she has spoken highly of, which made me VERY curious when she gushed about the amazing work that the sisters have done with St. Anne's Home.  (Hang in there, I have learning stuff to talk about with this story ;-)  In the past Linda has shared stories of patients lying in their own feces, patients moaning and screaming, "head nurses" running down halls yelling, "does anyone know CPR?"  She stands up for patients and their needs on a regular basis often putting her job on the line.  I love my wife and marvel at her will, and determination, and caring for seniors. 

We had 4 days with Aunt Cecilia and the Sisters before Cecilia passed.  It was 4 of the most intense amazing days I've had in quite some time.  My wife and Mary Ellen were bed side when Cecilia took her last breaths and one by one the sisters who had been caring for Cecilia, for many years, entered the room.  Each one had a special moment with Cecilia and then joined the others in singing hymns in Latin.  A beautiful moment that words don't do justice.

I had a chance to talk business with Sister Caroline because I was intensely curious how they could perform at such a high level with nearly ZERO resources.  The facility is filled with the same types of seniors that Linda sees on a daily basis in Arizona.  However, St. Anne's Home actually smells NICE!  It is quiet, and peaceful.  The residents actually smile at you as they roll by.  The workers, residents, and Sisters all greet each other by name.  Its simply a beautiful sight to behold.  You cannot help but feel the presence of God.  I asked Sister Caroline how they do it.  You can read about how they are supported on their website, but I don't think that it mentions that the Sisters weekly go out on the street and beg for money...BEG!  They have taken a vow of poverty and are supported on donations.   Did I mention that they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, to all residents and their guest in a FORMAL dining room with amazing service.  They supported my families every need so that we could focus on supporting MaryEllen in her time of need.

My question:  Why can't people see that more money doesn't make every senior care facility like St. Anne's Home?  The government will NEVER create its equal NOR will any for-profit company?  Sister Caroline summed it up nicely with this story...
Before becoming a sister she worked in government, and private facilities.  She chose to bathe the residents consistently and often, and the other employees LAUGHED at her.  Yes, that's right they laughed at her.  It makes me sick to my stomach to even repeat that part of the story.  Not just at one facility, but several.  She knew that she could do something about making a difference.  In short, her answer was that she cared.  That's all.  The sisters simply care about what they do.  They care about and for the people in their care.  It is their life to serve those at the end of their life journey.

If people don't truly care about what they are doing they will NEVER be world class at it.  And if it doesn't have meaning how can anyone care?  And I'm sorry, but that can't be trained.  No leader/CEO with an MBA could walk into one of these "pits of hell" and convince people to care as much as the Sisters do.  You cannot pay people enough money to clean open bed sores, soiled clothing and bedding and still make a profit.  No business model works in caring for our aging population.  No government sponsored program will ever work because administrators that do ZERO of the caring get the bulk of the $$$.  Think about the under-educated aid getting minimum wage to wipe your butt when you can't, and bathe you when you've deficated all over yourself.  I don't mean to be gross, and inappropriate, but this is REAL, and is happening right now, and one day we will all be faced with it.  If more money is going to be our "solution" as an American culture then we should pay the highest to those doing the actual work.  You and I both know THAT will never happen.  It's like asking school administrators to pay teachers more than they pay themselves.  If you are weathy enough your best bet is to pay top dollar for a personal caregiver, but how many Americans can do that?  So, we need facilities and care givers that actually CARE, not just money.

It's important that we train care givers on how to transfer patients safely, and how to get from the bed to the toilet safely, etc. but we can't train CARING!  And yet, I believe THAT to be the MOST important skill a person can have. 

I would encourage donating to St. Anne's Home

AUXILIARY of LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR

300 LAKE STREET SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94118

(415) 751-6510 www.lspauxsf.org
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