'I've fallen and I can't get up'

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Life has a way of knocking everybody down at one time or another

Executive Director

There was a company years ago called, “Life Call.” It was a medical alarm company and they produced a product, and they had the commercial to promote the product, and the product was very, very good.
The product was a little pendant that the elderly  or people with disabilities who lived alone could wear and it had what I called a “panic button” on it. It was a medical alert necklace or a pendant. If they were to fall, or something happened and they needed help, they could just press the “panic button” and it would immediately call an emergency network.
The commercial featured a lady saying, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” which became a catchphrase in American culture.
Now when you fall down physically and you can’t get up, it’s good to have Life Call. And you press the button and somebody can come and help you get up.  
We have a similar system, Life Alert, for our senior citizens here at the center. If one of the wearer’s falls or gets into a medical problem, or any emergency while wearing it, all they have to do is hit the button and help is on the way.
Life Alert is one of the ways we help seniors “age at home” rather than in a health care center.  Independence, aging at home, and active aging is enhanced with this one device.
But what do you do when you’ve fallen and you can’t get up because life, over time, progressively, persistently has mowed you down?
It’s not a physical fall; it’s an emotional fall, a spiritual fall, a mental fall, and usually a financial fall, you have been blindsided by life.
How do you get up when you’re down? It’s a good question because life does that to us all from time to time. To quote one of my favorites, Italian philosopher Rocky Balboa: “Ain’t nothing hits as hard as life.”
Yesterday one of our seniors came in with a perplexed look on his face and his statement to our fiscal officer was, “I need help.” Ms. Parker, knowing it was out of her job description, called me aside and asked if she could help the senior.
Yes, I said, stop what you’re doing and do what he needs done.  He is who we work for and no board member in this 501(c)(3) would object to you helping one of our seniors.  
Now his credit card is in order, his bank account is in order, and his checkbook is literally “right on the money!” Ms. Parker has a compassionate heart and a dedication to our seniors that goes above and beyond her job description to help this gentleman who had fallen and could not get up by himself.
Not only is Ms. Parker competent but a woman of great character.
My leadership style at the center is highly unusual and as far as I know is not a common practice in government, public or private business.  Most often, productivity is stressed and productivity is important. We need to meet the number goals for sure and let me stress upfront that I am not lessening the importance of productivity.
However, productivity is what we are paid to do and expected to do. I never emphasize or ordinarily praise someone for what they are paid to do.
Therefore, I look for the person who does their job and then goes beyond the job description to provide assistance to a senior. That’s something that comes not from productivity, but from character.  
When I find one of the staff members taking the time to help a senior, I praise the “character quality” that came from the inside to the outside and was manifested by “compassion” (a character quality) or “dedication,” or “loyalty to the senior and this center.”  
It’s my leadership style and I’m not about to change it because when you recognize a person’s character you are recognizing their heart.
Can you imagine what that does to productivity at this center?

I see time and again where many of our seniors who are granny’s who have become new mommies to their grandchildren. Failed parenting has driven many a grandparent back into the workplace. A number of grandparents have taken their grandchildren in and have taken them out of an abusive environment.  
But we are seeing an increase in elder abuse and studies show the increase is coming from cases where the child was in an abusive home. A point that should always be remembered – children won’t always do what you say, but they will always do what you do!
Grandparents provide many family services in our society. Using a conservative calculation, the Urban Institute estimates that in 2002, in the United States, grandparents – acting either as full-time or part-time caregivers – provided$39.2 billion worth of unpaid services to the grandchildren. When the care for older parents, spouses, and their own children is added in, Americans over 55 provided $100 billion in family care.
Therefore, in some instances, grandparents (55-60) are caring for their grandchildren and caring for their older parents as well.  In many cases these loving and self-sacrificing women will work until they literally drop, for various reasons – and then who takes care of them?
About one in 20 children in the U.S. are cared for by one or both grandparents. Grandparents  provide broad and under-appreciated safety nets for families all over the county. Often they do so because they have the means and the time, but sometimes their help demands heroic sacrifices.
The most common regret grandparents express is that they are robbed of the experience of being a grandparent, and instead are put in the role of being a parent, with lots of extra baggage. For most grandparents it’s been our privilege and God-given right to spoil our grandchildren – feed them ice cream, sugar cookies, Snickers and then send them home with their parents at some point who deal with the sugar spike usually just before bedtime.
But the grandparents I’m speaking of focus on giving them necessities without any spoiling!  They have to provide discipline, food, and even set boundaries for their grandchildren!  
Most of the seniors at the Senior Center don’t fall into this category. Perhaps the Baby Boomer Seniors will feel the full brunt of this perplexing dilemma.
You may be thinking we should focus our attention on just those seniors visiting the center, but I won’t do it! I’ve worked with two senior citizens caught up in the granny turning mommy scenario this week.
It’s not just a senior citizen center problem –  it’s a community problem, a county problem, and until we address it on this level, the problem will go on.
I will be meeting with Sen. Bill Nelson’s Chief of Staff tomorrow. Can you guess what I will be talking about?
Come by the center and visit with the people who have laid the foundation of greatness that Wakulla County enjoys. Many of them are here, enjoying a meal, a dance, and fellowship with other seniors they grew up with or have befriended while here.
They would love to see you, visit with you and if you have a moment, they will be glad to tell you their story.

Maurice Langston is executive director of the Wakulla Senior Citizens Center.