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Gateway axes 28 jobs for new facility; elderly ‘gatekeeper’ among the terminated

In 1997, I was in a bed in Cooley-Dickinson Hospital in the northeast, virtually immobilized from the shoulders down, unable to move, shrug, shift, and sometimes breathe without pain piercing enough to make me black out. I could think, talk, and see three of everything from the painkillers I was told would kill the stabbing pain. They didn’t work.

My family lived 1400 miles away in Tennessee, and my mom was in the first stages of Alzheimer’s. I was alone, but for a few friends who tried to visit me, a county away, when they were not working. I was just far enough away to be inconvenient and difficult to get to.

It was the kindness of people just like Ella Mae Arnold, a “fired” Gateway Hospital employee of 30 years standing, who made a difference, kept me sane. Ella Mae Arnold, the face of Gateway’s front desk services, having toured the new Gateway Hospital (at left) and viewing the area in which she expected to work, was fired, a move that has left her distraught, her world turned topsy-turvy. Ella Mae was a breathe of humanity, someone real to connect with, even for a moment, when events unfold that are frightening, foreign, and overwhelming.

On my third day of immobility, an elderly woman entered my room and said she’d heard I was “by myself.” This stranger sat and talked with me, and began a ritual of dropping in for a minute in the morning but coming back every afternoon for an hour or more to chat, read the headlines to me from the local paper that I could not hold up and read myself. This stranger was the face of humanity, empathy, kindness that made a difference.

When I was well enough to be transferred to a rehabilitation nursing facility, facing the arduous task of learning to put one foot in front of the other again and climb stairs, I was blessed a second time: a roommate close to my age, also there for physical rehab and not the ravages of aging sans grace, with a boisterous family who “adopted me.” They were my Ella Mae’s.

I was blessed with several nurses who took the time and trouble to position us in the last room at the end of the hall, a hall with double French doors and a view of rolling pastures and Morgan horses, a place where my roommate and I eventually could have our meals privately, away from the chaos that was the dining facility. Another kind nurse worked with me after hours with holistic treatments that made a significant difference in my recovery. They were my Ella Mae’s.

“Friendly Visitors” in the form of staff, off duty employees, and strangers with heart found me, visited, and a chaplain stepped in to arranged for someone to subtly check on my mom, who was lost in the chaos of that time. They were my Ella Mae’s.

When I learned of Ella Mae’s termination (and showing someone where they will work and then terminating them is the height of insensitivity and callousness), I could not help but think that while business is business, and while medicine is big business, the business of health care is also about heart, and Gateway is not showing any. Are they so caught up in financial organization that they missed the fact that what people are paying for via insurance is “care?”

I wonder if after 30 years the lovely Ella Mae was too expensive or, at 73, too old to be considered a viable employee.

She was a front desk “fixture,” familiar to many, always going the extra mile for the staff and the pubic she served. She is one of 28 people who are now jobless in the advent of the great Gateway move.

The truth is that people like Ella Mae are the first face many see at the most stressful of times. The kindness, patience, understanding and gentle wisdom, the people skills acquired over a lifetime, coalesce in the form of assisting others with refined abilities and a warm smile. You won’t find that in an “unseasoned” person.

I am curious to see who does staff that front desk position, and if that person has an Ella Mae “heart” or is simply an automaton that checks off paperwork and shuffles people with bureaucratic efficiency. Because it does make a difference.


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