Laurel Spigler landed at Outlook Manor Comprehensive Mental Health Personal Care Home in July 2020, just after COVID-19 had affected seven of the 12 residents and almost all the staff.
For her, it was a Frances Warde moment. Sister Frances Warde, RSM, served as Mother Superior for the first seven Sisters of Mercy who arrived in Pittsburgh in 1843 and immediately immersed themselves in the service to the city’s residents.
“She didn’t know what she was getting into when she got to Pittsburgh,” says Laurel, a Pittsburgh Mercy colleague for more than a decade.
Laurel could relate. Although she had been a supervisor at Garden View Manor Personal Care Home, she didn’t know the program at Outlook or what to expect in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. But, like Frances Warde, she was brave enough to walk into the unknown.
“You have to adjust your expectations,” Laurel adds. “It’s been a really tough year.”
Since walking through that door, Laurel has shown compassion, care, and dignity to the persons served at Outlook, says Doritta Pelc, Mental Health Residential senior manager, who nominated Laurel for Pittsburgh Mercy’s highest colleague award.
Laurel says she tries to care for persons served and colleagues with small and profound acts of kindness. “It doesn’t really take that much to make a big difference,” she says.
“Laurel worked covering all necessary shifts at Outlook Manor CMHPCH as a staff person, not as a supervisor of the program,” Doritta says. “She worked evenings, weekends, and overnight shifts for many, many months. She did this because there were only two or three staff employed at her program and the persons served needed to be cared for. This was very difficult on her personal life, and she even cancelled vacation more than once because she did not have anyone to cover the program.”
Among the residents are one who is blind and another who is deaf and needs assistance with hygiene throughout the day.
“She needed to care for them and also the other 10 persons served,” Doritta said. “She had to prepare or heat and serve meals, clean up in between rounds of persons served eating, and clean up after meals.”
There were additional challenges and responsibilities to ensure the health and safety of the persons served and colleagues because of COVID-19. That included maintaining social distancing at mealtime, disinfecting table surfaces, making sure persons served used hand sanitizer before eating, and distributing medications.
“COVID has been incredibly hard for us in residential,” Laurel explains. “COVID is the most damaging thing I can think of in a residential setting. Now, all of the sudden, we have all these things we can’t do.”
While most people have some liberty and freedom despite the pandemic, those in residential programs were not able to visit with family or participate in the community.
“With the intense isolation, small acts become the greatest service. Making sure someone is clean or has a decent breakfast—it might be the shining star of their day,” Laurel says, who says she uses her “goofy, playful” side to engage with the residents. “It’s the little acts of kindness. You can try to make that experience pleasant and comfortable.”
During this time, she also met the emotional needs of persons served, engaging with them, having small or one-on-one activity time with them, shopping for them when additional staff was not available—all while dealing with the duties of supervisor.
Doritta says Laurel exemplifies Pittsburgh Mercy’s core values of Reverence, Commitment to Those Who Are Poor, Stewardship, Integrity, Community, and Courage. Recently, when she started to hire colleagues for her own program, Laurel volunteered to work as a staff to cover shifts at other programs because they needed the help.
“The award I won is incredibly valuable to me,” Laurel says. “I take a lot of inspiration from the stories of the Sisters. They’re incredibly courageous. They put others before themselves. The Sisters’ family value to serve and help others represents the core and family values I embrace.
“The residents have come to associate me with that family attitude. It’s more about living a service-filled heart.”