Arthur, with his beloved Yorkshire Terrier Charlie, from the third prize-winning story Arthur, with his beloved Yorkshire Terrier Charlie, from the story "Man's Best Friend."

The John A. Hartford Foundation is pleased to announce the winners of its first annual Heroes of Geriatric Care story contest. Back at the end of January, we started publicizing the contest particularly seeking “stories that convey how a person with geriatric expertise (in any profession and discipline) can save the day when those without couldn't get the job done; where special knowledge and hard-won skill in geriatric training programs make a difference in peoples' lives.”

As a communications vehicle, stories are powerful, able to convey a great deal of complex information in a compact, engaging form. We need good stories to engage others in why they should care about our common work in geriatrics, and invite them to join us. We need stories to provide an emotional complement to the incisive logical arguments on behalf of the field and our programs. And our own stories can also teach us about ourselves, can reveal how we and others perceive this work.

We asked for stories about geriatrics expertise, but we got many tales less about specialized knowledge than about deep compassion, careful listening, persistence, and gumption. Are these at the core of what geriatrics means in practice or do they reflect a lack of clarity about what constitutes the core of geriatrics expertise? We asked for stories about heroic care and all too often we got narratives describing pragmatic ways to rise above a broken, poorly organized system. Perhaps geriatrics is less about leaping tall buildings in a single bound, and more about working out complex, life-or-death puzzles.

Throughout February and March, stories trickled in and then like some Spring deluge, dozens came in right at the April 15 deadline, ultimately 92 in all. After a first round in which a small team reviewed all of the entries, we identified 23 finalists (now posted online, and several Foundation staff and a few of us at SCP read them and ranked them, looking for the pearls, the best of the best. The scoring rewarded those that brought geriatrics expertise to life and were expertly told. It revealed a clear consensus on the winners, whom we are proud to announce:

WmDale100The contest’s First Prize (and $3,000) goes to William Dale, MD,  PhD, Chief of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at the University of Chicago, who wrote “Geriatrics Saved His Life!” a tribute to Erica Riley, LPN, a “secret weapon” who helps an older, homeless cancer patient survive a Windy City winter against the odds. A researcher focused on cancer and aging, William is a former Beeson Scholar, and his story points to the critical ways that care coordination and teamwork are essential to geriatric care. It also illustrates how geriatrics expertise can provide solutions that escape other skilled physicians.

LizGarcia100Elizabeth Parker Garcia wins Second Prize (and $1,000) for “Where the Truth Lies,” a beautiful recognition of the profound lessons she has learned from the expert, geriatric nurses who are making the difference in the care of her 82-year-old father and so many patients at the skilled nursing facility where he lives. Her examples vividly describe how geriatrics skill intersects with improvisation to create high quality dementia care.

ChandelleMartel100Chandelle Martel, MSW, LCSW, C-ASWCM receives Third Prize (and $500) for “Man’s Best Friend,” a shaggy dog tale (of the best kind) describing a social worker’s heartwarming and extraordinary efforts to help an 88-year-old man return home from skilled rehab and live independently with his beloved Yorkshire Terrier by his side (or, to be more precise, on his lap). Chandelle received her MSW from Washington University in St. Louis, where she was part of the Hartford-sponsored social work practicum effort there, called the Hartford GENIUS Program. Her story provides a touching example of the transformative power of taking patient-centered-ness seriously.

The Foundation would also like to recognize Mary Brodland, MSW, from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Living-at-Home/Staying-at-Home, with an Honorable Mention for “To Be A Gero Hero? A Story of Finding SENSE and Simple Triumph,” a detective tale of geriatrics expertise that helps an older woman regain her desire to eat. Mary participated in the Hartford Partnership Program for Aging Education at the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work.

As noted above, we have posted all of the finalists’ stories. We encourage you to read the winners’ stories and those of the other finalists, as well. Perhaps you will find the outlines of a story that can be useful in your next presentation. Perhaps they will encourage you to think about the stories that bring the core messages about your work fully to life. We would like to note that a number of the stories that didn’t win generated some interesting discussion, and we plan to feature a few of these as subjects of subsequent blog posts.

Above all, we wanted to thank all 92 of the storytellers who submitted entries. You have engaged us, you have taught us, you have inspired us.

We were so heartened by the response this year that we plan to hold the contest again next year. We view this online library of stories that bring to life the myriad ways that geriatrics expertise improves and even saves the lives of older adults as a valuable resource for all of us who work in the field of geriatrics.

Please continue to speak and write, make videos and take pictures. Please continue to tell your tales.