Staff Profile: Debra Harrison

Staff Profile: Libertana’s employees are the backbone of our organization. To showcase individual employees and bring our organization closer together, we’re conducting staff profiles. Our employees have diverse life and professional experiences and they have stories to share. Our first feature is Debra Harrison, Assisted Living Waiver PSH Manager, who agreed to be interviewed.

Note: Debra’s answers have been slightly edited to fit the format of this piece.

Can you share a bit about your background and what brought you to Libertana?

Helping people has always been the driving force in my career trajectory. I went to nursing school at NYU, hoping to provide excellent care to patients as a full-time nurse. When one of my early patients turned out to be a long-term care patient, I recognized a new passion. I enjoyed building and maintaining a relationship with a patient over a long period of time versus the speedy turnover often inherent to nursing. I didn’t know it at the time, but this experience would suit me well later in my career.

After moving to Los Angeles, I began working as a nurse at Cedars-Sinai. I worked at Cedars for several years and really enjoyed it. That being said, as my family began to grow with multiple children, I took some time off to spend more time to raise my kids.

Several years later, in a moment of serendipity, I ran into Jonathan Istrin at Target and he mentioned that Libertana was looking for folks to help build out their new Assisted Living Waiver Department. While this was a new facet of the healthcare industry for me, the thought of getting back into the work I was so passionate about, helping people, was too hard to pass up. Initially, I started out as a home-health nurse, and then moved up to help train home-health nurses. After some time, I transitioned into a more administrative role. And just recently, I celebrated my 6-year anniversary with Libertana. I’ve really loved being a part of this organization.

Being in a managerial position, how have you maintained a personal connection with clients?

As a nurse, maintaining a close personal connection with patients is inherent to the job itself. As an administrator, however, I’ve had to creatively seek out ways to maintain a level of personal connection with clients. I make a conscious effort to get involved with clients and their needs as much as possible. In the PSH department, our clients feel as if they are members of our family and results in an increased quality of life. Whether that’s working with clients’ families directly, helping them navigate financial situations, or pro-actively establishing open lines of communication, I try to do as much as possible for clients’ well-being. The care we provide for clients motivates me day-in and day-out, so continuing to have close contact with them is something that’s incredibly important to me.

Can you speak a little about your day-to-day responsibilities?

The first priority for me is to ensure that all the needs of our clients are met – ideally that they can age in place, in the comfort of their own residence, and that they constantly receive the best care possible. The success of the PSH department is largely due to each individual manager taking full ownership of their site and creating a warm and inviting atmosphere in their office. A common occurrence is for clients to sit in our office enjoying a cup of coffee and socializing with staff. This socialization is vital to our clients’ mental well being which in turn affects their physical health. During these Covid times we have had to be creative with maintaining emotional contact with our clients while physically keeping them at a safe distance. We have been able to achieve this by designating staff to make phone calls for the sole purpose of clients expressing their concerns and worries; staff then follow up by doing breathing exercises and visualizations with the client to help decrease feelings of anxiety.

A lot of my job is navigating state regulations and balancing these with the comfort of our clients. I help administer and organize the living situations through RCFE (Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly) and PSH (Public Subsidized Housing) waiver processes to ensure that clients’ housing needs are fulfilled, and their well-being is prioritized.

Many clients have offered testimonials to how important and impactful Libertana organized trips and activities have been for them. Can you talk a little about those?

Trips and activities are part of the full suite of services we provide to our clients. We’ve tried to get creative with the activities we offer, even hiring a dedicated activity coordinator to maximize the impact for clients. We’ve organized trips to Los Angeles Dodger games, museums, Los Angeles Clippers games, among many others. We’ve received great feedback about these excursions from clients and continue to reap their rewards. While in-person activities have obviously been suspended due to the pandemic, we greatly look forward to continuing this program as soon as it’s safe to do so. They’re often a highlight for our clients as well as our staff.

Another activity we launched for our clients was the teaching of cooking classes. For this portion, I’d like to take a little detour and tell the story of a Libertana employee who I’m so proud to have worked with. His name is Manny Mora. Manny began his Libertana career as a driver, helping transport our clients as needed. He was incredibly personable, always taking time to get to know the clients and often discussing their shared interests. Through his conversations with clients, he recognized a mutual love for food. Having had a background in the culinary industry himself, Manny suggested that we launch a cooking class activity for clients. In this class, dishes would be discussed, cooked, and enjoyed by all. We launched this initiative and Manny began to teach the class two days a week, while still driving the other three. His love for going above and beyond to meet clients’ needs was truly inspirational.

Manny’s career at Libertana continued to progress and he eventually transitioned into a full time office role in the CCA (Care Coordination Agency) Department. His career trajectory was similar to mine in many ways – starting in the field, building rapport with clients, and eventually moving to an office role where we could both serve Libertana clients in larger capacities. While I know both Manny and I loved being in the field as much as possible – both of our early experiences were incredibly formative, and helped us gain an in-person perspective. Witnessing our organization’s impact on clients with your own eyes makes coming to work each day a rewarding experience.

What’s an example of a success story you’ve been a part of at Libertana?

One tenet of Libertana that I’m proud of is our commitment to innovative, out-of-the box thinking when it comes to client care. Through Jonathan’s leadership, we’re empowered to develop creative pilot initiatives to help best meet clients’ needs. I try to consider myself not just as a healthcare professional serving clients but someone who tries to leave no stone unturned when it comes to maximizing the quality of life of our clients.

While there are too many stories to tell, one initiative comes to mind. Recently, we utilized the services of a massage therapist for clients dealing with chronic pain and depression. The program has been a tremendous success. We’ve heard from many clients that they organize their schedule to ensure they can meet with the therapist. We’ve also seen evidence that clients who’ve worked with the massage therapist have actually decreased their reliance on pain medication. This is just one example of how we prioritize treating the “whole-person” and not just symptoms. By introducing a massage therapist, we were able to demonstrate to clients how Libertana prioritizes their well-being and their physical and mental health. The massage therapy program is something I’m incredibly proud to be part of.

What are you looking forward to in the future?

Eventually, I’d like to go back to school and obtain a master’s degree – perhaps in an executive leadership capacity. Aside from that specific goal, I look forward to continuing to serve Libertana’s clients’ medical, social, and psychosocial needs to the best of my ability. Additionally, I’m excited to continue to train and prepare the next generation of home-health providers. Caring for patients and clients continues to be the driving force in my career, and I hope to further broaden my impact for those in need of care.