The Heart of the Matter

By Jeff Nunham, Adult In-Home Supervisor

Adult In Home Supervisor, Jeff Nunham talks about the things we learn along the way.
We often talk about the barriers and obstacles people face who suffer with a disability. Last month, I wrote about those care givers who are “on” 24/7, giving
care to a family member with a disability and who are silently suffering under the strain that goes with that level of loving care. The primary caregiver also face enormous barriers. One which we often see is the myth that says, “No one can care for my loved one like I can.” This is one huge barrier which keeps a caregiver from reaching out and asking for help.

If this is you, then this brief note is must read.

If you have been reading my newsletters lately, you will know that I think we have an exceptional staff of very competent and compassionate people. They often amaze me. Sometimes they really touch my heart.

The typical communication I exchange with our care providers is “housekeeping” kind of things. Things like filling vacant shifts, picking up medication sheets or scheduling a meeting. It is all very important, but not memorable. However, once in a while a care provider will send me a note that reminds me of the reasons I am so confident in the quality of care we give. See what you think.

Just to set this up; our client, M.K. had been acting out in ways that were quite challenging for the care provider. After a particularly difficult shift with MK, he had written an Incident Report to which I had responded, thanking him for the way he handled the situation. This is his response to me:

“Thank you, I’m just glad that the medication seemed to help his headache and combined with redirection he was able to get back to the normal happy M.K. we all know. By now M.K. is like a brother to me, and the goal is to predict what is ailing him before it gets to the point of outburst. I believe a headache or backache lead to his frustration which eventually manifested itself to this point. It hurts me to know he is in pain and has trouble communicating it, so all I can do is help him the best I can as soon as I become aware of his troubles. Sadly in this situation it was much more acute and happened rather quickly.”

Can you hear his heart…………? Who wouldn’t want the love of a brother to shape the care your loved one gets? He is one of the reasons why we say, “This is so much more than a job for our care providers”. Our care providers are all heart.

As a supervisor, I am always looking for care providers with heart. One vital source of great compassionate care is the volunteer who serves because they love to give. A few days ago, as I was walking by one of our volunteers who helps out in the Adult Day Services program, I stopped to thank them for the work they are doing. I thanked her for giving her time to be a part of the program. Her response struck me just like the email you just read. “I just love it here” was her immediate reply. Her eyes were bright and her smile revealed her warm and loving heart. Who wouldn’t want to spend the day with people like that? Like the employee who loves like a brother, this volunteer brings that same warmth and compassion to our members.

This is a message I wish every care giver could hear. If you fear allowing another person to care for your loved one, I simply say “the heart of the matter is a respite care provider who will care like a brother and serve with the love and compassion of a volunteer.”

Answer: Heart and Conviction

Caregiver Kelsey Kuipers at the office planning her schedule

Question: What Do Student Athletes and Respite Caregivers Have in Common?

Many of Helping Hands Respite caregivers are college students with plenty of heart and conviction. They may have a special interest in working in our care environments, the operative word here being care; they may be drawn to working within a family environment to care for a child with disabilities because they are students in special education, nursing, or social work. Or, perhaps their area of study focuses on gerontology or adults with disabilities. One such student and caregiver is Kelsey Kuiper, a senior at Michigan State University about to graduate and get her first placement as a student teacher in a special education classroom.

Kelsey is a student athlete who, in most cases, does a great job of juggling work responsibilities with studies and athletics. She came to Helping Hands Respite Care in the summer of 2014 on the recommendation of a roommate who already was employed by Helping Hands. Within a short period of time Kelsey was working in several different homes. The children learned to trust her and would respond well to her directions and care. “In my special education classes we learn how to teach the child but not how to care for the child,” shared Kelsey. “I remember calling my Mom after my first couple of days of working with the kids, I felt so raw and was convinced that I was no good at this; but little by little I began to understand how to care for the child who was my responsibility and how to build a bond of trust.”

Student Athlete

It didn’t take long for Kelsey to become a valued and reliable caregiver for Helping Hands Respite Care. Unfortunately, Coach Suzy Merchant was having a bad run of luck with injuries and transfers on her MSU Women’s Basketball team. While, Kelsey’s main sports were Volleyball and Track, her height and athleticism made her a great candidate to strengthen the MSU Women’s Basketball team. Agreeing to play for Coach Merchant meant Kelsey had to stop working for Helping Hands. “On the bus ride back from our last game, I texted the scheduler at Helping Hands to let her know I was ready to come back to work,” said Kelsey. “Once I came to work at Helping Hands my experiences here confirmed my decision to be a special education teacher. Learning to care is at the heart of the teacher/child relationship and I will not forget that.”

Understanding the Value of Respite Care

One thing that Kelsey was not clear on was what her service would mean to the families. When asked about her understanding of the value of respite care she candidly replied that she really didn’t know what respite meant until she “Googled” it. “Now, I hope that what I am doing is also helping the families. It is great to see that look of happiness and relief on the parent’s face when I arrive for my shift.”
In August of 2015 we will be saying goodbye when Kelsey heads to her first student teaching assignment. We will be thankful for the time that she was able to give to the families we serve, and very sorry to see her go.

Learn more about what Helping Hands Respite Care is doing to extend the length of care provider service to help the families we serve.