Serving the Underserved: Caring for People Who Are Both Old and Mentally Retarded: A Handbook for Caregivers

By Mary C. Howell; Deirdre G. Gavin et al. | Go to book overview

8
THE CLIMATE OF OUR WORK

Mary C. Howell

Ethical values embodied in workplace environments facilitate productivity, genuine and growth-enhancing personal relations, and an awareness that we all struggle in our work to define and follow a spiritual path.

These connections can be made explicit by pairing specific ethical tenets 1 with certain domains of workplace values that appear to correspond, as an ethics in-the-field. The first tenet is that relationship with other beings, rather than the declaration, defense, and exercise of individual rights, is the central priority of ethical enactment. In the work of the Kennedy Aging Project, the participants (professional and nonprofessional, faculty and students) chose to work with recipients of their service who were not only mentally retarded but also old, a group that is doubly disparaged and neglected by most of the professional community. The charge to the Project by the funding agency was to teach health professionals about these people as clients; the Interdisciplinary Team chose to do that teaching in a context of direct, face-to-face service. Most settings for health care focus on the curing (transformative) transaction. The Kennedy Aging Project, in contrast, accepted profound levels of disability and handicap as givens, and worked to better the quotidian context of lives that were recognized to be triumphs of a human survival spirit.

A second ethical tenet is that the giving and receiving of care, appropriate to specific persons and their situations, is the measure of outcome of ethically determined behavior. By contrast, other systems of ethical measure look to the autonomy or liberty of the individual. In the Kennedy Aging Project, the central focus of our work was to take care of our clients (and their caregivers) and each other. The office was planned so that waiting clients and caregivers could be amused and pleased. Waiting itself was kept to a minimum. Telephone contacts and

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