Mary Pat O’Brien: A Person of Family

by Ernie Stark

Assistant Executive Director for Residents and Programs, Mary Pat O’Brien, is a person for whom family is paramount. Born in Evanston and raised in an Irish Catholic family, Mary Pat cherishes her relationships with her two brothers, two sisters, and their spouses and children. With eleven nieces and nephews, along with five great nieces and nephews, Mary Pat’s personal life is enriched by the familial love she gives and receives.

Early in her life, Mary Pat’s family moved and settled in LaGrange. Here Mary Pat attended St. Cletus Elementary School and Nazareth Academy during her high school years. She went to Bradley University in Peoria where she majored in Psychology. During her collegiate years, her future plans included early childhood care or childhood intervention care.

Mary Pat began her career by taking a first job as an aide in a special education classroom. She was not at this position long before a friend, who worked at Misericordia South, told Mary Pat she was moving and, as such, a job would be available. Mary Pat decided to interview and got the job!

Starting at Misericordia South in 1977, Mary Pat was not only beginning what would be her life’s work, she was doing so in a place where a sense of family was paramount. This was so important to Mary Pat. She immediately became involved in providing social services and strategic planning. The planning included licensing challenges and making sure Misericordia South was in compliance with all of the new federal and state rules and regulations.

After several years at Misericordia South, in 1982 Sister Rosemary called Mary Pat to the North campus. Among her priorities at North was to get the Village up and running. This included sorting out the many licensing issues. This was not an easy task and without the assistance of Sister Rosemary and state legislators, we would not have had homes for adult residents. Mary Pat also coordinated the waiting list and admissions processes. Mary Pat had become an important part of Sister Rosemary’s leadership team at Misericordia North. As Misericordia North continued to grow, both in facilities and number of residents, Mary Pat was involved in social services, planning, and licensing of new residences.

Before 2008, Misericordia was led by Sister Rosemary as Executive Director and three Assistant Executive Directors (AED). A fourth AED (Mary Pat) sat at the leadership table to specifically focus and directly represent residents and the programs which enrich their lives so greatly.

Mary Pat’s primary duty is to lead and support the administrators and directors who supervise the various residential direct care staffs. She also leads the staff who orchestrate the wide array of programs which distinguish Misericordia: social services, behavioral support, community day program, occupational, physical and speech therapy, and the many work opportunities on/off campus.

One specific area of Mary Pat’s leadership is the admission of new residents. The process is team-centered, with a number of participating staff bringing their particular expertise to the process. It can be a lengthy process because great care is exercised to determine the capacity of Misericordia to meet the needs of a prospective new resident. Consideration is also given to which residence would be the best fit for a new resident. The process is under constant review to make it as applicant-friendly as possible.

There are occasions when an applying family must be told that Misericordia cannot meet the needs of an applicant. Mary Pat finds this one of the most challenging aspects of her work, and a duty she would rather not ever have to perform. However, for the overall good of an applicant, she must, on occasion, disappoint a family.

There are other challenges to meet these days which require difficult decisions. The most obvious is managing all the ramifications of the pandemic. What is required to keep residents and staff safe? What about home visits? What about on-campus visits? Under what conditions? What about all the programs? How can we keep the residents engaged? How can we get vaccinations provided? Mary Pat and her staff have met the challenges in superlative fashion. The heart of Misericordia’s community, the residents, have not only been kept safe but have thrived. In no small measure, this has been accomplished by Mary Pat’s leadership.

An ongoing challenge for several years, and one that is likely to continue, is staffing. This is not only a challenge for Misericordia, but for caring facilities across the country. Again, Mary Pat and her team are leading by constantly exploring and implementing programs to attract and retain new candidates, especially DSP’s and CNAs. The recent effort to increase diversity and inclusion as well as the creation of job coaching positions are examples of the team’s efforts.

Mary Pat’s work is never ending. Some of it is not easy. She has been rendering outstanding care to the Misericordia community for a significantly long time: 44 years! What is motivating her? What is she getting out of this?

“I find my work very satisfying,” she says. “I love the residents and I love our mission statement to them. And, families make my position special. That is why I very much enjoy being the liaison to the MFA; it helps me get to know the families.”  

To Mary Pat O’Brien, an extraordinary administrator and a person of family: we are so very grateful for your being an integral member of our Misericordia family!