Crumley nurtures a culture where deaf seniors feel at home


CrumleyThere are people who are effective and efficient. There are people who have great interpersonal skills and are fun to work with. There are people who meet challenges with creativity.

And then there's Molly Crumley, the recipient of the 2016 Sister Concilia Moran Award. The honor is given to an individual who exhibits creativity and breakthrough thinking throughout a career in the Catholic health ministry.

"Molly's just the whole thing," said Dr. Joseph Straton, who, has worked closely with Crumley for the past two and a half years.

"Her combination of skills and personality traits make her the amazing leader that she is."

Sr. Kate O'Donnell, OSF, vice president for mission integration at Mercy LIFE, said Crumley demonstrates Mercy Health System's core value of reverence for others.

"She is one of the gentlest persons I know, and that is exhibited in the way she speaks to staff and participants" in the senior care programs under her direction. Her approach tells staff and participants they are valued. "Whenever she has to deal with a difficult situation, she always focuses on the fact that the person and the relationship, come first," Sr. O'Donnell said.

Crumley has brought all of her best qualities along with emotional and managerial intelligence to her recent role in creating and overseeing a one-of-a-kind program for an aging population with often overlooked special needs. In addition to the usual array of physical ills that afflict frail, elderly people, the 38 or so men and women who live at Mercy LIFE Valley View in Elwyn, Pa, are deaf and some are blind. American Sign Language is the primary means of communication between most participants and caregivers at the facility.

Artful transition
In January 2014, at the request of the State of Pennsylvania, Mercy LIFE, a division of Mercy Health, agreed to take charge of a financially struggling residential facility for elderly deaf people in Elwyn, Pa., and turn it into a Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, usually known as PACE. Because of an acronym conflict with another program in Pennsylvania, Mercy Health, a member of Trinity Health, uses the acronym LIFE (Living Independently for Elders). Mercy LIFE currently serves nearly 700 seniors in four locations in Pennsylvania, in addition to a group of Catholic sisters who live in a retirement convent.

Straton said Crumley made the transition look easy. When she assumed directorship of Valley View-Elwyn, "she learned everything that needed to happen to provide safe care and oversight (for the deaf participants) and made the transition seamless for all of us involved," he said. "It took tremendous creativity and use of her interpersonal skills to nurture the staff, many of whom are also deaf, through the transition.

"She is a former emergency room nurse and supervisor, which I think adds to her ability to keep everything in perspective," Straton said. "The participants love her because she's trustworthy. She follows up on everything. She is extremely bright, and she cues in on what's important. She has a phenomenal sense of humor, and she never gets flustered. During meetings or one-on-one interactions with staff or participants, she often will break a stressful moment by making fun of herself or pointing out something funny occurring in the situation itself. It helps everybody to take a step back, and then she'll go right back to addressing the underlying issue and bringing about a resolution."

One of a kind
Straton is medical director for the two Mercy LIFE programs that Crumley oversees: Valley View and Sharon Hill, which opened in 2014 to serve a more traditional elderly population. Sharon Hill is a more typical Mercy LIFE program. It has more than 140 participants.

Sr. O'Donnell, a Sister of St. Francis of Philadelphia, recalls Crumley's hard work to learn sign language so that, at Valley View's public opening ceremony and blessing in spring of 2014, the deaf participants could understand her remarks and feel included.

In 100 programs in 32 states, Programs of Inclusive Care for the Elderly provide comprehensive services to eligible people over 55. Typically, they live in the community and are transported daily to a center where medical and dental services are woven into days of socialization and activities. The programs are fully funded through Medicare and Medicaid.  Valley View in Elwyn is unusual in that it is a residential program. It is the only program that caters specifically to people who are deaf.

During the day, participants may choose from a variety of activities, ranging from arts and crafts to gardening, games and exercise groups. Some go out a couple days a week to meet friends at a community "deaf club." 

Skill building
Under Crumley's leadership, all former staff members at Valley View were retained during the transition, with a stipulation that nurse aides upgrade their education and skills in order to become Certified Nursing Assistants. With help from a grant from United Way of Greater Philadelphia and South Jersey, Mercy LIFE is financing their education. The aides were thrilled for the opportunity, Crumley said.

To ensure that resources and special educational accommodations are available to deaf aides seeking certification, Crumley has worked with agencies and advocacy groups, such as the Pennsylvania Society for the Advancement of the Deaf and the Delaware County Offices of Services for the Aging, and the Disabilities Rights Network of Pennsylvania.

Deaf people do not regard themselves as disabled, Crumley said, yet written exams can be difficult for them, because American Sign Language differs in some significant ways from standard English. "Most deaf people can read the English language, but not to the extent a non-deaf person can."

Safe and at home
Crumley, 47, came to MercyLife with a wealth of experience with special populations.  Her first job in nursing was at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby, Pa., the hospital where both she and her mother were born. She found she especially liked working in the psychiatric unit. There, in contrast to "hanging the next IV" on a medical floor, "you could actually sit down and hold a patient's hand," and Crumley said it made her realize how much she loved nursing for the opportunities it offered for engaging with people. She worked at Mercy Fitzgerald all through nursing school, then, in 1993, she took a job in the geriatric psychiatric unit at Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital, a now-closed psychiatric hospital in Philadelphia. Two years later, Crumley returned to Mercy Fitzgerald where she soon became nurse manager over psychiatric services, then nurse manager house supervisor for the entire hospital, then nurse manager for the emergency department. 

Then, in 2012 came her rewarding move to leadership roles at Mercy LIFE. 

Jim and Barbara LaSala, son and daughter-in-law of Valley View resident Dora LaSala, regard the move to certification of nursing assistants as one of a series of noticeable improvements under Crumley's watch. And Dora LaSala herself, speaking through an interpreter, described Valley View as a good place to celebrate her 100th birthday this year. "It's nice and clean, the food is good, and everyone is really nice to me," she said. LaSala is especially grateful to Crumley for her role in helping to prevent the Elwyn facility from closing.

"There was a possibility it would close and the participants would be dispersed and become isolated in the hearing world," Crumley said. She recalls being moved by signs in the building that said, "Please save our home."

To have been part of something that made that happen "makes me feel so happy," she said.