The Best in Care
Though they range from LPNs to CNAs to RNs, each assisted living and memory care community has a care staff. In assisted living, Smiley cares for residents with a range of conditions, such as cognitive issues, anxiety, diabetes and hypertension. “Many of these diseases can be managed with preventative medicine,” she says. “Our goal is to treat them early so our residents don’t get sicker and end up in the hospital.”
In addition to providing care for residents, Smiley assesses seniors on an ongoing basis. “I monitor the provision of care, resident intake assessments and perform ongoing assessments to make sure our residents are getting the appropriate services.”
Smiley spends about 20 percent of her time in her office, but the remainder of her days are spent with residents, checking on their conditions, supervising 67 staff members, developing care schedules, monitoring lifts and transfers and serving at least one meal a day.
Even when she’s extra busy, Smiley maintains an open-door policy. “We have a pretty unique relationship with our residents and family members,” she says. “I’m here to hear complaints and compliments. I can’t fix it if I don’t know about it. I encourage communication and I’ve really tried to keep up an ongoing dialog up with all of our families.”
Smiley doesn’t just stop at providing outstanding senior care. She’s also pursuing her doctorate in nursing, with an emphasis on aging in place.
Moments That Matter
When asked to name her favorite part of the job, Smiley doesn’t even hesitate: “Definitely resident interactions,” she says. “I love hearing about the hopes and dreams they had as younger people and things that make their day exciting currently. I try to do something every day for residents to make their life more pleasant.”
One day, as residents were wrapping up their B-Fit exercise class outside her office door, Smiley let them know that it was national “I Have a Dream” day. “I wanted to hear all about the dreams they had not accomplished, and what we could do to help make those dreams come true.”
After some discussion, Smiley learned that one resident had a year-old great-grandchild in Washington State whom she’d never met. “We found out that the family can afford the trip, so I’m going to do everything I can to make sure she has what she needs to travel and receive care while she’s on the trip.”
Another resident told Smiley that she regretted not taking her daughter to Epcot Center. “There’s a senior care agency that provides 24-hour caregivers for long trips,” she says. “So I’m going to work with that service to see if I can make this trip-of-a-lifetime happen.”
Celebrating Senior Stories
Smiley takes the time to get to know every one of her residents. Their stories form the backbone of her day-to-day interactions. She spends her days chatting with retired nurses and nurse practitioners, former Wall Street bankers and even a former CIA agent.
“It’s kind of surreal at times because they allow you so deeply into their personal situation and personal space, and the conversations in the day room are just captivating,” she says “It’s amazing to hear them talk about things as if they were living in that moment. We have a woman who talks about her maneuvers on Wall Street, and another man who can do math in his head. These people deserve person-centered care because they’ve lived phenomenal lives.”
For Smiley, exceptional care comes from meeting residents where they are. “I’m of the attitude that if they want to sleep until 10 am and have bagels and cream cheese brought to their room, then so be it,” she says, with a laugh. “They’ve earned the right to retire with dignity and grace, and it’s our job to understand and meet them where they are. We have to give them space to move and function, give them time to dress themselves, and just be there when they need us. Instead of caregivers, I see us as a careforce. These residents are our heroes and vice versa.”
A Resident to Remember
Every member of the careforce has one resident they’ll never forget. For Smiley, it was a man who was suffering from kidney failure and had just had a heart attack.
“When he was admitted to us, he was extremely angry,” she recalls. “He was not coming to terms with his own diagnosis, and he felt like he’d been doing fine at home. So he kept calling his family because he was angry he’d been ‘dumped off’ here.”
Smiley knew that his family was at their wit’s end, so she did her best to befriend her new resident. She soon discovered that the man had been a pilot on the same aircraft carrier as her grandfather, for a very specific mission in Korea.
“I was determined to become friends with him, so when he would spiral, I would take a pot of coffee and something sweet to his room and we would talk about some of his campaigns,” says Smiley. “It allowed his family to have an extra five months with him in a peaceful setting. To see this resident switch from anger and anxiety to such an intelligent and interesting man was just extraordinary.”
Growth at Brookdale
Smiley is as invested in Brookdale as she is in her residents. Programs like Mission Moments and Everyday Hero ensure that the company’s dedicated careforce is recognized, appreciated and uplifted. “Whenever a member of our caregiving staff does something great, we celebrate them in our standup meeting and give them a handwritten note from leadership to let them know they are appreciated.”
And Smiley is more than optimistic about opportunities for nurses at Brookdale. “Brookdale as a whole is really intentional with educational opportunities, compensation and benefits,” she says. “And it’s a really innovative, growing company that’s focused on best practices. Cost is never really a factor. If something is evidence-based and best practice, we’re going to do it.”
The Brookdale Difference
While Smiley is quick to sing Brookdale’s praises from a nursing perspective, she’s even more complimentary about the level of care residents and their families receive.
“Of course no one can love your parents like you do, but when we take over the caregiver role, family members can resume the role of daughter, son, sister or spouse. Relieving that stress helps them be the son or daughter they need to be. Because nobody can be the daughter you are. I can be the nurse so you can be the daughter again — it gives you that peace of mind that it’s not going to be all on you.”