Monthly Archives: July 2017

Choosing Words Wisely

I am not a fan of political correctness. We have come far astray of the general knowledge that “sticks and stones….” Moreover, the limitations prompted by overzealous word-watchers can sometimes affect the ability to communicate freely and clearly.

However, I also recognize that while words may not physically injure us, they can hurt and often can rob people of dignity.

For example, I often ask students in a class I teach what is wrong with the phrase “the Alzheimer’s sufferer” or “the wheelchair-bound man.”

Know the answer?

Both phrases define people by a characteristic or condition. It’s far better in these cases to write or say “the man with Alzheimer’s disease” or “the woman who uses a wheelchair.”

In doing so we are not defining the person by a single characteristic—and are affording them the dignity they deserve.

Recently, I wrote an article asking people to support a variety of causes within Diakon. One of those causes is memory care. I used the phrase Alzheimer’s disease once or twice in that brief section, but never used the word dementia.

The person for whom I was writing asked that I downplay the Alzheimer’s phrase and use dementia more prominently. Why? Because Alzheimer’s, she indicated, was just one type of dementia and we wanted to cover the topic more broadly.

She was right about one thing. And “wrong,” I believe, about another.

She was right that Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia. It is the most common type of the memory-related illnesses grouped under the medical diagnosis of dementia, a term that also encompasses vascular dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and other conditions.

She was wrong, I would argue (and I did), that the use of the word dementia was better.

I agreed that we wanted the article to encompass memory concerns beyond Alzheimer’s disease, but would not agree to use dementia. In fact, I have edited out that word every time someone uses it in their writing.

I prefer the phrase “memory-related illnesses.”

For some reason, I find the word dementia pejorative, a term that negatively characterizes a person, that rings harsher than it should.

I discovered, in trying to buttress my point, that I am not alone.

There are a number of articles online, including one on a webpage that is part of the National Institutes of Health—that propose abandoning, at least in popular writing, the term dementia—which originated from the Latin word “demens,” originally describing “madness”—in favor of various other words or phrases such as cognitive impairment.

Or, I would add to that list, at least for public-focused writing, memory-related illnesses.

There is no question these diseases are harsh. I just think the way we refer to them need not seem that way as well.

What are your thoughts?

By William Swanger
Senior Vice President
Corporate Communications & Public Relations

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Consumer Satisfaction – A few lessons learned….

Doing a survey always begins with a bit of trepidation. What will the responses be? Will there even be responses? If we receive responses, will they be good or bad?

At Diakon, however, we are committed to customer service and so we are always very willing to put aside those trepidations and ask: How are we doing?

Within Diakon Child, Family & Community Ministries, we recently conducted several satisfaction surveys of the organizations and individuals referring consumers to us for service. In addition, each year we conduct a retrospective review of all the consumer and referral source concerns we’ve received throughout the year.

I wanted to share some things with you that we have learned. First, the good news:

  • Quality – Across the board, those who refer to us believe that we offer quality care and services
  • Outcomes – Those who refer to us believe that our services produce good outcomes for the people we serve. In the last two years, we have increased our focus on sharing our outcomes data with the counties and agencies that refer to us, and they are increasingly aware of our outcomes as a result of our sharing data more publicly, such as on our website.
  • Staff qualifications – Our staff members are perceived as highly competent and qualified to do their jobs
  • Consistency of staffing – We are viewed as a stable, solid place to work
  • Communication – For the most part, we are seen as good communicators, following up with progress reports to our partners in the community and county agencies on those we serve for them.

Some areas for improvement also have been identified for a few programs, including:

  • Waits for service – In some of our programs, consumers and those who refer them believe that the wait for care can be lengthy at times. We have developed a plan to measure and improve this concern, particularly in Diakon Family Life Services’ SPIN program. We also are beginning a customer service training program that will help us all learn the “best practices” of expediting care and communicating with those we serve when there are unexpected delays.
  • Percentage of referrals accepted – The individuals and agencies that refer to us expect us to help those they refer, to say” yes” when they reach out to us for help. In a few programs, it can be challenging at times to meet the needs of the number of referrals made to us. We also have created a plan to measure and improve this percentage, particularly in our foster care services.

I extend a huge “thank you” to the people who took time to respond to our surveys, to our staff members and to all the county agencies with which we work—for all that you do to help the individuals and families we serve.

I deeply appreciate everyone’s hard work and dedication.

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Ceilings and Floors

I am 47 years old and I have never owned a passport.

True, I have been out of the country to places in the Caribbean but that was back in the days when you could go on a cruise or fly to certain regions with just a birth certificate.

In fact, I had not even gotten on a plane until I was nearly 20 years old. We just didn’t have much money when I was growing up to take exotic trips overseas and in my younger years I was not much of a risk-taker. Even now, I’d prefer a trip to Disney’s Epcot over going to actual countries because I do not enjoy flying at all!

A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a very wise friend who said something that has stuck with me since then. We were talking about our young-adult kids and the things they are all doing and she said, “I want my ceiling to be their floor and I haven’t even reached my ceiling yet!”

What a great way of looking at how we prepare our children for adulthood!

I have three daughters and each has a distinctive personality and a different “comfort zone.” My oldest daughter traveled to Ireland in January on a college exchange program and will most likely end up living in New York City soon. My youngest hates cities, but traveled to Barbados in the spring for a field hockey tour with her club team. I was actually surprised for two reasons that she did it— first, she has never been anywhere away from home without at least one family member and, second, we told her she could go only if she paid for it (and she did!).

I was surprisingly calm during both their trips compared with how, a decade ago, I would have been worrying nonstop.

My middle daughter, who turns 18 in a few weeks,  is in many ways the most adventurous of the three but has not ever traveled anywhere on her own.

A few months ago, however, I suggested she look into going on a missions trip to Saint Lucia through Youth with a Mission, but when she saw that it was two weeks over her birthday and she would not know anyone going, she talked herself out of it. I didn’t really pursue it with her, until I heard my friend say: “I want my ceiling to be their floor and I haven’t even reached my ceiling yet!”

So I brought up the missions trip again and my daughter had a look of longing in her eyes. But then she started rattling off the list of excuses of why she shouldn’t go.

I’ll be gone two weeks. I won’t know anyone. I’ll have to fly by myself. How will I raise the money? I’ll be away over my birthday. I can’t do something this big…

I interrupted her and asked her, “Does the thought of it give you butterflies and stir your heart every time you think about it? If it does, and you talk yourself out of it then I think you know what you should do!”

She admitted that it did stir her heart and by the end of the day, with no further conversation, she decided to go. She leaves July 30.

It really isn’t that I talked her into going. It was more about teaching her not to be afraid and talk herself out of things that are both scary and amazing opportunities. I often have defaulted into limiting myself and my kids based on my own experiences and anxiety, but that’s not what the Bible says I should do.

Philippians 4:13 reads I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

It doesn’t read “normal things” or “easy things.”

It reads “all things.”

With that in mind, hope I can also make my ceiling the floor for my girls. I want them fearlessly to take advantage of every opportunity that is part of God’s plans for them.

And maybe one day, I’ll even get my own passport.

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