August 3, 2012

I arrive at the home and check in with Mum. She has cut her ear, which is stained with coagulated blood, and so she is still in bed awaiting a call from the doctor. I have to put that to the back of my mind as far as I can. Today I’m here to attend a special meeting called by head office concerned with the resignation of the home’s manager.

We’ve known that the manager was leaving for a couple of weeks now. I sent an email to the managing director expressing my dismay that she was going. After all, how easy will it be to employ someone else who is energetic, experienced, fair-minded, kind, well-organised and a proven motivator? The staff must feel strongly about it as well as they’ve submitted a petition in an effort to retain their tried and trusted manager.

The carers will be getting their pep-talk at 3pm. The 1pm meeting is for residents’ relatives. Basically, the owner of the 22-care home business and his director of operations are here to answer our questions and reassure us that the quality of care our relatives will be receiving in the future will remain unaffected. We collectively doubt this, and so we try not to make it easy for them. There are about ten relatives present and we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. Why did an excellent manager - so important for the smooth running of the home – feel that she had to resign from her job when we know she didn’t really want to?

They fall back on the line that our manager has put in her resignation, and that that is up to her. Yes, but why did she put in her resignation? And what has been done to get her to withdraw it? The individual in question is present at the meeting to begin with, but when it is suggested that perhaps she could have done more to support the policies of the company as they evolved through time, she feels she has to excuse herself.

I’m not surprised that hearing this has upset her. I always saw the manager as, in part, a corporate person, but a good example of one. In other words, as I’ve observed it, she tries hard to implement the company’s policies but if there is difficulty in implementing certain ones she feeds that back to head office with a view to finding a practical way forward. Has there been a personality clash between her and someone else in the organization? I suspect there has been. But if she - in full knowledge of the facts - hasn’t been able to raise this successfully with senior management, then I won’t attempt to do so having as little inside information as I do.

It is particularly handy that there is a lawyer here representing one of the residents. Not only does she have a clear grasp of the issues enabling her to argue coherently, she knows how to keep the questioning up until she gets an answer. On the other hand, it’s a done deal: our manager is going. The lawyer reminds the head office team that from time to time she represents local families in the process of choosing a care home for their loved one. She has recommended this home in the past, knowing it to be well-managed, but will only do so in the future if the home keeps up its high standards. And some of us think that won’t be easy. The outgoing manager seems to have a mutually respectful relationship with the Filipino workers who contribute hugely to the running of the home. They represent about 50% of the care force during the day and a much larger proportion at night. If some of them decide to take their sought-after services to other local care homes in the area, how is the sheer hard work and kindness factor going to be topped up? From the local population? With wages levels as they stand, that won’t be easy. It has been hard for the present manager to keep the place well-staffed, even with her man-management skills. I think it will be significantly harder for anyone else.

After the meeting, the relatives have a chat amongst themselves. There is a rapport amongst us that augurs well for getting our message across in the future. As for now, should we accept the offer that has been made that one of us attends the interviews of candidates for the vacant manager’s job? Two of us suggest we may be willing to do this, subject to dates and extent of time commitment involved.

Meanwhile, Mum is oblivious to all this sophistry. She has more down to earth problems of her own. She can’t understand much of what anyone says to her. She can’t feed or toilet herself. Her ear is full of blood. But then in a round about way that’s what today’s meeting has been all about. Ensuring that Mabel and the other residents continue to get cleaned and fed and nursed in an efficient and respectful way. Ensuring that an environment is sustained whereby some enjoyment can still be had from being alive.

“How is your ear, Mum?” I ask, when I finally get down the stairs an hour-and-a-half after climbing up them.


I don’t think she can hear me. But she produces her lop-sided smile for me. And I’m smiling too once I’ve spoken to the doctor who tells me that the blood was coming from a small cut just inside the ear and that this should fully heal within a few days by which time the left hearing aid can go back in again.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the outgoing manager, Bernie, and her team, for the non-stop work, the vast majority of it admirable, that has been done on behalf of Mabel, Ian and me over what is coming up for four years now.