A GOOD AGE: Celebrating a 40-year career with heart – The Patriot Ledger


Eleanor Blair, 80, of Hingham has retired after a 40-year career as a nurse in skilled nursing homes on the South Shore. Her specialty was the care of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

HINGHAM – Eleanor Blair was a young mother with four children when she took a job she thought she’d hold “for about a year.” It was 1978 and Colonial Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Weymouth was opening a new wing. Blair had an RN degree and had worked as an operating-room nurse, but felt the part-time position was just right for her as a young mother.

“I thought I’d get back into it but didn’t see myself staying in a nursing home for long,” she said. “But the Welch family was very family-oriented and was good to staff and I just stuck with it.” Over 40 years she would hold every nursing position,  first with Welch Health Care and then BaneCare South. When she retired recently, she was in charge of staff development at Harbor House Rehabilitation and Nursing Center and taught the certified nursing assistants who play increasingly vital roles in long term care.

“I am grateful for my nursing career – a profession of heart,” she said.

Twenty years ago, she found her true passion in the field. She became supervisor of Welch Health Care’s first secured unit for people with Alzheimer’s disease at the Colonial, just as understanding of the brain disease was growing.

“I loved it when I was able to grasp it and jump into their world,” she said. “It’s rewarding – when you get it, how to take care of these people, to keep them happy and content, to realize they still have a life ahead and to treat them as individuals. You value them as human beings who have had a long life and you can make their remaining life as peaceful as possible.”

She was never drawn back into higher-paying nursing positions in hospitals because of the personal rewards she enjoyed with other staff, residents and families. She recalls one Harbor House resident with Alzheimer’s who still sang and played piano. “She was just a beautiful person,” Blair said. “She had a marvelous life and we needed to know what that life was so we could carry it on in her care.”

She became adept at reading a resident’s mood, helping to redirect their activity or focus, using gentle humor, never arguing with them, always staying positive. She enjoyed sharing techniques with other caregivers and families.

Eleanor Hall Blair grew up in Weymouth, a 1956 graduate of Weymouth High School and 1959 graduate of Quincy City Hospital School of Nursing, which she still credits with instilling the highest ethics and quality of care. She wanted to be a nurse as long as she could remember, following the nursing careers of two paternal aunts. Two cousins and her youngest daughter, Susan Smith of Sandwich, are also nurses. 

At her retirement on Nov. 15, Bane Care Management praised Blair for serving as a mentor and role model to many nurses and nursing assistants. Richard and Alice Welch of Welch Health Care were also on hand. Blair received a plaque and was told that Nov. 15 will be recognized as “Eleanor Blair Day” at Harbor House in her honor.

Colleagues described Blair as a nurse and manager who always presented herself in a professional manner, was “an impeccable presence” and had a quiet, logical approach to daily care. Because she led by example, staff were motivated to perform to their personal best. Blair has worked as staff nurse, charge nurse, nurse supervisor, staff educator and acting director of nursing; in any emergency, she also helped out as needed in housekeeping, dietary and maintenance.

“When I started out, nurses did real bedside nursing, but that is no longer so,” Blair said.

In today’s long-term care, as people live longer and are released from hospitals sooner, nurses aides do most of the hands-on care while nurses manage medications and care in more complex medical regimens.

“We depend on the nursing aides to be our eyes and ears,” Blair said.      

Nursing homes have “come a long way,” she added. “We stress individual care; it is home-like today, the facilities are brighter and more cheerful, geared to be the residents’ homes, rather than a place for the people who work there. Once there were three to four beds in a room; today we have private rooms and two-bed units. They are caring and warm, with a lot of activities.”

“Person centered care” in nursing homes stresses giving residents as much choice and consistency as possible and having the same nurses and aides caring for a resident as often as possible.

“The certified nursing assistants can make a huge difference,” Blair said. “Staff need to be supportive of the aides and also of the residents’ families. To build trust, to make a difference, we can’t treat everyone the same. We have to be a team player and work together.”

Reach Sue Scheible at sscheible@patriotledger.com, 617-786-7044, or The Patriot Ledger, P.O. Box 699159, Quincy  02269-9159. Read her Good Age blog on our website. Follow her on Twitter @ sues_ledger.

        

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