After graduating from college with her social work degree and preparing to embark on a career, Donna Wright trusted that God would place her where she belonged. Fortunately, for countless nursing home residents that place has been McGuffey Healthcare for 43 years. At the end of October, Wright retired and left behind a career of caring and advocacy.
“Her presence definitely will be missed,” said April Conley, McGuffey Healthcare’s administrator. “Her energy, smile, laugh and guidance. She inspires other employees through her commitment and dedication.”
Wright served as the marketing/facility liaison at McGuffey Healthcare but has held several roles over the years including activity director, floor administrator, risk manager, and administrator. When she earned her degree from the University of Alabama, the Gadsden-native knew she was a “people person” who enjoyed helping others. She was initially hired as a social worker and successfully translated this trait to her role.
Following college, Wright knew she wanted to return to Gadsden because of her love for the community and its people. While she was uncertain of her career path initially, after an internship with the Department of Human Resources, Wright decided to work with seniors. As it turned out, that decision was her calling.
Wright loves working with seniors and enjoys their company, emphasizing the paramount wisdom the residents share from their years filled with experiences and memories. She reflected on working with veterans in particular, discussing fascinating stories about war and their lives.
In 1990, she was named Social Worker of the Year by the Alabama Nursing Home Association.
“I was proud because the residents were the ones who wrote letters stating how what I did made their lives more abundant and fulfilling,” Wright said.
Wright said people often question her about working in a nursing home and wrongly presume her job is depressing. She always lets them know that this is not the case because she accepts residents as they are and works to help them be the best they can be.
“I have always been an advocate for the resident. I loved to see smiles on their faces and to give hugs to let them know someone cares,” she said.
Wright defined the term advocate as keeping her patients first, no matter what, and always fighting to transform their dreams into realities. She reflected on McGuffey’s dream team, whose mission was to ensure that the residents fulfilled all their dreams in life, as best as possible under their circumstances. From bringing Disney World to the facility to arranging convertible rides to attempting a trip in the air, Wright’s advocacy emphasized the rewarding and positive moments that occur in healthcare facilities that are often overlooked.
Some of her favorite memories are from her time spent as the activity director. Residents were always busy with events such as the Ms. Alabama Nursing Home Pageant and gospel concerts on National Grandparents Day or trips to Noccalula Falls for picnics and Chattanooga to visit the Tennessee Aquarium. Among the highlights is a trip to Camp ASCCA (Alabama’s Special Camp for Children and Adults). The three-day summer camp experience on Lake Martin gave residents a chance to enjoy nature and share a priceless reward.
“It was hard, hard work but seeing [the residents] smile, laugh and truly enjoying themselves was worth it,” Wright said.
Wright noted that while families grapple with the difficulty of experiencing their loved ones in an altered state, she saw the residents for who they were at that moment and accepted them.
“As a social worker, you try to make that patient be the best they can be, and the happiest they can be in the current situation they’re in,” said Wright. “Years ago, they changed the name of nursing homes to healthcare facilities. But it’s all about a home – this is their home. We work in their home, and to me, that’s the most important thing…making them feel like their home.”
When she leaves, Wright admits she will miss the residents, her co-workers as well as the case managers and social workers she works with in the community. However, she is excited about the days ahead. She and her husband, Nelson, have been married for 41 years. About two years ago, their son, Andy, and daughter-in-law, Mandy, made them grandparents and gave Wright even more reason to look forward to extra time.
“I plan on enjoying my home on the lake, traveling, but most of all, spending time with my family. Especially my grandson, Charlie,” Wright said.
Wright added what she learned throughout her years as a social worker that she will take with her into retirement.
“Be kind to everyone,” she said. “Have a positive word for everyone, and always smile. It’s all about the people. You never know who you’re going to meet in life. You want to see a smile on the person’s face every day.”
Katie Bohannon contributed to this article.