Monday, December 24, 2007

Hurrah for Pennie Hembree!

This morning's paper had one of the best Christmas stories ever, about a woman who used to be a homeless addict. A year ago, she was dying on the streets. Today, thanks in large part to the intervention of police officer Patrick O'Bryan and social worker Joan Swickard, she's clean and sober, living in her own apartment, and volunteering in the community to help people who are where she used to be.

Even more important than the material help O'Bryan and Swickard offered was the fact that they cared enough to offer it. Hembree realized that if "Swickard and O'Bryan cared that much about her life, she should, too. She also wanted to let them know their efforts weren't in vain."

Swickard expands on this:
Swickard said many homeless like Hembree think they are not worth saving. Many also do not have support systems, or people who are constantly monitoring them and helping them navigate the social services system.

"It's difficult for these people because they don't think they're worth it," she said. "But they have to know that we don't give up on them. We think they are worth it."
I really, really hope that the ER staff I know who are suffering from burnout and compassion fatigue will read this story. I'm tempted to print it out, highlight the parts about not giving up on people, and tape it to the med-room door.

Hmmmmm . . . I may just do that.

(Katharine was over last week, and we were talking about a mutual acquaintance who's a social worker. I said, "If I were starting over, I might become a social worker," to which Katharine rolled her eyes and said, "Susan, you are a social worker." But really, I'm not, because I don't know enough to navigate the system fully. Idealism does not a social worker make. And I suspect that if I were in that job, I'd burn out in five seconds, simply overwhelmed.)

Hurrah for Pennie Hembree! Hurrah for Patrick O'Bryan! Hurrah for Joan Swickard! And hurrah for Manor Care, the nursing home where Pennie stayed and recovered until she got her own place. Several members of my church do a service there every two weeks; I wonder if they know her?


  1. Hurrah indeed!
    Thanks for sharing that...what an uplifting story.

    I need to hear more stories like that and be influenced by people like you more often, Susan. So maybe I'll get off my butt and take some positive action in my world instead of complaining all the time. :-)

  2. I'm a little late getting caught up on my blog reading. I agree with you, and share the same worry that us ED staff types have given up on humanity. We far too often deal with those who are focused on taking advantage of the system, that those who truly need the help, but are less willing to "fight" for what they feel "owed" often get overlooked.


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