“What Simone gave us, and what Bickford gave us, was the peace of mind of knowing that when we leave him they are going to treat him with dignity and respect, the way he should be treated when we are not there. Because he couldn’t tell us what was going on. That’s what it meant, peace of mind.”
Katie Fogarty and Simone Pena became colleagues in caregiving at Bickford of Oswego, Illinois, more than seven years ago, when Katie joined the branch as a concierge. But that’s not how the two met: Their friendship goes back more than a decade, to a time when Katie and her family found themselves on the receiving end of Bickford’s care.
At just 68 years old, Katie’s father, Joe, developed early dementia after a series of mini strokes, or TIAs. Her mother could no longer care for him safely at home, and so the family decided he should move into memory care at Bickford of Oswego. Katie, now community relations director at Bickford of Aurora, Illinois, remembers the night she brought her dad to live at Bickford with vivid clarity. Joe was lucid enough to realize he was somewhere new, but couldn’t understand why. He manically roamed the halls, looking for his car, his wife, his home.
Simone, at the time a relatively new certified nursing assistant, leapt into action. She took off her shoes so she could follow along and reassure Joe, who was still young and healthy enough that keeping pace with him wasn’t easy.
“I just knew that he was going to be in good hands,” Katie says, tearing up at the memory. “She was right by his side. I knew he was her priority.” Simone also comforted Katie’s 9-year-old son, Luke, on that difficult night. Luke, who was very close to his grandfather, had come with Katie to help get Joe settled.
“It was really hard for him to see,” Katie recalls. “Simone sat next to him on the bed and said they were going to help my dad, and that they were going to take really good care of him.” After Katie and Luke finally left, Simone and her team stayed with Joe all night—and from that night forward, Simone worked every shift she could to care for him.
“She’s just an angel,” Katie says. “There are just no words really to describe what she gave to my family.”
During the 15 months Joe lived at Bickford, Katie’s mother, Sally, visited him every day. She was very particular about her husband’s care, Katie says, wanting things done a certain way. “Simone got to know what my mom’s expectations were,” Katie says. “Just every detail. She was such a comfort to our family because we knew that she was the real thing. She treated him with such respect and wanted to know about his life.”
Katie’s story is one that has unfolded time and again in the 12 years Simone has worked at Bickford, rising through the ranks from a CNA in Oswego to her current role as divisional director of operations for Virginia (for more of Simone’s story, read the other two parts of this series).
There was the resident who packed up her apartment every day, insisting she had to go home; every night, once she had calmed down, Simone would unpack everything back into the exact spot where she liked it. There was the man who visited his wife daily, often ending up in tears as his wife’s condition declined. Simone, by then assistant director of the branch, would find him and invite him to sit in her office while she worked. There are the scores of residents who Simone has comforted all throughout the night, even after working all day.
“There’s just something about her that is so comforting,” Katie says. “The residents might not know her name, but they know as soon as they see her that they are OK. And the families love her like she’s their own daughter.”
Katie’s own relationship with Simone has flourished in the 10 years since her father’s passing. It was Simone who opened the door to Katie joining the Bickford family seven years ago; Simone who guided Katie through the emotional early days of the pandemic, passing on her habit of journaling about what she’s grateful for first thing each morning. “I literally could be her mom,” Katie says, “but she’s like a mom to me.”
Now 21, Katie’s son Luke still remembers the night they met Simone. And Katie will never forget what she did for their family at their time of need. “What Simone gave us, and what Bickford gave us, was the peace of mind of knowing that when we leave my dad they are going to treat him with dignity and respect, the way he should be treated when we are not there,” Katie says. “Because he couldn’t tell us what was going on. That’s what it meant, peace of mind.”