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The Definition of Care

Friday, September 4 2015 7:00 AM

It always strikes me as odd that when we talk about “health care”, most of the conversation is about the health dimension.  All too often, the focus on restoration of health, the improvement of health, the securitization of health, and the identification of patterns of disease that impinge on health is what dominates the conversation.  True, patients seek these things but in reality, their pursuit is what we as health care providers tell them.  We diagnose them and prescribe to them, what their health should be.  Yet the conversations are dramatically hollow sans the element of care.  Evaporate care from health and what remains is a clinically cold, sterile dissection of the physiology of humanity absent the soul.

Patients seek care as much as they seek health.  Arguably, from their perspective, care is more important.  A patient wants to know about his/her health, what is ailing them, etc. but the interpretation and the framework is the path of care.  Patients rarely know the clinical dimensions of their physiologic state.  Their trust is in the provider to treasure their health but moreover, to care about the person “who isn’t well”.  Point of fact: As providers, we are asked to deliver a small amount of health (an amount just right for the illness) and an abundance of care.

At Larksfield, we are in the “care” business.  We tinker with health but our purview is care.  We fix little instead, restore health back to a prior level but one that by all definitions, is less adequate than our residents would like and far less optimal than their health once was. Aging is cruel that way as the years progress, health wanes never to return to the levels of youth. At our best, we can restore functionality to a level that is tolerable and in some cases, quite marvelous but sans a fountain of youth and/or a magic elixir, we can’t re-set time or body mechanics to the glory days of youth.  Instead, our charge is to maximize the delivery of care while applying as much health as is warranted and available given the resident’s current state.  People come to us for care.

The verb “care” is defined as to look after and to provide for the needs of. Implied are the words safety, compassion, and supervision. In application, what is demanded of us by ourselves and those who come to us for “care” is a distinguished focus on the person; the idea that the individual is more important in totality than the needs he/she presents with from a health perspective.  This is what it means to “care” about someone, not just for them. 

Larksfield is an organization made up of individuals often referred to as “caregivers”.  No higher honor or better definition is sought.  While much of what we do is “health care” by definition our highest calling and the one that we seek to be the best at is “care”.  True: We deliver an impressive array of health products from complex wound care to hand care to neurological and orthopedic rehabilitation to mention a limited few.  What is different for us is that those who provide these health services are in fact caregivers.  We not only administer the health service but we do so while emphasizing the care of the whole person.  We view ourselves as responsible for more than just how the person heals or feels physically but how he/she feels as a person; socially, emotionally, and at the base level of human kindness and decency.  We care for people by caring about them.

As we celebrate the health care heroes of 2015, let’s all remember that health care is best when the balance is struck between health and care.  Without care, the provision of health would and does, surely lack.  Long before health could be restored or preserved, the best mankind could do was care for the sick and the elderly with patience, compassion, and palliation to the best of our ability.  The same remains in demand today: compassion, patience, and a focus on the person whose health is somehow, challenged.

Reginald Hislop, III, President & CEO of Larksfield Place.  GUEST COLUMN, Wichita Business Journal, Health Care Heroes. September 4, 2015

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