Most people view health care as a black-and-white, austere field, spilling over with shaky, uncertain outcomes, fluorescent-lit waiting rooms, and solemnity. However, Christiana Palmer, Senior Executive Director at Starkville Manor Health Care and Rehabilitation Center in Starkville, Mississippi, knows how vital it is to foster a sense of joy and fun. She described herself as: “the type of ED who has a cookout just to have a cookout,” and she understands that, while trying to make a living and a life, one might as well embrace this existence in all of its intensity, grief, love, and absurdity. Despite the struggle of reality, it’s okay to go out and have a good time, all while making others feel better, too.
Palmer’s philosophy and roots to the senior health care field run deep. When Palmer was in high school, her grandmother admitted herself into a nursing home after receiving an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. This subsequent seven-year stay within a care center sparked Palmer’s drive to pursue a career within the world of senior care.
She poignantly expounded: “I watched how well that nursing home took care of her, and the staff, how dedicated they were to residents in the building. I remembered that when I got my business office manager job, and from there, I never looked back. It’s very humbling to see how much our staff will give of themselves to residents everyday. Because they become your family.”
It is this passion that fuels her: “You have to have a portion of all the core values. . . [but] without passion, the job just can’t be carried out as well as it should be. It would be more of a factory job—you clock in, you clock out. And you don’t enjoy the work you’re doing as much. To me, passion makes it less of a job, and more of a lifestyle choice. If you don’t have residents and staff impact you every day, you don’t want to come to the building. They are why we do this job.”
Despite her apparent success as an ED, Palmer was quick to deflect it, giving credit to her staff instead: “One of my mentors told me, ‘An admin is only as great as the community that’s built around them.’ As long as I’ve got a great team around me, they make me look good, to be honest. The longer I work in health care, the more I see how important it is to have a great team. Each person is a piece of the puzzle.”
In particular, she emphasized her gratitude for Starkville’s activity coordinators: “I’m fortunate because I have a really good, seasoned activities department.” This department proves vital in order to live out the “lifestyle choice” of compassionate care to its fullest potential for residents and fellow staff alike. Palmer shed some insight on how to connect with patients: “I have to shut off the computer at times. You get so bogged down with our day-to-day operations in the role that I do, from conference calls, reports, and things like that. But I do take time to truly stop and be able to go enjoy fun stuff with my residents. Go to their rooms, see what they’ve done in activities… Have some live music going. . . You have to be able to let loose and have fun with your residents. I have a ball with them.”
Palmer told us that Starkville Manor often engages with the surrounding city. “A lot of our activities are done by community volunteers, because we’re in a college town. We’ll have volunteer bingo, the music groups that come out and sing, we have a line-dancing team that comes out… I’m only a hallway off of our main dining room and activity recreational area, and when I hear the music going, I’m like, I gotta go see this…”
While the ability to play and have fun matters deeply to Palmer, she also understands the critical nature of structure, dependability, and straightforwardness, as not all health care companies possess these qualities the way that Consulate does. “I like the fact that we have structure to our organization. We have a good resource and support system. So if I’m looking for something and I don’t know where it’s at, I can easily pick up the phone and call someone. Everything is structured. . . We always have someone available to assist you or educate you with things.”
During our interview, Palmer expressed the challenge of the “ever-changing dynamic of residents” that Starkville accepts, and how it’s a continuous learning process to “provide daily care to different ages of medically-complex patients.” Sometimes educating the team in how to “fluctuate” and “adapt to the multiple cultural changes” that accompany caring for a broad age spectrum can prove daunting, as Palmer says that Starkville’s residents range from 30-years-old to about 102-years-old.
Unsurprisingly, Palmer’s hands are full. But in the meantime, she’ll keep bringing life to the party, expanding her knowledge in the health care field, onboarding more evening-shift nurses and CNAs, and continuing a pattern of high-caliber care at Starkville Manor.