The elderly woman in the wheelchair is lost. Slowly pushing her chair down the hall, she looks increasingly disoriented as she peers intoeach bedroom.
When Sandra Mennerick nods hello, the woman stops and whispers a request for help. Mennerick quickly takes over, reassuring the woman and then assisting her to the dining room.
It's a common introduction for Mennerick, the new administrator of North Arundel Nursing and Convalescent Center. Walking up and down the halls each day, she frequently pauses to offer help or just to chat with some of the 131 seniors living there.
"I believe the administrator has to be very visible," she said. "The main thing is I justwant them to feel safe and comfortable."
A veteran nursing home administrator, Mennerick took charge of the troubled Glen Burnie facility two weeks ago. The 42-year-old Catonsville resident, who developed her management style during 16 years in the business, was recruited from running a 314-bed center in Baltimore.
North Arundel recently received a clean bill of health from the state, after being threatened with sanctions for problems with providing proper patient care. The private, 22-year-old center on Hospital Drive failed its annual inspection in August and a follow-up review in October.
State health officials recommended withholding its Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements after inspectors uncovered ongoing problems with supervision,record-keeping and patient care. None of the violations were considered life-threatening, but they prompted health officials to threaten to strip the center of income from the federal insurance programs forthe elderly and needy.
In November, the center submitted a plan outlining steps to improve care. Four days after the correction plan was handed to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Shirley D. McKnight, the previous administrator of 11 years, stepped down.
McKnight was temporarily replaced by Amy Rothert, administrator of a Harford County nursing home run by Health Care Management Corp., the same partnership that owns North Arundel and the Annapolis Convalescent Center in Eastport. Rothert spent three months working to improve care, hiring additional nurses and aides and strengthening patient record-keeping.
Nearly all of the problems cited by state inspectors have been fixed, Mennerick said. She has reviewed the state reports and talked to the staff to make sure she starts with a clean house.
"There are challenges, of course, but the facility is running well," she said.
Having started her career as a record-keeper at a 96-bed nursing home in Catonsville, one of Mennerick's top prioritiesis maintaining proper medical charts. She spent several days going over the procedure with the center's new, full-time head of patient records.
Mennerick also plans to use her management experience to streamline work and "focus the supervision." She hopes to start an in-service training program and motivate employees by recognizing hard work.
Other improvements on her agenda include meeting more regularly with the patients' families and enlisting more volunteers.
Though Mennerick sometimes fears she sounds a little pompous, "sort of idealistic or textbook-ish," she's sincere about her love of working with the elderly. When she looks at a white-haired grandmother, she seespart of her own history and part of the nation's history.
"Many things we take for granted we wouldn't have without them," she said.
She wants to boost employee morale by sharing that philosophy, as well as the joy she finds in working with the elderly.
"It's a business that can be really appealing to people," she said. "The reward isn't just in the paycheck. It's in the comfort and satisfaction of our clients."