Leila Clarke-Daniels is a ‘Special Person’
“Working here (Psychiatric Hospital), I find, makes you a rounded person, because it’s not just dealing with individuals with health issues, but with an additional mental health issue. And I have recognised over the years that I have a flair for mental health… a soft-spot for these patients, because of the type of illness they suffer.”
By Leon Suseran
Being a healthcare provider calls for a lot of patience, hard work and determination, and this week’s ‘Special Person’, Leila Clarke-Daniels, has performed dutifully in that area for over 40 years. And even though she spent much of her years witnessing firsthand how the system is managed and administered properly, she did, from time to time, perform tasks and jobs that a healthcare practitioner so skillfully does on a daily basis, such as cooking and caring for patients.
She has a pure love for the system and has been passionate about it from the very start, upon entering the New Amsterdam Hospital as an ordinary clerk. Little did she know that it was the beginning of a fruitful and rewarding career in the field of health, moving up the ranks to Hospital Administrator and then being recalled to Head the National Psychiatric Hospital after retiring a few years ago.
Leila has a wealth of experience that she garnered from decades of practice and shares some of this with us today on this journey of reminiscing.
Born Leila Clarke, at Trinity Street, New Amsterdam, on January 12, 1952, to Elvira and Harold Clarke, her parents had acquired a house at Savannah Park Housing Scheme on the outskirts of the town. She attended the All Saints’ Anglican School.
“When I entered Fourth Standard, the schools were taken over by the government and we were all transferred to the Vryman’s Erven Primary School, then I moved up and wrote the College of Preceptors Exam at that school where I acquired 5 subjects, including English and Maths, “she said.
She then moved on to Victoria High where she completed the General Certificate of Education. While awaiting the results for that exam, Leila entered the Victoria Commercial School “where I started doing the related subjects…Shorthand was my favourite, and at that time the principal was Ms Eileen Benons- King”.
Being a focused student, young Leila quickly wrote and was successful in one exam after another and, of course, even started working at the school where she taught shorthand.
A few months after, in 1974, at the age of 22, she entered the public healthcare system, where she would grow and nurture her professional career. She entered as an accounts clerk at the New Amsterdam (N/A) Hospital (then located at Charles Place). She later moved on to further her education by doing a Management Programme at the Kuru Kuru Co-op College and another Management course at the University of Guyana.
Leila was appointed Assistant Hospital Administrator in 1985 and later transferred to the National Psychiatric Hospital, after which she became Hospital Administrator at N/A Hospital in 1989. She retired in 2007 in that position…for three years. She was recalled and is currently serving as Administrator at the National Psychiatric Hospital.
“Those years were really, really challenging years. I could recall persons coming to the door and asking ‘Can I talk to the Administrator?’ and when they saw the face of a woman, they were taken aback. They were shocked to know the Administrator was female. But, I would tell them that there are no differences.
Women can do the functions just as good as a man… and even better than a man! I found that the staff that I managed felt at ease to come to me at any time. Usually I would tell them that my doors are always open, that they should free and at ease to come to me at any time and talk. I essentially try to befriend them, though I am not being very soft with them; I am firm, but you know, in a friendly way,” she asserted.
Leila remembered some of the challenges being Hospital Administrator- particularly a big general strike in 1992, where she had to manage some of the hospital wards herself, around the clock.
“At that time, most of the staff was out. We had to manage some of the wards ourselves. I remember actually working for 24 hours and just going home, freshen up and come back, so that we could make sure that the hospital had coverage,” she recalled.
She vividly remembers “cooking for 3 days”.
“Once at the Psychiatric Hospital, we had to prepare meals for three days for 220 patients because all the staff was out. I had to manage the kitchen. I had to bring the patients out, manage the laundry, get their clothes washed and clean and so on, and after those three days, I begged the staff, I said ‘Please do come back, I cannot do it any longer, it’s too much.”
“I loved working in the health services. As a young clerk, I can recall that we were advised that we were into health and we were dealing with people’s lives and as such, we had to be very efficient in whatever we were doing,” she asserted.
This affable healthcare provider is a member of Damon, in the USA, a global network that deals with mental health. She also became a member of the Lioness Club, in 1991, in New Amsterdam, and served in that noble institution for 20 years.
At that time, in the early ‘90s, it was the Lioness Club “because we were females… and a little after, the female arm answered the conversion call, that there should not be any segregation, and that we should all be classified as Lions, so I was transferred to the Lions arm of the organization”. She then later served, in 1995, as president of the organization where she held the prominent designation of Zone Chairperson of the Berbice area.
A staunch Anglican, Ms Clarke- Daniels has served for the People’s Warden for 6 years at the All Saints’ Anglican Church. Today, she dishes out a lot of advice to persons in need.
“Some come for advice, for help, they bring their children, they ask me to talk to youths, to do counselling. You name it, I am there always reaching out to whoever needs my help and assistance.”
Leila found her soul mate, Vincent Daniels, at age 24, and they have been happily married for 35 years. Their union resulted in three offspring, Marlon, a teacher; Rhonda, a Medical Technologist at the Davis Memorial Hospital in Georgetown; and the youngest, Andrew, is a Seaman.
“We’re still together. We look back on our marriage on a daily basis and as it gets older, it is more enjoyable,” she noted.
She advises young married couples to “trust and communicate with each other”.
“I never listened to people telling me things about my husband. I never paid them any heed; I am a person who likes to find out for myself,” she reflected. “We talk a lot to each other, and most of all, we have God in our lives”.
They got married on July 1, 1976. “At that time I was a good looking young girl and I went to a dance at the Christian Men’s Club (CMC) at the BERMINE Management Centre, and every month end they used to have a dance, so a bunch of us girls used to get together, and I met this young Prison Officer,” she reminisced fondly.
Her husband was transferred to Mazaruni and this affected her family, but not until after she did she step in and ask him to look for another job “because these children needed a father in the home, particularly my daughter, she was very close to her father and she used to be asking for him every day”. He did leave and became a hire car driver.
Mrs Clarke- Daniels thoroughly enjoys giving her service currently at the country’s lone Psychiatric facility. She thoughtfully and interestingly opines that working in health, “one’s job is never completed unless one works at the Psychiatric Hospital”.
“Working here, I find, makes you a rounded person, because it’s not just dealing with individuals with health issues, but with an additional mental health issue. And I have recognised over the years that I have a flair for mental health… a soft-spot for these patients, because of the type of illness they suffer.”
Clarke-Daniels stated that she enjoys seeing patients rehabilitated and reintegrated into the society and it is something she works tirelessly to see happen.
“We have a therapy programme. We try to identify patients’ strengths and weaknesses,” she said, adding that, “They build on their strengths and are encouraged to see what the hospital can get them to work on. There are number of skillful and educated patients here. These patients, we bring them out on a daily basis, we have them do a lot of art and craft, carpentry skills, leather craft, sewing, knitting, some even go to the laundry and assist with washing their clothing. This we feel will keep them occupied and let them know that when they leave here, they can go back into society and once again become useful individuals.
The Hospital Administrator noted that it is quite sad that some families do not lend the quality of support they should give to their mentally-ill relatives.
“…Particularly the families…I would like to let them know that these patients are human beings and all human beings need love, support… they need to know that someone cares for them. Can you imagine how happy and responsive it would make a patient feel when a relative visits? They (family members) should not leave the patients… abandon them. Relatives need to know that the patients should be kept on their medications. We discharge and send them home and give them a parole, and then within 2-3 weeks, they are back. When you find out, unfortunately, the relatives did not keep up and maintain the medication.”
As for words of encouragement to young healthcare workers in the system today, Clarke- Daniels emphasised that they do not only have to take up the job for financial reasons, “they have to be caring, loving individuals. They have got to love the job and it would cause them to have the dedication. Obviously we know money is important, but you’ve got to love the job also and the people who you serve.”
Looking forward to fully retiring, eventually, and leaving the system that has been so good to her over so many years, Leila is determined to leave some footprints in all her areas of endeavour – a positive impression for those behind to emulate.
“I enjoy working with the Lions Club. It is like if my life blood is in it. I enjoy reaching out to suffering humanity. I like to see a smile on people’s face, particularly children, and I find that whenever you do a service, you see that smile.”
As she looked back over the years, you could have heard a distinct pause in her voice as she recalled the saddest day of her life – the day she lost her best friend, her mother, Elvira.
“It was on the 1st of July, 1995, I remembered the loss of my best friend… yes, she was my best friend, my hero, the one who encouraged me a lot. I remembered her at nights. In those days, we suffered a lot of blackouts (power outages); and like I remembered her with that lamp in the dark, encouraging us to study. If only she were alive…if only…she was my best friend.”
On the brighter side her father, a former boat-builder, is 90 years old and still alive and kicking today.
Leila Clarke-Daniels’ concerns for young people are about many of them using and abusing drugs. “I urge them to live life one day at a time. Stay away from drugs; I am at an institution where I see them coming on a daily basis. I see how destructive drugs can be to their lives, and I am advising them to leave those potent substances alone.
Pray daily to your Creator and ask for his directions; ask that he give you the wisdom, understanding and patience, because some of the young ones are into this thing [drug abuse] because they want quick money. Things will come their way, but they’ve got to talk to God. He doesn’t want big, fancy words, but always keep talking to him. Keep God in your life and things will work out.”
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