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Susan Phillips: Seeing beyond her circumstances with a smile

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By The Staff

I f you have never visited a nursing home, you might be surprised to know that not all the people living there are “seniors.”

Take Susan Phillips, for instance. Susan moved into Williston Rehab & Nursing Center six years ago, at the (some might say tender) age of 47.

She brought with her a love of plants, fish, dogs, cats and bears, and had to leave behind a home where her love of bears was displayed everywhere.

“I had all kinds of stuffed bears, bears everywhere, my plates had bears on them, even the shower curtain had bears!” She laughs as she remembers her collection.

How does a person as young as Susan make a life for herself in a nursing home? One way is by reaching out to those around her.

“I love people of all ages,” she says.

At the moment, her window sill is lined with plants she is looking after while their owner, a fellow resident, is unable to.

“Everybody here has a problem of some kind,” she says, and so when she attends Bingo and Pokeno, she helps fellow residents who need a hand with their game.

For over a year, she has been vice president of the Resident Council and now with the recent death of her best friend, Council President Barbara Gordon (profiled in this paper on Aug. 27), Susan will be Interim President until elections are held.

Susan’s willingness to help those in need extends beyond the walls of Williston Rehab. Her hair is thick and healthy, and she tended it carefully until she had grown it long enough to cut off a full foot to donate to Locks of Love, a non-profit organization that creates hair pieces for children who have medical problems that have resulted in hair loss.

While she still has a desire to live on her own again and to enjoy the kind of freedom you have when you move by your own clock at your own pace, Susan is ready and willing to take advantage of the services and activities the nursing center offers.

“On the whole, I’ve had good treatment here,” she says. “They’ve done a lot for me.”

She’s very complimentary of the food service and is especially happy with the in-house therapy program, which has helped her with walking, standing, grasping, talking and breathing.

Now she is also receiving Occupational Therapy, where she is learning to play chess and, if her state medical funding holds out, to use a computer. She attends the home’s frequent concerts as well as daily activities and a monthly arts and crafts class.

Crafts hold a special interest for Susan, and she spends a portion of her small monthly allowance on activities books. She likes to bead and make latch-hook pictures and velvet art, and – knitters and crocheters take heed! —she’s always wanted to learn how to knit or crochet. She wonders whether being left-handed would be an obstacle.

Susan also loves to read and watch movies–any kind of movie except for scary ones.

She grew up in a household where, due to her sister’s asthma, the only toys they were allowed were games – so they played LOTS of games, and to this day, she still loves to play, particularly card games like rummy, canasta, fish, crazy eights and slap jack. Because it’s not always easy for Susan to find fellow residents interested in watching movies or playing games and because one thing she misses about living on her own is the chance to entertain, she’d love visits from fellow movie buffs and people who like cards and games. (Although she has family in the area, transportation problems prevent them from visiting much, and Susan’s own resources are too limited to cover transport for herself.)

As someone who depends on Medicaid to pay for her nursing home and medical expenses, Susan receives an allowance of $35 a month for her personal needs; she expresses deep gratitude to the Williston Church of God, which provides her with attractive clothing as well as gifts for her birthday and Christmas.

The $35 “Personal Needs Allowance” she receives is the same for all Florida Medicaid recipients in nursing homes. In some states this allowance is substantially higher, in others it is a few dollars lower. This past May, along with other new proposals that had a dollar cost attached, Florida House and Senate bills that would have raised the allowance to $70 a month died in committee.

If you or someone you know can teach Susan to knit or crochet, or if you’d enjoy some good company playing games or relaxing in front of a video, please call Activities Director Penny Moore or Social Worker Carmen Wagner at Williston Rehab & Nursing Center (352 528 3561) to make arrangements.

Susan Phillips’ photograph was taken by Donna Mitchell, who also interviewed her and wrote this article. Donna is the Community Liaison for Williston Rehabilitation and Nursing Center as well as Parklands Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Gainesville; she also serves on the board of Friends Across the Ages, a Gainesville organization whose volunteers make friends with people living in nursing homes.