Case VII: Identities Lost and Stolen

That Martha Arthur would die of a heart attack was not a surprise to the residents and staff of La Vida Aureo; this kind and gentle woman had struggled with heart-related illness for many years. But, her good friend Millicent Branch believed otherwise.  She was convinced that Martha had been the victim of foul play and she was certain she knew who was responsible.  She had seen it coming for some time and had tried to warn Martha, but was unable to prevent the inevitable.


Chapter 1: New Directions

Matthew Dudley and Isabella Duncan were pleased that La Doña Jaramillo had expressed such enthusiasm for the Community Assist Program.  As she had promised, Isabella introduced Dudley to La Doña and their initial discussions had been better than she had expected.  Isabella presented the general concept of the Community Assist Program and encouraged Dudley to describe the details. La Doña listened carefully and probed several specific aspects of the program with additional questions. La Doña was, above all else, a very pragmatic person and did not see the merit in embarking on a program that was too large or ambitious in scope.  She was committed to helping her community in any way she could, but firmly believed that people should help themselves first.  Because the program that Isabella and Dudley had described was based on providing people with information so that they could help themselves, she would give it her total support.  They all agreed that the most important first step was to select a few individuals to serve as the initial Project Managers as Dudley had described that function.  They also agreed that this initial group should be diverse in background and experience since much of their initial responsibility would be to further define the range of services that the program would provide as well as the populations to be served.  Isabella and La Doña looked at Dudley and it was Isabella who actually spoke for both women. “You really need to come up with a better name for what you are now calling Project Managers.  We will forgive your engineering background.  We total agree with your description of their role, but please try to find a name that is less technical-sounding.”

“I’ll work on that, he replied, smiling. Maybe our first group of Leaders could choose a more appropriate name for themselves.”

“I’d like to raise one final piece of administrative business while we’re together, said Isabella.  I recommend that we form a separate entity for this activity to distinguish it from the basic operation of La Vida Aureo.  I suggest we form an LLC called LVA Community Assist and that the three of us serve as its Board of Directors and that Matthew and I are the only Corporate Officers, if that is acceptable to you, La Doña.”

“That is acceptable for the time being, La Doña responded. But, if this program is as successful as I anticipate, I believe it would be more appropriate if I were not directly involved and that you consider expanding the Board to include more representatives from the community at large.  I doubt that the Church would allow Father Michael’s involvement in an official capacity, but he is an example of the type of person I have in mind.”

“That makes sense to me.  One of the things Matthew and I understand is that this is a new program and we must remain open to adapting it based on what we learn, particularly at this early stage.”

“Thank you, Isabella for this update and Mr. Dudley is everything you described; you are fortunate to have him working with you.”

“I know I am speaking for him when I say that we appreciate you support of this venture and you have our commitment to make it successful.”

On the drive back to La Vida Aureo, Isabella and Dudley began to discuss the type of individuals they wanted to hire as their initial Team. “I agree with La Doña that our first hires should be a relatively diverse group to reflect the population we anticipate serving.  And, we should probably start by identifying someone to serve as the Leader of the Team.  There is a bright young woman I knew from when I did volunteer work at United Way. Her name is Beth Ford and she’s a CPA with a local Accounting firm.  It might be beneficial to have someone with a financial background as we begin to look at organizations we want to partner with or include on our list of “preferred suppliers”.  That’s what she was doing when she volunteered at United Way.  Each Agency applying for a grant had to submit their financial records and it was Beth’s job to evaluate these to determine the viability of the Agency.”

“I agree, Isabella. It probably wouldn’t hurt to have someone from the State as well.  I think that knowledge of the resources available through the Department of Health would be a valuable addition.”

“Since medication typically represents such a large part of elderly people’s medical expenses, we could use someone with that expertise.  Perhaps we could recruit a young woman who has served as what the pharmaceutical companies call a Detail Person, a representative who calls on physicians.”

“And, since I’m not particularly knowledgeable about all the new forms of communication, we could certainly use a person with those skills.  I think we both agree that communication will be a critical element in anything and everything we do.”

“OK, said Isabella. I think we have a starting point.  I’ll call Beth Ford and see if she can come to La Vida Aureo and meet with us as soon as possible.”

“Let’s concentrate on hiring her.  If she accepts the position of Team Leader, it would be appropriate to include her in any subsequent hiring decisions.”

Beth Ford met with Isabella and Dudley a few days later and quickly became excited about the opportunity.  She said, “I’ve been volunteering at United Way for almost ten years now and have become more frustrated each year with the inefficient approach to serving the community. The individual Agencies seem to be in competition with each other for grant money instead of trying to work together to be able to serve the growing number of people and families in Albuquerque who are in desperate need.  I believe the approach you’ve described could provide more people with the information they need to be self-sufficient. Over time, I can see a situation where the Agencies can focus their resources on only the neediest cases.  Count me in, Isabella!”

Over the next six weeks, Matthew Dudley and Beth Ford were able to identify and recruit their initial Team with Isabella participating in the final interview and ultimate hiring decision.  The three of them then met with La Doña Jaramillo to inform her of their progress. The Team consisted of the following individuals:

Beth Ford, a CPA who would also serve as Team Leader

Janetta “JJ” Johari, a pharmaceutical representative from Merck

Mila Espalin, a Supervisor with the New Mexico Department of Health

Minot Atkinson, a Project Manager with a Public Relations firm in Santa Fe

Dudley and Beth would continue to search for an experienced Social Worker, but agreed that they had a core Team that could get to work. Isabella expressed her satisfaction with the initial group for its complementary mix of backgrounds and skills as well as it diversity.

For their initial Team meeting, Dudley’s goal was to allow the women time to get acquainted and talk about their primary focus. He decided that a story could serve to help the Team understand its mission. “When I worked for the State, I occasionally had to spend time in the office in Santa Fe.  I never particularly cared for being cooped up in an office, so I tried to go for a walk over my lunch hour.  I would take the stairs from the fourth floor to avoid waiting for the elevator which was always crowded at lunchtime.  At the base of the stairwell near the first floor exit there was the required fire-fighting connection and fire hose reel.  One day, I noticed that, on top of the large sign that said FIRE HOSE, someone had placed a sign that said in bold letters, AIM HOSE FIRST.”

“That’s how I would describe my expectation for your initial work with the LVA Community Assist Program.  Before we actually do anything, I challenge you to gather as much information as possible.  To maximize our effectiveness, we need to focus on doing a few things very well rather than lots of things poorly.  Remember that our primary goal, our Mission if you will, is to help people remain independent and self-sufficient for a long as possible.  We want to emphasize preventing people’s lives from declining to maintain their dignity.  For starters, I recommend that you introduce yourselves to Paloma Angostura here at La Vida Aureo and ask her to arrange a meeting with a group she calls her Sopapilla Network.  These are women who are part of the La Vida Aureo staff and were a major influence in the genesis of this initiative.  Most of them have family similar to the population we would serve.  Listen to them talk about their concerns and the type of information that would most useful to them. I encourage each of you to talk to your own sources to gather as much information as possible. Let’s plan to get together in a week or so and we can share what we each learn.”

As Dudley left the small conference room, the women remained behind, engaged in active conversation with an air of excitement.


Author’s Note

A number of readers of the Retirement Home Mysteries stories do not live in New Mexico and are unfamiliar with some of the references. Starting with this Case, I will attempt to include links to additional material for those who are interested in learning more about a particular topic.

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