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Healthcare Center Looks to Residents to Help Guide Facility

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Anne Osmer Reporting

The moment I walk in St. Anthony Healthcare Center in Warren, I sense a good vibe.  I’m here to interview administrator Teri Clark, and she greets me warmly in the hotel-like lobby on the first floor.  Staff bustles about, smiles on faces, and the energy in the place is palpable.

“Good morning!” Teri beams and ushers me into her office just off the reception desk.  It’s small and neat, and a yellow Labrador retriever lying on the floor looks up at me with long eyes.  The door remains open during our interview, a testament to Clark’s open-door policy for staff, residents and families alike.

Clark shook things up shortly after arriving June 2007 as the new general administrator at St. Anthony, a nursing home and rehabilitation center serving mostly an elderly population.

A first-time administrator with experience at long term care facilities, the first thing Teri did was hire staff who not only mirrored her enthusiasm, but who spoke several languages.

A full twenty percent of the resident population at St. Anthony is Chaldean or Arab, and Clark took the opportunity to engage staff members who can readily relate to those ethnic groups.  Now, a year and a half later, a good number of top management and other employees at St. Anthony are not bilingual but trilingual, speaking English, Chaldean and Arabic.  Prior to her arrival, no staff members at the location spoke all three.

When asked how she accomplished such a feat, Clark shrugs and says that she simply reached out to the families.  She used the excellent connections of the close-knit Chaldean community, she says, to find excellent workers, a “win-win” for everyone involved.

She also started publishing the resident activities calendar in all three languages, and began catering a monthly meal from a nearby Arab restaurant.

Of the Chaldean and Arab population at St. Anthony, Clark says, “They’re a wonderful resident base to have, because the families are so involved.  The families come here every day, they watch out for each other, you know, it’s just a wonderful culture to have here because of the family involvement.”

One of her goals is to increase the number of Arab and Chaldean residents in the building.  The families basically provide outreach for the facility, she said, letting others in the community know about the care their loved ones receive at St. Anthony.

Ethnic-related events are common at St. Anthony: A Chaldean church visits the building, and special teas for the Arab and Chaldean residents are organized, to which all residents are welcome.

“Because they’re scattered throughout the building it makes sense that since they speak each other’s language, that they would gravitate towards each other.  And they do.  So we give them an environment that elicits their ability to do that,” says Clark.

Clark tries to pair up residents with similar languages and backgrounds “so they have somebody to communicate with while they’re here.”

“It’s a very close knit culture, very close knit culture, everybody knows everybody,” she added.

There are residents of other ethnic backgrounds at St. Anthony’s, but not in significant numbers.  Whenever there is a newcomer who speaks a language that residents and staff do not speak, Clark and her team strive to make communication as fluid as possible by working with the family and resident to identify key phrases.  The phrases are then written down with translations, laminated and put on the wall in the resident’s room.

The rehabilitation department, which helps people who have suffered from trauma such as a stroke or a fall, is also diverse.  “I call it the United Nations down there,” says Clark, gesturing down the hall.  “There is every imaginable creed and culture down there.  We even had a Bengali woman come in, and we had somebody in rehab who spoke Bengali.”

Being sensitive to the diverse needs of the resident population, and clear communication between staff and residents, are clearly prized by Clark.

“I’m also very fortunate to have a staff that’s very interactive with all of the residents.  Very, very interactive, and you won’t always find that in a lot of places,” says Clark.  “We know what’s going on with their families, we know what’s going on with them because we’re very involved.  All of us are, at all levels.  We don’t divide ourselves by departments. Everybody’s responsible for taking care of the resident.  Everybody.”

The diverse population extends to animals.  While residents are not allowed to have pets, frequent visits from friendly family pets are strongly welcomed. There are birds on each floor, and Paws With a Cause visits often.

In fact, the dog in Clark’s office is a new rescue dog she is planning to certify as a therapy dog. Clark’s work years ago on a college senior thesis exploring the benefits of animals in long term care facilities convinced her of the important role animals can play in the health of people.

Kids are welcome, too.  During the summer months employees rotate bringing their children in, Clark says.  The only rule is that they must take part in the resident activities.  Last year there was a 13-year-old who played pool with a resident for the entire delay, much to the delight of both, she says.

I asked Clark what she’s most proud of.

“We have a great reputation in the community, we have a great reputation among the discharge planners at the hospitals,” she replies.  “This is just a really, really nice place to be.”

When asked what she attributes her success to, she responds without skipping a beat: “I have a fabulous team.  Fabulous.”

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