Matthew Lysobey MPH, LNHA
Rockport Healthcare Services
“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
— Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King tells us that everyone can be great because everyone can serve, but what about the people living in long-term care settings? Can they be great? What if they have a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love but are unable to think clearly, use their left hand or require the use of a wheelchair to get around. Can anybody truly serve, as Martin Luther King Jr. states above? At Rockport Healthcare Services located across California, people living in their nursing homes are providing us with the answer by overcoming all barriers and continuing to serve their communities. They are saving senior dogs, preparing meals and feeding the homeless and at-risk youth.
If we have the world’s best caregivers, provide unlimited choices, and an environment that is state of the art with all the comforts of home, is it possible people could still feel useless? If you received the best of the best that long-term care has to offer, but no one needed you anymore, might you still feel like a burden? Although superior care, choices, and environment are the foundation of what we do in long-term care, is that enough? Being a grateful “care receiver” does not necessarily give someone meaning and purpose in their life, nor does it provide a reason to get out of bed each morning.
At Rockport Healthcare Services, we believe that life is more than receiving. Life is more than choice and entertainment. Life is being needed — having purpose, having responsibility, being able to give, and being able to serve. We are absolutely convinced that residents can give in a productive, meaningful way if given the opportunity. This belief led to the inception of “A Heart to Serve.” Currently, over 70 of our communities are engaged in this great experiment, feeding thousands in need every month.
And now, Pioneer Network and Rockport Healthcare Services are partnering to showcase the amazing things people in long-term care around the world can do for their communities. The 2nd Annual Community Commitment Awards, sponsored by Pioneer Network and Rockport Healthcare Services is all about recognizing and celebrating the amazing people that continue to give back despite significant cognitive and physical challenges.
At the foundation of this idea is the belief that anyone with “a heart to serve,” can serve. Residents living with dementia have been helping with simple tasks in nursing homes for years. Helping to fold napkins and towels, cleaning up after meals, being there to lend a hand to staff are all things we see every day, but often find the staff reduce these to tasks designed not to provide purpose, but to keep people busy. It does not have to be that way. Why can’t we find ways for these tasks to have true meaning, and support this innate desire that people have to help? Why can’t we think beyond the walls of the nursing home and find ways for the residents to serve people in need in the community? That’s just what Rockport has done. We have developed a program that allows hundreds of people living with dementia or facing other physical and cognitive challenges to use plastic chef knives and other tools to safely prepare food. Residents chop vegetables and meat to make a salad, slice fruit, and make delicious desserts to feed men, women and children at local homeless shelters, soup kitchens and at-risk after school programs. These same residents then go to the shelters and at-risk youth programs and serve the food to grateful members of the community. When you see someone with living with dementia serving food to someone at the shelter, it is quite apparent that they know they are serving others even if they are unable to verbalize it.
Dozens of stroke survivors that have left sided neglect are using their right arm to turn the handle of the cheese grater while another resident with right sided neglect feeds the cheese in and presses down – teaming up to help their community. Others living with Parkinson’s Disease are chopping chicken and turkey for chef salads with safety knives. Looking beyond disabilities like the tremors experienced by someone living with Parkinson’s disease, to abilities is the key. Recognizing what people CAN do and not dwelling on what they CAN’T do – that opens the door to serving others. It can be as simple as finding adaptive equipment. It is truly amazing to see what people can do.
Let’s celebrate people living in long-term care settings that are continuing to serve. We, the caregivers, can step back and support them in having their moments of selfless service. Truly all of us are needed to meet the needs of our communities. The power behind the desire to help others should never be underestimated. Miraculous things happen when the residents are in charge and we are their assistants. We can do our part by repositioning a pan, finding a better scoop, adjusting the height of the table. And then, we can step back into the shadows and watch what we didn’t think possible. This isn’t about us. It’s about people finding their way back to a valuable place in our society, back to being needed, back to self-worth … finding a reason to get out of bed. We are just beginning to understand the possibilities and the role of selfless service in the lives of people in long-term care — and the potential in each of them to contribute to our world in a meaningful way. Let Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words ring true in long-term care. There are thousands of residents who have the one requirement, “a heart to serve,” and are just waiting for the call to serve.