by James Coburn
Compassion will transcend borders. Such is the case for Derick Fossem, who crossed an ocean to bring his dream of helping people with dementia live better lives. Fossem came to America from Cameroon in 2008 to study nursing and to learn more about the neurological disease process that inflicted his family.
“Growing up as a kid, I always liked taking care of older people,” Fossem said. “So when I had the opportunity to become a nurse, it was like a call to me.”
A nurse for five years, Fossem is a graduate of Platt College in Moore. As a licensed practical nurse, he cares for patients living with Alzheimer’s disease at the Lakes Care Center, located near Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City.
“Back in Africa I never knew anything about Alzheimer’s,” Fossem said. “So when I got here, I went to nursing school and started working at the Lakes. From that I was chosen as the first nurse from the Lakes to be sent to the National Association of Alzheimer’s and Dementia to be trained,” Fossem said. He realized that he did not have the knowledge he needed to take care of his family when he lived in Cameroon, he said.
“Having had that opportunity and in working with them — it’s fun for me. And at the same time I love caring for them,” Fossem said. “That is what has kept me here all this while.”
The Lakes Care Center in Oklahoma City provides enrichment for the daily lives of its residents, said Danna Legleiter, administrator. The Lakes has 146 licensed beds for skilled and long-term care, Legleiter said. This includes 20 beds that are dedicated to dementia memory care. There is a total of 150 employees, including 35 nurses.
“We definitely want positive and happy people,” Legleiter said. “We want people that genuinely care about the residents.
The nursing staff goes above and beyond their role as nurses for the residents, Legleiter said. Good quality care is the goal of the Lakes.
When a person repeats themselves indefinitely with Alzheimer’s, it’s not their fault, Fossem said. The disease process renders their memory helpless, he explained.
“We withdraw from them when they are agitated and we come back and just give them some time. We try to redirect them as much as we can,” he said. “It’s like a continuous process. It’s not something you do and just go sit. It’s something you do all of the time, because you have to keep reminding them and they forget very quickly. Most of the time it works.”
Fossem talks to his patients according to where they are in life. Reassuring them helps, he said. Communication is important, because a person living with dementia may become frustrated or angry if they feel they are being ignored. This will cause an increased risk for falling or other safety concern.
“It’s a vocation. If you are not called, you cannot take care of them,” Fossem explained.
Fossem said he may go back to school if God is willing to earn advanced degrees to care for Alzheimer’s patients. Dementia does not discriminate with its victims who range from all social stratum and levels of intelligence.
“I’m blessed with the fact that we have a management team that is really dedicated to patient care, Fossem continued. “We work as a team and have a great deal of team work.”
All of the nurses at the Lakes Care Center are dedicated to providing the best care for every resident, he said. And the managers seek to improve the level of care on a daily basis, he added.
“We have so many in services all the time,” said Fossem, who takes care of his daughter during his days off. For Fossem, leisure time is family time.
At work, he meets with family members who want to be involved in their loved one’s care. Any time there is a change of medication or a change in a resident’s health, the staff will contact the families to let them know, he said.
“We try to connect them in the care because sometimes the (Alzheimer’s patient) doesn’t listen to us,” he said. “They always want to know how they’re doing or eating. They check that they are clean, and very often we have very minimal dissatisfaction.”
All the Alzheimer’s patients have different degrees of dementia, but Fossem keeps helping them to live each day to their fullest.
“Sometimes it’s really disheartening seeing them go down that hill,” he said. “But all we can do is try to give them as much independence as we can. We try to assist them as much as we can and give them the dignity that they deserve.”