Mary Lou Ciolfi, 61, in Sagadahoc County, currently works in research at the University of Maine Center on Aging on a national project to bring more person-centered care to nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
In the 1990s, my former husband and I took over a family-owned assisted care center. I became its Administrator in 2005 and then went to graduate school to obtain my master’s degree in health policy. I ran the Center for 10 years before leaving the position in 2015 to work at The Muskie School of Public Service.
I think if you asked my staff, they would be complimentary about our high standard of care, but probably also critical of me because I had a critical eye, which meant, for instance, stopping a staff member in the hallway when taking a resident to the dining room in her nightgown with her hair all matted. Being hypervigilant about the environment was the key to our success–I wanted
residents and their family members to have as much of a regular life as possible. I didn’t want them to be patronized or condescended to. We tried very hard to give quality care to ensure that our staff was treating each person in a respectful, dignified way as a friend–that was our goal.
Having high standards can take a toll on one’s physical and mental health. The most important thing to avoid this kind of burnout is to choose your senior leadership well; having good followership is key. You have to have the right people who share your standards and a good work ethic. This is not a nine-to-five job. This is a 24-hour-a-day job for all senior leadership in long-term care. The rewards come from the relationships we build with residents and their family members. When I left the assisted living center in 2015, I took with me a bursting file folder of hundreds of letters and cards I received thanking me and I just couldn’t part with them–that was the reward.