“Through love serve one another.” Galatians 5:13

Stonerise Care Blog

A Tribute to Skilled Nursing Center Team Members and Patients

By Mary Ferrell, Vice President of Operations. Mary has been with Stonerise since 2015.

Anyone who has served as a loved one’s caregiver knows the true difficulty of that journey — the helplessness, the exhaustion and the frustration. For those of us who have been the patient, those emotions can feel very much the same.

During the pandemic, as we all feel more and more isolated from family, friends and old social patterns, this all feels so much more magnified. But despite it all, I see true heroes pouring out all they have in them to serve our communities with love during this most trying time. This is everywhere across the Stonerise transitional and skilled nursing centers I support in southern West Virginia. I see these heroes — both caregivers and patients —not just with my eyes, but through the eyes of my mother.

My mom was a housekeeper in a nursing home, and when I was a 16-year-old at Oak Hill High School in Fayette County, I started looking for work to help contribute to the family income. I had learned shorthand in school — who remembers what that is?! — and those skills were in high demand at a local company that managed nursing homes, including the one where my mom worked. From there, I went on to become a secretary for one of the owners, then worked in accounts payable and accounts receivable.

I paid for each college course one by one after high school, working full time during the day and taking classes at night. Doing it that way took me 10 years to get a bachelor’s degree, but in that time, I saw that caregivers, including my mother, were not and still are not given the respect and gratitude they deserve. I made up my mind that I would be a different kind of nursing home administrator.

I was 32 years old when I took my third nursing home administrator job. It was the same building where my mom had started working when she was 32 years old. To this day, I am so proud of that. I’ve spent my career determined to make a difference for our team members, so nobody feels beneath anybody else. I can tell you for certain that no jobs in the post-acute care sector are more important than any other. I’ve always tried to find people I can mentor, and watch grow. In fact, two of our current Stonerise administrators have come up through our ranks. I’m so proud of that, too.

To manage a nursing home team takes a caregiver’s heart with a little bit of spark; you want a go-getter with drive. A lot of times, our CNAs and social workers aren’t thinking at all about administration. But by coaching up our team members, we not only show appreciation for the work they’re doing now, but we also help strengthen a culture of appreciation that ensures our Stonerise mission of caring for others with love does not falter.

I share all this so you know me, know my background and know my heart. I hope you hear me with an open heart when I say we all need to appreciate our frontline heroes more. Especially at skilled nursing centers. In this modern world, everybody can look at anything they want at their fingertips. We get lost in news stories, lost in numbers, lost in our phones and lost in our to-do lists. We forget there’s real people behind all that stuff. Those are the people you need to look in the eye and say, “You have done an amazing job,” and “I’m here for you.”

 Everyone is dealing with this pandemic as best we can, but we can’t forget the patients weathering it and the employees who are all working so hard. We’re beating them up every five minutes, with “Do you have your gloves on? Your gown? Your mask?” instead of telling them “I know it’s really hard and you’ve been in that mask all day.” We’re judging them when they walk into a convenience store and are asked to leave.  We’re asking them to work harder in tougher conditions than they ever have before while they are worried about their own health and that of their families at home. We’re asking patients to be resilient and get well when they can’t be with their families in person, and they can’t socialize much outside their rooms due to safety protocols.

But it is not all bad. There is light and there is love. So much love.

Two months ago, I saw a rural community wrap its arms around a center during its darkest hours of the pandemic. We had days where we didn’t have to think about breakfast, lunch or dinner. These weren’t huge feasts; these were homemade biscuits and a jar full of homemade jelly that makes me cry every time I talk about it. This little lady was probably 75 years old who came to our front porch, and it was just so touching. Was that pan of biscuits big enough for the whole staff? It was not, but, oh my goodness, we cut those biscuits in half, and they were just the best. We all knew about them and talked about them. If our communities could think of little things like that to do for their neighbors, oh my gosh, it would be amazing. When I was there wearing my scrubs and working those hours alongside our frontline heroes, they were so appreciative of someone like me with my title wanting to take out the trash for them. It’s just the little things — like I said, no job in healthcare is more important than any other.

Unless you’ve been on the inside looking out, it’s hard to understand the life of a patient and the people caring for them at skilled nursing centers. You see, I don’t believe you can actually teach a person how to be a caregiver.  It’s not a job. It’s their life and their whole heart is in it. The patients didn’t necessarily choose to be there. They are there because they are too sick to go home just yet, but not sick enough to stay at the hospital. We are a critical link in their healthcare.

I see the food and presents our team brings to our patients and I hear the conversations they have each day. I see the loneliness on our patients’ faces and hear their confusion when asking why they can’t do things like they used to.

We have to listen. We have to listen to what our frontline heroes and patients have to say, we have to watch for when they need help and we have to be able to talk with them about their struggles. Life is about connections, and those connections can’t just go one way because of a pandemic. When we lift one another up, we can make such a difference in so many lives.