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Staff Stories - May 31, 2024

Woman of Distinction Honored for Decades of Pioneering in Senior Living

By Timaeus Reed

What sets a woman of distinction apart? It’s the warmth she exudes, the person-centered approach she exemplifies, the wisdom she imparts, the laughter she shares. These very qualities make Director of Clinical Services Cathy Farmer a standout figure at Goodwin Living. For more than three decades, Cathy has transformed our workplace through her unwavering dedication to older adults, quick wit, infectious laughter and steadfast support for her team.

So we were thrilled when McKnight’s Senior Living announced they were recognizing Cathy as a 2024 Woman of Distinction, a well-deserved honor for this ‘Veteran VIP’ of the industry.

In celebrating Cathy, we think the world should know how incredible and unique she truly is. We interviewed her about her history in senior living and healthcare and asked some of her closest colleagues to share their favorite memories of Cathy over the decades.

Cathy Farmer, a Pioneer in Senior Living

While senior living and healthcare are rapidly expanding industries, many healthcare professionals don’t initially consider working with older adults. That makes Cathy a trailblazer. From the start, she chose to work in this field.

For almost 30 of her 46 years in healthcare, she has been a champion for older adults and those who care for them. Cathy began her career journey in 1978 when she worked as an RN (registered nurse) at a nursing center. Her passion for working with seniors has only grown stronger over the years.

“I knew I loved working with seniors early on,” Cathy shared. “Growing up on a street without any children, my friends were likely in their 80s. I had no children as counterparts, so I hung out with seniors and really have always considered them my friends.”

This personal connection, this deep-rooted affection, it’s what has driven Cathy’s dedication to older adults throughout her career.

In 1985, Cathy joined Goodwin House Alexandria (GHA) as a relief night supervisor. Her talent and compassion were quickly recognized, and she rose to a leadership position at Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads, our other Goodwin Living life plan community. From 1987 to 2002, Cathy served in many roles, from RN Supervisor to Assistant Director of Nursing to Director of Nursing. During this time, she played a pivotal role in the growth of Goodwin Living, witnessing and supporting important innovations that continue to define us today, including the establishment of our Goodwin Hospice and Goodwin House Home Care service lines. Through thick and thin, Cathy’s unwavering commitment to supporting others has been a guiding light for us all.

“I got my master’s degree in nursing during that time,” Cathy said. “Goodwin Living has always been very supportive of learning. Even after all this time, I learn every day at my job, and I see the investment in the people around me, as well. It’s very rare and a big draw for why I came here.”

In 2002, Cathy said her goodbyes to Goodwin Living to pursue other areas of healthcare. Had her journey with us ended there, she would still be a vital part of this organization’s DNA. Thankfully for us, that wasn’t our final chapter together.

Cathy Farmer, a pioneer in senior living and healthcare
Cathy Farmer (front right), a pioneer in senior living and healthcare earlier in her career at Goodwin Living

Cathy Farmer, Leaving a Legacy

Before her departure in 2002, Cathy mentored her team members, helping them grow and advance in their careers. Karen Doyle is one such team member. She and Cathy have also become very close friends over the years.

Starting as a night nurse in 1994, Karen didn’t initially work closely with Cathy. Still, Cathy kept her eye out for talent and observed Karen’s hard work and dedication. Eventually, Cathy called Karen and asked her to take on a new role.

“One day, Cathy said to me, ‘I finally found someone that works as hard as I do.’” Karen said with a smile.

Cathy not only encouraged Karen to become the assistant director of nursing but also motivated her to pursue higher education. Working together as assistant director of nursing and director of nursing, Karen and Cathy overcame many unexpected challenges. And through it all, they taught and learned from one other.

“Cathy is a very big advocate of continuing education and supporting people through that process,” Karen said. “I can’t remember the number of people she has encouraged and supported through school. She intervened and helped people and encouraged them. That’s just who she is.”

Their bond deepened in and outside of work, learning from and supporting each other over the years.

“We always found time to have a good time, and even when things were really, really tough, we would find the humor in it and move forward,” Karen said.

When Cathy left Goodwin Living for other opportunities in 2002, it weighed heavily on the hearts of many. Though Cathy remained closely connected to several colleagues, she credits Karen with playing a significant role in convincing her to return. We were grateful for it, as Goodwin Living had just started to undertake major developments at GHA.

Cathy Farmer, the Legend Returns

In 2016, Cathy became the GHA Director of Nursing, returning to the place where she began with us decades prior. She hardly recognized renovated spaces, but knowing that  Cathy had worked there before, her new team expected her to know what to do and where to find things. Cathy had to learn quickly.

Assistant Director of Nursing Charity Ampong watched with awe as Cathy sorted through the chaos of her first day back.

“Cathy went apartment by apartment, looking at the residents and reading about their stories, meds and everything,” Charity said. “Then she gave me this stack of work – things she wanted me to fix. Cathy wasn’t joking either, and that’s when I knew she was right for the job.”

Cathy immediately positioned herself as the changemaker and pioneer we always knew her to be. Right way, she was tasked with helping to introduce the Small House model of care to our health care center. The new approach meant dramatic changes to the physical spaces as well as how care was managed and delivered. And we all know that major work transitions can be challenging. The Small House concept launched remains the first and largest of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Cathy took Charity under her wing and prepared her for leadership in the Small Houses when they officially opened in 2017. According to Charity, Cathy’s mentorship remains intense, personable and full of humor.

“If you don’t work closely with Cathy, you don’t know how funny she is,” Charity said. “She’s taught me so many things, and she’s always right, but people always think she’s so serious. Cathy is one of the funniest people you could ever work with.”

Charity (Ampong (left) pictured with Momah Wolapaye and Cathy Farmer (right).
Cathy and Charity always find ways to have fun together.

Cathy Farmer and Charity Ampong have had all sorts of fun together over the years.Health Care Center Administrator Jackie Barbarito shares Charity’s experience. Jackie described Cathy as big-hearted, strong-willed, a great grandmother and a friend. Jackie began reporting to Cathy in 2018 when she accepted the assisted living administrator role at GHA. They quickly grew close, forming their favorite memories together with roaring laughter. Always focused and determined to put residents first, Cathy rushes to offer hands-on support whenever she can. Jackie loves being right beside her through thick and thin. Here’s how Jackie describes one of her most cherished moments with Cathy.

“One time, a resident in the Health Care Center needed a new air mattress. Instead of waiting and putting in a ticket for maintenance like a normal person, Cathy told me the resident couldn’t wait that long. She looks at me and tells me to follow her. We go down to the garage storage, and the mattress is way high on a shelf. Cathy grabbed a ladder and went for it. I’m begging her not to fall as she pulls the mattress from the top shelf. She managed to get it down, and then we carried it upstairs ourselves to the resident’s apartment and changed the mattress. She’s always doing stuff like that because she can’t help it. Sometimes, all you can do is laugh. Cathy really wants the residents to be happy.”

Jackie Barbarito Scholar (left) and Cathy Farmer can’t spend enough time together.
When an new baby comes into the family, everyone gathers around.

Cathy Farmer, A Woman of Distinction

We could write a million words about Cathy. Still, it would capture only a small sliver of just how amazing she is. Every person she works with feels a tremendous warmth from her. Cathy is the type of caring person that makes people want to better themselves and give back.

This year, Cathy received this 2024 Woman of Distinction honor, though the people closest to her know she has embodied excellence and compassion 24/7 since the day she started her career. We think Karen put it best when we first asked her to tell us about Cathy.

“Cathy is truly a pioneer in long-term care, as if her heart has always been in the right place,” Karen said. “She has always made every decision about the residents and their families. She’s always been an advocate and put her heart and soul into ensuring everything that happened was the best for them. And I thank her. She’s been a great mentor. She’s been phenomenal to so many people, and I think she’s really made Goodwin Living what it is today.”

We could not agree more! We thank you, Cathy – for all the years of leadership, vulnerability and dedication, and for all the years to come.

_____________________________

Timaeus Reed is a Marketing and Communications Specialist at Goodwin Living. He plans, writes and designs for internal and external campaigns that support all areas of the organization. He relocated to D.C. to join the team in the summer of 2021. When he isn’t getting lost in traffic, Timaeus loves listening to live Go-Go music and stand-up comedy.

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