“There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.” Rosalynn Carter
“Would you just shut up!” The caregiver’s voice cut sharp across the dining hall. Nearby another aide responded “I don’t know what’s wrong with her, she’s been acting up all day!” I was shocked to hear this exchange at a fairly high-end religious retirement community and now understood why the residents were all eating quietly with their heads down. The resident who was being yelled at had dementia and apparently had asked for the umpteenth time about the piece of paper on her tray containing her dinner order.
Sadly enough, scenes like this – and worse – play out every day in family care homes or nursing homes across our nation. They don’t happen on family day or when you’re there visiting your loved one, but this kind of exchange is much more prevalent than most people realize. Residents fear retaliation for speaking up or administration often does nothing to hold staff accountable.
I was witness to this type of caregiving because at the time I was drilling in the wall putting up a trial of a new hand sanitizer. Staff don’t pay much attention to someone pushing a work cart who appears to be doing some sort of maintenance. They certainly didn’t seem to see me.
For seven years I was in and out of nursing homes throughout North America, promoting a hand hygiene infection control program and products proven to increase hand washing and decrease infections. After meeting with the Directors of Nursing, Housekeeping and Infection Control, I’d often be behind the scenes in dining halls, nursing stations or staff bathrooms. From this perspective I saw what will one day be the future for many of us.
There are certainly thousands of individuals doing this kind of work with loving care and compassion. I have absolute respect and admiration for all caregivers, both paid and unpaid. It’s hard not to be sympathetic with the CNA’s and other caregivers hired to wipe bottoms, clean up soiled sheets and change bed pans, usually for less than $15 per hour. However, low pay should not be an excuse for those that aren’t doing this work with the right attitude.
Our country is rapidly approaching a serious caregiving crisis: Employment of nursing assistants and orderlies is projected to grow 21 percent from 2012 to 2022. There will not be a corresponding increase in the workforce of people who typically fill these jobs. However, due to the availability of jobs in this field, more direct care workers may seek employment for financial relief, unmotivated by a service or helping mentality.
I decided to incorporate my desire to share how the power of our perspective can change the quality of our life with my 25 years of services to older adults and my passion for mindful caregiving. My vision is Sacred Caregiving: creating a growing movement of visionaries teaching and inspiring caregivers to incorporate mindfulness, open-heart communication and a spiritual perspective in their work. In this way, I hope to improve the quality of care not only for older adults, but eventually for all populations receiving caregiving.
As one woman, starting at age 52, the fulfillment of my dream is daunting. It would be easy to get discouraged by how much work needs to be done and how much support is needed to make my vision a reality. When I see all the caregiver information available, I can feel scared and incompetent. If I think too much about the barriers, I can get discouraged from moving forward.
Someone recently shared with me, however, a story about his time in the army. Part of his training involved spending field time going through an obstacle course. I’ve always thought of this type of training as being a physical conditioning one, however he pointed out the psychological benefits. “Every time you come to a barrier,” he said “you learn to look for a way around it, even if it seems impossible.”
I may not have all the answers, experience or knowledge necessary to create a national movement. Maybe I won’t be able to get the funding needed to become a non-profit, or get the grants to keep it operating. Maybe that big wall in front of me isn’t surmountable. But, I am surely not going to let it stop me.
You see, the other thing my friend told me is this: sometimes those obstacles needed the help of teammates to get over. And with Rosalynn Carter’s definition of the four kinds of people in the world, I expect to have a lot of teammates. I also know I have a burning desire in my heart, an inspiration that is stronger than anything I’ve ever felt before, and a commitment to making this happen.
Sacred Caregiving Certified will one day be a status proudly displayed by nursing homes, child care centers, individuals and organizations. The wall that stands in front of me is an illusion. What the mind can believe, it can achieve. Join me and let’s do this thing …
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead