Karen Owen: Stepping In to Help

They say when you need something done, ask a busy person. That is especially true of, Karen Owen, Director of Donor Relations and Services for the UMRC Foundation and Porter Hills Foundation.

Several weeks ago, the call went out to recruit other team members to assist as caregivers at UMRC’s Kresge Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center (Kresge Center). After some careful consideration, this mother of three children, ages 3 through 9; full-time Foundation team member; and graduate student finishing her master’s degree in philanthropy, hesitated only briefly before answering the call.

“I had to take a moment and give it some thought,” says Karen, whose husband is an essential healthcare worker. “My original career goal in college had been to become a physicians’ assistant and work in patient care. I thought, ‘How cool would it be to get a glimmer of what it’s like and to support the organization and our team members.’ It was a way for me to step in and help.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact not only on older adults, but on our care team members as well who have needed to be off work due to their own illness or that of a family member.

On March 31, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a temporary waiver of current CNA (certified nurse aide) training requirements to fill gaps in direct-care staffing during this crisis, explains Missi Latter, Vice President of Quality and Compliance for UMRC & Porter Hills. “We were able to utilize both online and on-site skills training, pairing them with experienced care team members at Kresge Center, to bring our new recruits up-to-speed to assist with providing support to our skilled nursing residents.”

For three weeks, Karen worked full-time as a CNA at Kresge Center on the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift. Her duties consisted of getting residents ready for dinner, helping them eat, cleaning up, and preparing residents for bed. “My organizational skills from working in the UMRC Foundation translated into keeping track and checking off completed tasks,” says Karen. “But you never know when the next call light will go off.”

While Karen was confident in her role and abilities as a mother, she quickly learned that the physical needs of each person are very different. “I’m so impressed with the CNAs – they know each resident’s likes and dislikes without looking at a chart or database – they just knew!” says Karen. “They give residents individual attention, take what they learn, and adjust to meet their needs and provide an individualized approach to care.”

“CNAs are taking on the role of families who can’t be there now; for example, helping take care of residents’ laundry. It’s great to be able to help CNAs as they are taking on more responsibilities.”

On May 9, Karen officially graduated with her MSA (master’s of science administration) degree with a concentration in fundraising and philanthropy from Central Michigan University.

While the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled her graduation ceremony, it has also given her an extraordinary, life-changing opportunity as a caregiver. “Performing the role of a CNA gives me a new perspective,” says Karen. “This experience makes my work in the Foundation that much more meaningful.”