It started with painting fingernails.
Every two weeks in high school Gretchen Napier showed up to a local nursing home by recommendation from a fellow church member.
“I began to look forward to my visits because I felt so useful,” Napier says. “When I would walk into their room their eyes would light up.”
Napier was awakening to the impact something as seemingly simple as a touch could have on another person’s spirit.
She was playing a role in calling out the dignity (Genesis 1:27) in each of her newfound friends.
“Most nursing home residents are only touched to be cleaned or fed or turned,” Napier says. “So my work of taking off their nail polish, rubbing lotion on their hands and arms, trimming their nails and then painting them, was often the most caring touch they received.”
Holistic patient care, down to the detail of a personal touch, is at the core of how Napier’s faith inspires her work today as CEO and Owner of LifeLinks, an organization in Nashville, Tennessee, and Raleigh, North Carolina, armed with a client-centered approach to caring for older adults and others facing ongoing health challenges.
Napier’s team consists of a handful of passionate registered nurses, psychologists, physical therapists, hospital administrators, and social workers with more than a decade of highly-personalized professional aging life care services.
“Instead of warehousing the elderly and disabled, we are seeking to meet their holistic needs to promote as much quality of life and independence as is safely possible,” Napier says. “We are seeking to reconcile families.”
A Career in care
The passion to serve those with ongoing health challenges first stirred within Napier as a teenager.
Although Vanderbilt University did not offer any classes in gerontology (the study of the aging process) at the time, she was able to use the practicum hours in her Human and Organizational Development degree to tease out the calling with the help of a few local nonprofits — specifically FiftyForward.
After spending a summer in Washington, D.C. working on the House Select Committee on Aging’s Subcommittee for Retirement Income and Housing Napier earned her Master’s in Health Services Administration (MHSA) with a certificate in Gerontology from the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
She transitioned into running independent and assisted living facilities while publishing a resource guide for seniors before being recruited by the LifeLinks team. Napier joined the team in 2009 and became CEO and sole proprietor in 2012.
“Our team is a reflection of the body and the vine,” Napier says. “We all bring different gifts, skills and perspectives to the aid of the client’s we serve.
“The excellence we strive for and love we give to our clients, are given first to us by God.”
Working with broken people, broken families and broken healthcare systems provides lots of opportunity for Napier's team to show God's love, mercy and grace.
Sometimes they are advocating for the often overlooked older adult and others they are helping families build bridges to one another during the difficult final human season.
Isaiah 1 calls to mind the call to advocacy of your neighbor—specifically those in distress—that LifeLinks puts to practice.
“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause..” — Isaiah 1:17 (ESV)
While healthcare is traditionally fragmented, with the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing, Napier and her team serve as a hub for information and communication, simplifying the big picture in ways the family can process, understand and act upon.
But the work is rewarding.
“Healthcare in general is very broken,” Napier says. “It has a difficult time seeing people as complicated individuals with a variety of facets.
“We can’t just treat the body because the mind and spirit have a profound impact on our body.”