Featuring: Patricia Murray, Carroll Manor
There are many paths people take to become caregivers. Patricia Murray’s path started on the DC streets. How she came to be there is its own story, like those of millions of others who end-up homeless in the US every year. Some are rescued by family and friends, government programs or non-profit groups. Others find special people who reach out to help. For Patricia Murray, these were a judge, a nun and 250 residents at Ascension Living Carroll Manor, a senior care community in Northeast Washington, DC.
Patricia had been on the streets for a very long time. “When you’re in the streets, a lot of things happen,” she explained. “I’m talking about drugs, alcohol and all that. And I got into some trouble. I went before a judge who said ‘you got a problem.’ And I said, no I don’t, and he said, ‘I’m telling you, you got a problem!’ And he put me in treatment.”
When she came out of treatment, Patricia went to live in Hannah House, a residential facility for young women who find themselves pregnant, abused or in other crisis situations. There she learned practical life skills—parenting, handling money, cleaning and cooking—stabilizing her life and preparing for a better future.
That’s where she met Sister Carol Keehan, former CEO of the Catholic Hospital Association, who was raising funds to keep the shelter open. Patricia was Resident of the Month, and a shining example of the Hannah House mission. A compelling ambassador, Sister Carol invited her to join in on another fundraiser, and then asked what she planned to do when she came out of the shelter.
“I just want to work somewhere,” she replied.
And that got the ball rolling. Sister Carol called and said, “Patricia, I want you to bring your resume to Providence (Hospital).”
She did, and they put her right to work at Carroll Manor, its nursing and rehabilitation center. Patricia wanted to be a cook, but they didn’t have any open positions, so she just did “whatever needed doing.” She was working three and a half hours a day, making $5.25 an hour.
“I still have that paystub,” Patricia notes proudly. “I got it framed.”
A few hours a day was a beginning, but Patricia worried she would never get out of the shelter and on her own on $5.25 an hour, when one of her friends cautioned, “Don’t leave before the miracle happens.”
“So I stayed and continued to live in the shelter. They let me out early in the morning, and when I returned at night, dinner was already over. One of the supervisors at Carroll Manor knew I was missing meals and told me to eat something there. I’d stay and have dinner, and a fifth-floor resident, Mrs. Sutherland, would come down every evening to eat dinner and talk to me. I told you there were people put in my path to help me get through…she was another one. She talked to me about all the people at Carroll Manor that touched her life everyday—the nurses, the cooks, the housekeepers—and encouraged me to stay, and keep moving forward,” Patricia recalled. “The visits went on and on and I’ve been here ever since.”
Patricia loves her life, and the 250 people who live in the facility. She feels strongly about what it takes to work in a healthcare community like Carroll Manor. “You have to have passion, you have to have heart to work here. The residents need it. They need someone to look out for them and care for them because their families aren’t here.”
Coming to work and being with her residents is the force that motivates Patricia. “When I’m on vacation, I get up, shower, drink coffee, put on my uniform and head to work. And when I get to that door, I say to myself, ‘you’re crazy, you’re on vacation! Go home.’ So even when I get ready to retire, I’ll still come back as a volunteer.”
Patricia is known for making her residents ‘happy through food.’ Her nutritious smoothies have become legend among residents and staff. “The smoothie is something that has a lot of calories.” Patricia explains. “It’s full of fresh fruit, supplements and ice cream, and residents like them. I started making them for people who weren’t eating much and needed to put on weight. They may not eat a meal, but they’ll drink a smoothie.”
In 2018, Ceca Foundation honored Patricia with the Ceca Award. Ceca’s mission is to recognize and reward caregivers who do exceptional work within their healthcare communities. Ceca recognizes that teamwork is essential in all types of care communities, and that not all caregivers have medical training. Like Patricia, some of the best are in food services and other support roles that nourish the heart, mind, and body in different ways—including through the stomach.
When asked how it felt to win this award, Patricia was reflective. “It was an awesome feeling…it took me back to where I started. And I kept thinking…you’ve come a long way to get to this point, and everyone is still rooting for you, and is still there for you. I’ve been here 22 years…clean, and that means a lot.”
Patricia got her life back by helping other people. To others on the streets or in recovery she is encouraging. “I never thought I could do it. I always thought I was gonna die in an alley somewhere…But, I got clean, I got a job, I came here, and I’ve been here ever since. People say, ‘Oh the residents love you and are here for you,’ and I’m here for them. But the truth is, they saved my life. Just coming here every day, being a part of their lives…saved me.”
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