Donna Crowley, Unit Secretary, Kindred Hospital St. Louis South and 2020 Paul Diaz Caring Award recipient

Unit secretaries at Kindred LTACs wear so many hats they sometimes acquire a nickname to highlight their jack-of-all-trades roles.

Donna Crowley, Unit Secretary at Kindred Hospital St. Louis South, is occasionally referred to as the hospital’s “hub” as she constantly deals with doctors and employees, schedules appointments and patients’ family calls, makes sure food services are stocked and nurses stations orderly, and in her “free” time, comforts those in need.

“I’m the ‘hub’ – everything comes to me and I get to direct, like it’s a symphony,” she said. “It’s like an airport and I’m the controller. I get to tune in to everybody and everybody tunes into me, and the fact that together we got it done at the end of the day says a lot.”

What Donna does above and beyond her role as unit secretary recently earned her another title – 2020 Paul Diaz Caring Award recipient, the highest award bestowed upon a Kindred Healthcare LLC caregiver.

“Never in a million years did I ever think I’d be a part of it. For us – and I feel like it is ‘us’ – it’s amazing,” she said. “It says teamwork and fellowship. It says caring, going beyond and doing the right thing. Always caring and always doing – that’s what it means to me – and to be a part of this is amazing, it’s awesome.”

So how did this former auto plant worker turned CNA then unit secretary earn this prestigious Kindred award?

It could be the way she goes the extra mile to comfort and encourage patients.

If a patient needs someone to hold their hand, Donna does it. She will pray with patients, cry with patients, laugh with patients, encourage them during therapy and always celebrate their achievements.

During the pandemic and accompanying “no visitation” policies at hospitals, she has connected patients to family members via technology and when that’s not possible, she will visit and sit with patients almost as a surrogate family member. One particular individual became depressed and stopped eating and taking medications. Donna found out what he specifically liked – milkshakes – and brought him one at breakfast, lunch and dinner until he was well enough to leave the hospital.

“Donna takes time out of her very busy day to make sure this one patient did better,” said Angela Green, CEO of the hospital and part of the team that nominated Donna for the award. “She didn’t give up on him. She doesn’t give up on anyone.”

Maybe it’s the way former patients single her out in their surveys and reviews of the hospital.

Donna is often highlighted in discharged patients’ positive reviews of the hospital. One wrote: “A special thank you to Donna, who not only showed great compassion, but also helped me spiritually. This will never be forgotten.” Another noted: “And finally, thank you to Donna for praying with me when I first came in. That was such a comfort to me. She’s a God-send. This is a special place with special people working here.”

One patient described a movie scene in which people line a hallway and cheer someone on and wrote,

“THAT HAPPENED to ME!!! I walked 74 steps today with a walker and PT staff. Staff cheered me on!

“Donna, who is a sweet lady at the desk, encouraged me to walk to her. As I got to her, I felt the glory of God shinning down on both of us. When I thought about it later… I cried with happiness and thankfulness to God!! And of course, I got to get in bed!”

“Oh my, it’s rewarding because when you be yourself and aren’t looking for that stuff, when it comes back it feels like Christmas, like a gift,” Donna said of the positive patient reviews. “It’s a gift of love, a gift that they remembered me and what I did. My faith is reiterated, that I did the right thing and I’m grateful. I’m always grateful. I’m grateful for this job, I’m grateful for the patients, I’m grateful to be loved, I’m grateful for being wanted and I’m grateful for being needed.”

Maybe it’s the example she sets for her team members and the support she so willingly gives them.

Donna’s care and support isn’t reserved for patients only. When Sherry Perrin, Director of Respiratory, was getting treated for cancer, she didn’t feel comfortable about coming to work.

“She’d say straighten up that wig, you’ve got this,” said Sherry, also one of Donna’s award nominators. “Without someone like Donna, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to come to work.

“It means everything for me to work with Miss Donna. She exudes goodness and kindness and compassion. When you are around someone like Donna, it is infectious – you can’t help but absorb some of the goodness from her.”

Catherine Critton, Director, Nursing and Clinical Services, said Donna has helped her manage through the challenge of balancing work while home schooling her children during the pandemic. She also shared a personal anecdote of how welcoming Donna is to new employees.

Said Catherine, also a nominator, “When I started at Kindred, she was the first person who came to me and said, ‘Girl, I got your back. Don’t you worry about anything. If you have any questions or problems, just let me know. I got you.’ And even today, every single Wednesday she comes by to give me a hug.”

Or maybe, it’s how Donna exemplifies so many of Kindred’s core values.

In the nomination, team members chimed in on how Donna exemplifies Kindred’s core values – all six of them. Two that kept recurring in their comments were Being Kinder than Expected and Doing the Right Thing Always.

“Donna exemplifies all of the core values at Kindred,” said co-nominator Jennifer McBride-Hobbs, Chief Clinical Officer at the hospital. “She is always kinder that expected, and she always does the right thing no matter who you are – whether you are an employee, patient, family member or physician – she is always looking out for the best interests of everyone.”

From Donna’s perspective, one single core value really fuels the others.

“When you do the right thing always, it takes care of everything else,” she said. “Through the highs, the lows and the in-betweens, you’ve got to humble yourself even when it hurts, even when it’s heavy. When you do the right thing, at the end of the day, you are going to feel good about yourself.”

Perhaps most important, it’s probably about how much Donna cares.

Doing right by her patients and team members is one thing, exemplifying Kindred’s core values another – but doing this all with compassion and empathy and love is, well, the stuff that wins awards.

“She genuinely and naturally cares,” said Catherine. “When she sees a patient with a call light on, she’ll turn them or help reposition them. If it’s a problem with a behavioral issue, she’ll go in and hold a hand, help motivate them or help calm them down.”

“Donna cares, and Donna has cared everyday of her life,” added Angela. “It’s who she is. It’s not something that’s fake or put on. It’s not something that she is told to do. It’s her fiber, it’s what she is made of. Donna is a caregiver, and Donna takes being a caregiver very serious… She cares in a way that touches your heart.”

From Donna’s perspective, caring is a matter of commitment, a commitment she willingly takes on.

“You can care a little bit or you can care a lot,” she said. “When your soul gets involved in caring, when you can hold a patient’s hand when they are nearing the end, when you can just put everything that’s going on with you on the back burner and put them forward…and you can share that dependency of I need your help, I need you to pray for me, I need you to love me, I need you to hear me. That’s what it means to me.”

It also means she is a 2020 Paul Diaz Caring Award recipient, selected from among 92 worthy nominees over the past year. The two other 2020 recipients are Carole Fryberger, Lead Respiratory Therapist at Lancaster Rehabilitation Hospital and Fred Waters, Radiology Technician at Kindred Hospital St. Louis.

Each were honored in a virtual event on March 12. They received a cash prize, a certificate and the glass Caring Award. In addition, their names are engraved on the legacy Paul Diaz Caring Award plaque that sits in the Kindred Support Center, and their photos and stories will hang upon the Caring Awards “Wall of Fame” within the facility. The awards are named after the inaugural winner and namesake of the award, former Kindred Chief Executive Officer Paul J. Diaz.

“Her getting the Paul Diaz Caring Award shows how much we appreciate her and how our patients appreciate her,” Catherine said. “Miss Donna has a ‘light,’ and we want her light to shine.”

You can view video stories of the 2020 Paul Diaz Caring Awards here.

“I love working with Donna. I know when I walk in and Donna is here, we are going to have a great day. I know that our patients are going to be taken care of. I know that Donna will be doing everything that she can to make sure that the day runs just as smoothly as it can for everyone.”

- Angela Green, CEO, Kindred Hospital St. Louis South

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