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Therapeutic Activities Director of the Dementia Special Care Unit

As a provider of Occupational Therapy at Chelsea at Jewish Lifecare, Susan LeClaire has worked within the rehabilitation team. Today she marvels at how quickly seven years has flown by.

On a personal note, Susan loves spending time with her daughter Lindsay (21), who is a student at Salem State majoring in Psychology and Business, and her son Jimmy (19), who is pursuing a career in music, his lifelong passion. The family’s dog, an adorable Bichon/Shih tzu mix named Bella, is also a treasured member of the family.

Recently we spoke with Susan about her career choices, her role in the organization and her inspiring work with our dementia residents.

Q. Why did you decide to work with seniors?

A. I started working per-diem in OT with seniors over 10 years ago and grew to really enjoy them. It’s a privilege to get to know them, help them, hear their stories, and have them share their wisdom with me. In my current role I get to learn their histories and what makes each individual special. After that, it is my job to find creative ways to bring purpose, meaning and fun back into their lives. This is the part of my position that I find most rewarding.

Q. What was your career path?

A. I received my BA from University of Massachusetts at Amherst and worked in sales and recruiting for a few years before I decided to go back to school for occupational therapy. Although I was still interested in business, I realized I wanted to help people, doing something that really made a difference, within the healthcare industry. After researching opportunities and volunteering, I decided to pursue a degree in OT from Mass Bay in Wellesley. At some point in the near future, I’d like to obtain my MBA in healthcare administration.

Q. What stands out most about individuals living with dementia?

A. I want people to know that there is a unique, talented and, most often, kind person inside each and every one of our residents living with dementia. In a sense, my job is to act as a “detective” and find out as much as I can about each resident. This way, I can help them reminisce and relive what mattered to them most before they were confronted with the disease. I believe that if we take the time to truly get to know our residents, we can make a great new friend!
The Dementia Special Care Unit (DSCU) is a unit within our skilled nursing facility filled with specially trained, dedicated staff who consistently provide care for those living with dementia. Residents come from our short term rehab unit and the surrounding community as well as our Adult Day Care program and our long-term care households. The DSCU was started because we were providing specialized care for so many residents and patients living with dementia. Essentially, it made sense to market this capability to the community. We do, in fact, meet all the state regulations by providing specialized programming, therapeutic activities, training and consistent staffing in our homes to meet our residents’ needs.

Q. What do like to do in your spare time?

A. I really enjoy spending time outdoors skiing, hiking, and kayaking. I like to be active! Beach time with my children is really fun. After the last year, I realize how important and lucky I am to have such wonderful family and friends. I also love to read and write. Time permitting, I would like to indulge in more creative writing. It has always been a passion of mine.

Q. What was the most challenging aspect of the pandemic for you?

A. Knowing that so many people we have served were losing their battle with Covid was incredibly difficult. It was scary not knowing when the pandemic would be over, and when we would be able to rehabilitate people again.

Q. What do you like best about working in the Chelsea Jewish Lifecare organization?

A. The staff genuinely cares about the residents they serve. Plus, the organization is so appreciative of our efforts. Barry and Betsy’s grocery store is a perfect example. I remember seeing it for the first time at the Brudnick Center for Living and thinking how incredibly generous the organization was to provide the food and staples that we all need in our daily lives.

Most of all, I really appreciate how CJL strives to provide the best they can for our residents within a highly regulated industry where there is constant scrutiny. Let’s face it, we all feel good when we know our healthcare employer cares about its residents, families, and staff. I truly believe CJL is the best organization in the area for senior care!

Susan LeClaire gardening with a resident.