Bonding with patients

Weyatta Golafaly with adult patient Amy Lambert.

Weyatta Golafaly came to the United States in 2006 through the USA Green Card’s Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery, also known as the “green-card lottery.” She was living with her in-laws in East Orange, NJ, when she heard about Matheny from a fellow countrywoman, Jebbeh Gunone, who was already employed at Matheny.

In April 2006, Golafaly began working as a personal care assistant (PCA) in Matheny’s red zone, home to adult residents. Matheny’s students and patients need a great deal of assistance in many areas, including eating, transferring, bathing, dressing, oral hygiene and toileting. This help is provided by PCAs.

“I had never seen people with cerebral palsy before,” Golfaly recalls.  But she quickly adapted. She enjoys interacting with Matheny’s students and patients. “My days at Matheny are awesome,” she says. “It’s like family here. You really bond with the patients.”

Golafaly was selected to participate in a series of management courses at Rutgers School of Continuing Education. Those courses, she says, taught her her about team building. “In team building,” she explains, “every job is counted and respected because every department is highly needed in a company.”  In addition, Golafaly has  received special training as a mentor to new PCAs through a comprehensive program that was introduced in 2013; and she has been named one of two lead PCAs on the red zone. According to Kathleen D’Urso, red zone unit nurse manager, Golafaly, “has been a great asset to the red zone and has performed at an exemplary level. She is a professional, well-respected member of the team.”

Connecting with patients

Cathy Church with Matheny president Steve Proctor, left, and Gary E. Eddey, MD, vice president and chief medical officer.

Cathy Church’s arrival at Matheny 22 years ago was spontaneous—“really by accident,” she said. However, the fact that she stayed for more than two decades before deciding to retire this September was no accident. “Once I actually got to Matheny,” she recalled, “I found it was such a comfortable environment. It’s an uplifting place. The connection you have with the patients here—you feel it every day, no matter what discipline you’re working in. Everybody gets that connection.”

In 1993, Church and her husband were living in Staten Island, NY., where she was working full-time in a long-term care facility. However, they had a summer residence in Cranberry Lake in Byram Township, NJ.  “I had seen an article about Matheny in the newspaper, and Peapack was exactly halfway between my two homes, so I just visited one day. I was hired as a primary nurse and decided to make the switch.”

Seven months later, Church was asked to take over the management of the personal care assistant (PCA) staff. Matheny’s patients need assistance in many areas such as eating, transferring, bathing, dressing, oral hygiene and toileting. PCAs play a unique role in providing the most basic care for the patients. “I loved working with the direct care staff,” Church said. “They’re the unsung heroes. They make everything else happen for the patients; they are involved in every aspect of the patients’ care.”

Once Church realized she was going to stay at Matheny, she and her husband moved to nearby Basking Ridge and then settled permanently in Cranberry Lake in 2002. She became chief nursing officer in 2006 and, under her leadership, the PCA department became a more integral part of the nursing department. “When I came in,” she recalled, “the PCA department operated as its own entity. It had its own organizational structure, its own supervisors. It wasn’t as connected with nursing as it should have been. We had to make changes to make it more unit-based. The nursing supervisors now manage the PCA schedules and all the logistics.”

Nursing at Matheny is different from acute care hospitals, Church said, “because you’re handling everything about patients’ wellness from beginning to end. They’re not coming in for an acute problem, getting that fixed and being discharged. You’re dealing with all of the associated conditions they have, to keep them well. You’re not going to cure them, but you want to keep them well so that they can be involved in everything Matheny has to offer to the extent it’s possible. You’re really looking at them in a very holistic way.”

PCA mentors

On December 19, the 26 new mentors received certificates recognizing their completion of training.

Matheny has introduced a revived, comprehensive training program for new personal care assistants (PCAs) within the nursing department. PCAs play a unique role in providing for the most basic care of Matheny’s patients and students. So, consistency in staffing is critical in order to promote early detection of changes in patients’ and students’ physical or emotional condition. PCAs and residents develop a strong bond of trust and companionship.

Twenty-six mentors who are currently PCAs have completed an updated training program, administered by Bonnie Rodgers, director of staff development. Continued training will take place annually for new mentors. PCAs are vital members of the interdisciplinary team at Matheny, and their input and observations are essential for effective care planning.