ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Every Thursday morning, the door to the beauty salon at Hillsboro Community Medical Center opens, lights are switched on, and residents and patients get special pampering.
The salon day in the HCMC Long Term Care Unit unfolds in a beehive of activity, but beautician Tam Jost finds time to offer much more than the standard cut, shampoo, set and perm.
She also considers her work a personal and spiritual mission.
“A lot of these people don’t have families who come to see them very often and for some, not at all,” Jost said. “I think this is one thing they look forward to-even some who their minds aren’t clear anymore.”
Her day begins at 6 a.m., and she usually turns the lights off between 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. As many as 25 to 30 people see Jost in the HCMC salon on Thursdays, the only day of the week the salon is open.
The remainder of the week, she sees clients at Country Corner Salon, a beauty shop she owns and operates out of her home in rural Hillsboro.
Jost has been working professionally with people’s hair since she completed training at Sidney’s Hairdressing College in Hutchinson in 1970.
She began working once a week in the salon at Salem Home in 1978. The facility was eventually renamed HCMC Long Term Care Unit.
“As far as I know, when they started the shop there at Salem Home, I was the first one who started working there,” Jost said. “I took some time off when I had my children. But from then on, I’ve done it.”
The salon room was larger at first but was later downsized.
“It’s a one-station salon with one sink and three hair dryers,” Jost said.
Although she completed her cosmetology education, Jost said working with the elderly takes additional training. The owner of the former Arnold’s Beauty Shop, where Jost worked for several years, had experience at another local care home and offered to train her.
“She thought I had the personality to work with older people,” Jost said. “She took me along with her and started training me.”
As a young mother and homemaker, working once a week at the hospital salon fit into her family schedule. Eventually, she added her own shop in her house.
That home salon has grown. Jost takes care of clients four days through the week and one-half day on Saturdays.
But Thursdays are reserved for the elderly and hospitalized.
Her clients include residents in the LTCU, the Special Care Unit for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, the HCMC apartments and the hospital ward.
“About 20 are regulars that I do every week,” Jost said of her appointment schedule. “Then the other 10 are perms, haircuts and maybe some from the hospital.”
She offers shampoos and sets, hair cuts for men and women, permanents and the occasional color.
“At this point in their life, I try to discourage them from color,” Jost said. “But I will do some for those who want it. The permanents take the longest. I can maybe get two to three perms done in a day on top of the others.”
Beginning at 6 a.m., she tries to take care of about seven clients before breakfast is served to residents at 7:30 a.m. The breakfast break allows her to work on residents from the apartments when necessary.
“As soon as breakfast is over, I just keep going until 11 a.m.,” Jost said. “I stop, they eat lunch, and I take my lunch break from 11 a.m. to noon. Then, I start up again at noon until I’m done.”
Her charges at HCMC are the same as her home salon for shampoo and set, permanents and men’s and women’s haircuts.
Working in a hospital salon requires many skills beyond those taught in school.
“A lot of them can’t lean back-they can’t move out of their wheelchairs,” Jost said about her HCMC clients. “So I have to leave them in their chairs.”
With about half her clients, she uses a special tray to catch the water and direct it into the salon sink. Jost has also learned to use several towels around them to protect their clothing and keep the excess water off the floors.
“Some of them, I have them sit on pillows,” Jost said. “I have to take hearing aids and glasses off and then make sure everybody gets the right hearing aids and the right glasses back.”
Communication can also be a challenge. Some with advanced dementia are often incapable of expressing themselves.
“I have to either communicate with family or just do what I think, because some can’t tell me what they want,” she said.
Jost also has to work around intravenous bottles and other hospital equipment.
“So they have all that plugged in, and I’m trying not to cut cords,” she said.
Her hospital schedule has become so filled that at one point recently, Jost tried to work two days a week.
“But it’s getting to be harder on me physically, and I’m getting older,” Jost said. “So I’ve decided if I can’t get it done in one day, I’ll just get done what I can, and that’s it.”
She can often be spotted walking down the halls to the room of a resident or patient and wheeling them back to the salon.
“I talk to some who do this in other towns, and a lot of them have an aide assigned to them the whole day,” Jost said. “I could use a girl here just when I needed help. They wouldn’t have to be here the whole time.”
Every two months, Jost sends families of her clients a bill for her salon services.
Although families pay the bills, Jost said she puts her clients first. A family member may make a request, but Jost will consult with the clients and respect their wishes.
“I’ll tell the family, ‘Well, she doesn’t really want it right now,'” Jost said. “Because, that’s one thing they can still decide on their own and feel like they had a little bit of control.”
The reality of working in a care-home environment is that Jost works with clients in the twilight of their lives.
When they pass on, she will do their hair one last time at the funeral home if the family requests it.
“It’s just the last thing I can do for them,” Jost said.
At one point, Jost was dealing with personal health issues and thought she might have to give up her Thursdays at HCMC.
But a special friend changed her mind.
“I’d been sick and missed a week,” Jost said. “Then, one lady said, ‘I prayed for you all week, and I’m so thankful that you’re back. I missed you so much.'”
Jost gives to others at her salon, but her friends give to her in return.
“A lot of these people have a lot of stories to tell from the past,” Jost said. “They have things you can learn. And, I think sometimes they need somebody to share those stories with yet, one last time.”
Pam Ratzlaff, coordinator for the special care unit, said the service Jost provides is important.
“It’s basically bringing that beauty shop to them, which in the past has been very important in their lives,” Ratzlaff said.
“And it gives them that feeling of being special. It’s another person who they can connect with outside of the people who care for them on a daily basis. She’s another friend.”