By Tiffany C. Chaney
Anita Evans knows what it’s like to be on both sides of the desk in a nursing home – as a family member and as a facility leader. She is Administrator of Magnolia Haven in Tuskegee, a Ball Healthcare facility, a career in skilled nursing she began after moving back to Alabama to help care for her dad, who had Alzheimer’s Disease. Anita had been living in Georgia and going back and forth from Georgia to Alabama to see her parents, who lived in Harpersville, Alabama; but, when her father Ruben Higgins, Sr. had a fall in 2008, which led to him needing to stay in a nursing home, Anita made the decision to move home to Alabama.
Anita knows what it’s like to be the family member of someone living with Alzheimer’s– the emotional difficulty of spending time keeping her dad busy while striving to keep her mother encouraged. She knows what it is like to balance a work schedule while visiting a loved one.
Eventually, her dad ended up being transferred to the facility where she worked, which opened the opportunity for her to be able to see her dad every day. She could hear stories of his day from other staff members. Ruben used to be a janitorial supervisor, so he paid particular attention to the floor tiles and the cleaning processes happening around him at the nursing facility…the staff didn’t mind a little volunteer “supervision” from Ruben.
On Saturdays, Anita would work a couple of hours and then hang out with her dad. One Christmas, she climbed in bed and they watched Westerns together on television. Moments like these helped Anita to know she made the right decision moving from Georgia.
On Sunday, October 21, 2012, Ruben passed away. Ruben was always singing; Anita says he always had a song in his heart and on his lips. On the Sunday he died, when the staff no longer heard him singing, it caught the nurses’ attention. Ruben was gone.
It was hard for Anita to go back to work after her dad’s death; but, she also didn’t know what else to do. For several months, she couldn’t go on the unit where her dad stayed; but, she knew she was surrounded by people, her colleagues, who truly cared about her dad and that made all the difference.
Ruben’s death was not the end of Anita’s journey with Alzheimer’s. Her grandmother, now 91 years old, was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2013, not long after her dad passed away. Recognizing the importance of family support, her family finds interesting ways to support her grandmother, even having their family reunion Meet and Greet in a space at the nursing facility where her grandmother lives so she can take part.
Her experiences with Alzheimer’s Disease have been life-changing for Anita, both personally and professionally. She has discovered an opportunity to help families like her own. She desires to be an advocate to help educate people on aspects of care like Medicaid, power of attorney, Do Not Resuscitate (DNR), and more. Anita says that need for education is so tremendous because so many people often find the topic of long term care so scary.
Anita’s personal experience has shaped her professional experience and it all has shaped her desire to become an advocate for other families, to hopefully make their journeys just a little easier. This is why she walks – personally, to honor her dad and her grandmother; professionally, to support the many families who walk this journey also.
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