Kim Slaney figures the seed for her social work career was planted in Grade Five. As a schoolgirl in the Burin Peninsula community of Lawn, she has a vivid memory of one of her teachers showing slides from a mission trip to Peru and thinking, “I’d like to do that!”
That memory and the desire to help others stayed with her through her teenage years as a member of Allied Youth – and when she graduated high school, social work was a natural choice. Her primary ‘mission’ field is on home territory at the U. S. Memorial Health Centre’s long-term care residence in St. Lawrence.
“I love people – and everything about them,” says Kim. “It’s about kindness, and kindness is built in to what I do.”
A social worker in a long-term care setting gets lots of opportunities to help people with all kinds of needs and challenges.
Kim says she helps with residents’ assessments and provides counseling to help the men and women adjust to their new surroundings. Many long-term care residents struggle with dementia and their families also need help adjusting to the relationship losses that go along with that. She helps to make appointments with doctors or lawyers; she helps with telephone hook-ups and sometimes even shops for clothing and personal items.
She sings to those who like music…and when someone has no family, she helps to plan – and even takes part – in the funeral service.
If that sounds like going above and beyond the call of duty…well, it is – kind of! But Kim says social work is a little different in a small community and she tends to do whatever needs to done.
‘We’re like a family and we take a lot of pride in our facility here at U. S. Memorial. Our goal is to make our residents happy and comfortable.
“We’re advocates for residents and I take that role very seriously. And we will never have anyone die alone.”
But the main focus is on living….and making life in a long-term care home as much as possible like the outport life they were used to. With that in mind, the long-term care staff worked with the Burin Peninsula Health Care Foundation to mount a ‘Caring Hearts’ campaign.
The result: a flower garden out behind the nursing home – and an old-fashioned clothesline – so when they look out their windows, or spend time outdoors, they’re able to see and smell freshly-washed clothes blowing in the breeze!
Not your typical job description, for sure, Kim says with a laugh!
“Then again, it doesn’t feel like a job to me. It’s not about the money; it’s about kindness – and you don’t charge for kindness.”
Those kinds of decisions are obviously Kim’s own choice, but her caring nature, communications skills and team player approach make her a valuable asset to U. S. Memorial, its residents and fellow staff according to Rosalie Dupre, the manager of Resident/Patient Care at U. S. Memorial.
“Our residents light up every time Kim walks into their rooms or stops by the living or dining room,” Rosalie adds. “Whether it’s for a quick little word, or a lengthy interaction, each visit is always accompanied by a gentle hug and a beaming smile. She’s caring, respectful and knowledgeable.”
“I challenge anyone to leave a visit with Kim not feeling that there is hope, a way to resolve their problem or with a follow-up meeting to find a way through their dilemma!”
Helping others is way of life with Kim. Maybe that’s why she often finds herself Googling “humanitarian” on the internet – in search of other ways to be of service. And, why in February of this year, she realized her Grade Five dream, and went on a mission trip to India to offer counseling and leadership skills to villages there.
“The people in those villages were financially poor, but so rich in spirit,” Kim says. “They radiated love and gratitude and I returned home feeling such gratitude for what I have.” A gratitude that she continues to ‘pay forward’ in her home base, as well.
Kim says the simplest of gestures to the men and women she serves in St. Lawrence can make all the difference, and often turns out to be the biggest thing you can do for them.
“A smile. The touch of a hand. Be present for them – and you’ve already accomplished 95 per cent of what you’re trying to do,” she adds.
“It’s a privilege to serve people who can’t do for themselves in a safe and respectful way. It gives them dignity and honour – I’m blessed to be the employee that gets to be there for them.” ■
This story was written by Deborah Collins, a communications manager with Eastern Health, based in St. John’s.