Ratzlaff brings knowledge, experience to elderly department

Staff reporter

Just like no two 40-year-old people are the same, such is true with people who are 65 years old.

Elderly people have diverse interests and backgrounds, with few fitting in the traditional mold.

That's the way Gayla Ratzlaff sees it as coordinator of the Marion County Department for Elderly.

It's almost like she was made to have this job.

Gayla has a master's degree in gerontology and has spent the past 19 years as a hospital and nursing home social worker.

As the coordinator for the county's senior citizens, Gayla wants to provide resource information to elderly but more than anything, she wants to listen.

"I am continuing to promote what's already been established," Gayla said, and will listen to people's needs and concerns.

"It's important to listen to people," she said. "New ideas for the department will come from people."

For the past two months, people have been gracious, open, and friendly to Gayla.

"After having Noreen (Weems) in this position for 20 years, people aren't going to trust me overnight. Trust is built by sharing experiences," she said.

Since taking the position, Gayla has been visiting senior centers in the county by attending their monthly potlucks. It may be fall before she makes it to all of the sites but is looking forward to meeting those involved at the centers.

"I have always had a connection with older people and feel comfortable around them," she said.

Besides the people, another aspect that Gayla enjoys about her job is providing information to people.

"I see myself as a resource person," she said. "If I don't know the answer, I'll find it."

Gayla worked at Hillsboro Community Medical Center and Salem Homes for the past 19 years. On the nursing home side, she admitted residents, worked with residents and families during the transition from home to the long-term care unit, and visited residents who were coping with depression and other challenges.

She was in charge of discharge planning for those leaving the hospital.

A Tabor College graduate with a degree in social work, she is married to Don, and they have two children, Graham and Emily.

Graham recently graduated from Kansas Statue University and will teach math this fall at Goddard High School.

Emily is married to Cooper Arnold and they both will be seniors at the University of Kansas.

Prior to having children and becoming a stay-at-home mother, Gayla worked at Bethel Deaconess Hospital at Newton. There she continued to hone her skills of working with and caring for the elderly. With those experiences under her belt, Gayla went on earn a master's degree in gerontology at Wichita State University and began her career at HCMC.

Looking to the future, Gayla is all too familiar with what's ahead when the Baby Boomers become senior citizens. She's up for the challenge.

"After 2011, there will be fewer children being born and a larger population of people over 65," Gayla said.

Even now, Gayla said older people are not the way some people see them. No two 65-year-olds and older are the same and they aren't in need of the same services.

There is a creative side of 65.

"When people reach retirement age, they are exploring things they didn't have time to do when they were working," she said.

"It's an absolutely wonderful time."