Why Staffers Stay In Pediatric Long Term Care?

Many individuals who work in long term pediatric care stay in their jobs for decades. Long-time staffers at three nursing homes in Massachusetts told H.A.L.O. why.

Pat Lengenza, 31 years LPN and CNA, Seven Hills Pediatric Center Groton, MA
When I got out of the army and settled in this area someone suggested I work in pediatrics. I came here expecting to work with dying children, but quickly realized they are just children who need care. After the first few years you become very invested in them. They become family and you watch them change from toddlers to teens to adults. It’s not about the medical issues, it’s about the individuals.

You need a lot of patience in this job, but it can be very rewarding. There were little girls who had no reaction, no response, when I combed their hair or made them pretty. Then one day there was a smile of recognition or eye contact. You think to yourself “There you are!” You ask yourself how can I do more for them?

The residents teach us a lot about investigative nursing. I often think about a book I read, “Johnny Get Your Gun,” about a solider whose face and arms and legs were blown away but when he felt the sun on his skin he knew what time it was and when he heard a voice he locked onto it. It’s the same thing here. You’ve got to keep showing them, touching them, communicating with the kids because you know that there is a person deep inside.

I pretend I am a detective and start at the top and work my way down looking at all the body systems to figure out what could be bothering the resident. Making sure they are as comfortable as possible is primary to me.

Most people know right away if this is for them. If you stay three years you are hooked.

This is a happy place. The people who work here feel the same way. The kids – and I will always call them kids – give so much back. I love it here.

Linda White, 26 years, Director of Education, Radius Pediatric Center Plymouth, MA
This is a very family-oriented place to work. The staff is always bringing in their own kids to meet “our” kids. We are an extended family for the residents. We’re very lucky because if you like this population there aren’t that many places to work. This place is special.

Under the Roland decision many of our young adults moved to group homes in the community. Some of our people were so attached to their patients they left to work in the group homes. The continuity of familiar staff is very important for our students and young adults.

The hardest part of our jobs is when any of the kids are ill as they are part of the “Radius family”.
Mary, Peggy, Lynn and Linda at Radius.
Mary, Peggy, Lynn and Linda at Radius.

Brenda Sutton, 30 years, CNA and A Wing charge aide, New England Pediatric Care, Inc. N. Billerica, MA
What’s kept me here? It’s the way the kids respond, and watching them grow up.

I’d never been exposed to this population until I came here. I’m in love.

There have been many changes over the years, for instance the community comes in a lot more, and Recreation takes kids on many more field trips.

I love how they wear ear to ear smiles that day and for many days after a trip. So even if my shift is over I try to I stay late to be sure every resident is ready, because it’s a big production to bathe and dress everyone and transport them to an event. It’s so important to the kids.

Those smiles are my reward. . . .Someone has to have a heart. It’s my mission to take care of the kids.

Lynne Rossetti, 36 years at Radius, Purchasing and Distribution
I started as a pediatric nursing assistant in 1976. I was 23 years old. . . I never knew there were kids so compromised. . . After about a year I switched to the 3-11 shift where I really got to know the kids much better and met some of their families. I loved my job and the kids.

I left my job once for higher pay at a factory. I lasted three days and called the nursing home to see if I could have my job back – I missed the kids. I now work in Central Supply purchasing and distributing nursing supplies for the building. I get to see and talk to the kids and still feel I’m “taking care” of them in a different way.

Violet Marino, 27 years at NEPC, Housekeeper
Not everyone can clean. I do my job and do it well. New England Pedi is like a family, but a place is only as good as the help. 

I like to talk to the kids while I work. On a Saturday I might take “Jerry” over to classroom 8 to watch me work and listen to me talking. He watches every move, and even though he doesn’t talk he said my name once, and people heard it. 

For me that’s a good day – I made him happy – and that’s why I have stayed. I’m 85 and I don’t plan to retire – ever. My mother used to say you retire when you go to the cemetery; that’s when you rest forever.

Joan Boutwell, 26 years at NEPC, Kitchen Supervisor and Chef
The wonderful crew keeps me here and the wonderful kids. I’ve been a dietary aide and a dishwasher, we all rotate through all the jobs. I love meeting with the children in the dining room.

I’ve been feeding residents for the past 26 years. We started with 85 kids but now are, down to 15 that can eat. [Modern technology “saves” more children but they are more medically complex and many require G-tube feeding.]

We are much more culinary now and we do summer cookouts and recognition dinners.

I feel like I’m helping in my own little way.

Mary Donati, 24 years at Radius, CNA
I didn’t know such [medically complex] people existed until I came here. . . It is very interesting because there’s not a day you don’t learn things from someone.

We teach the kids about all aspects [of daily living.] It’s great when we do things like cooking projects. With switches they are able to move something, even “speak” with minimal effort. I love seeing how much the kids enjoy being involved.

I’m here a lot. Someone once said to me “work is your therapy” and I didn’t realize until then that it IS therapeutic working here. …. It keeps you reminded of the basic things that are important in life.

Karen Brassard, 35 years at Seven Hills, LPN and CNA
I started here six months out of nursing school. Mom was a nurse, and as the oldest of eight I was used to taking care of people. My first job in an elderly rest home was boring . . . but I got very attached to the kids right way. Things weren’t as acute as they are now. . . We could sign kids out with parental permission and take them home for an afternoon, or even sleep over on a weekend. That’s not allowed now, and probably not possible.

At first I worried about losing some of my skills, but as the kids became more medically complex I learned a lot attending to them. Interacting with the kids is so fulfilling – you feel they trust you.

Karen and Setseko
Shortly after I started my mother moved here to become Director of Nursing. It was a family affair: four of my sisters became CNAs and one even assumed guardianship of a resident. She visits and hand feeds him several times a week.

I also stayed because of the location, the flexible schedule and of course the people I worked with.

Setseko Gill, 36 years at Seven Hills, Retired CNA, now Teaching Assistant one day a week
I love kids and feel I was meant to take care of them. I fell in love with a 9 year old girl and have taken care of her for 29 years. At first she was very difficult but I was able to build a good relationship with her, and the continuity of care was good for her.”

We’ve seen a lot of changes here and shared our lives. . . The Director of Education who has passed away was my dear friend. When my husband became sick the management undersood and accommodated me and I was able to come back to work.

Peggy Arena, 36 years at Radius, retired Activities Coordinator, now working per diem in adult services
I chose pediatrics because I love kids. When I first came they put me on the other side (geriatrics) but I kept coming over.

It’s wonderful when kids like Jimmy and Christine spot me in a group and break out in big smiles. It makes my day. I tell people I work in the Fun Department. There is so much love here. Why would I want to work anywhere else?

Lynn Maurice, 19 years at Radius, Teaching Assistant/CAN
What keeps me here is the environment, the children, the staff, the support and the fact that you get attached to the families of the children.

Bette MacDuffee, 27 years at Radius, Activity Assistant
Working with the Pediatric population provides unique joy for all of us. While we have tried to enhance and enrich their lives, they enhance and enrich ours.

Laura Leonard, 31 years at Radius, CNA
Over the years I have helped care for many children, all with severe disabilities and all with a lot of love to share. You learn to appreciate the simple things in life by caring for children with special needs.

You work with a lot of different people and the families of the children, all with one goal in mind – to give the best care possible . . . and try to give each of them the love and happiness they deserve.