Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Mr. Wegman

Robert Wegman, a Rochester area business leader died last week at 87 years old. He was an amazing man--tenacious and innovative in business, respected (revered even) and empowering as an employer and generous in his philanthropy--he contributed great things to our community and will be sorely missed.

Mr. Wegman was my husband's employer for many years. It became evident to me, as a nurse, over the last few years that Mr. Wegman's health was changing. And it was very interesting to me both as a nurse and a disability advocate to observe the type and quality of care he received.

Typically elderly people who acquire health problems end up living lives focused on meeting their healthcare needs. Whether they live at home or in a nursing home, their daily care and medical needs often become the central theme of their lives.

When watching Mr. Wegman it was clear that living a life focused on health concerns was NOT his mission statement. Mr. Wegman remained actively involved in the community and in his business. He attended meetings and employee events, visited his grocery stores and he even held a business meeting with Rochester's mayor the week before he died.

This was possible because of the team of support people he had around him who transported him, made sure he had the things he needed and the cues he needed to be successful on hand at all times. They built on his strengths and accomodated his needs allowing his innate competence to continue to shine through.

Many people will immediately jump to the conclusion that the difference for Mr. Wegman was his wealth, but my experience is that even wealthy people who develop health concerns as they age end up living the medical model--perhaps in places where the furniture is fancier, but medical and care issues still rule the day.

The difference with Mr. Wegman was not his wealth, but his vision and the support of the people around him. In the vernacular of the Developmental Disability world he had a great "person-centered plan" and and awesome "circle of support." Yes, money made it easier to implement the plan, but vision and commitment created the plan in the first place.

In this area--as much as in the grocery business--Mr. Wegman was a trailblazer. Eldercare and living arrangements for people with developmental disabilities in the US are just beginning to rethink their commitment to medically-driven, problem-focused living. With the proper supports and accomodations in place Mr. Wegman was able to live his corporation's motto, "Everyday you get our best!" until the day he died.

Mr. Wegman's success affirms my belief in person-centered living for all--and inspires me to keep on keepin' on!