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Empathy, patience are vital in chief deputy's job

by Jeff Haldiman | December 19, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

Those who work in a public administrator's office said there's no course you can take in school that will prepare you for all the things you will have to deal with in the office.

For the last four years, Erin Gordon has worked in the Cole County public administrator's office and has been the chief deputy for about a year.

The public administrator is the guardian of last resort for county residents who cannot take care of themselves and have no one else to watch out for their needs and interests. They're involved in helping manage finances and making medical decisions that the client can't make.

The office currently has more than 200 clients they're in charge of. While the majority are actually in Cole County, they have others who are in 27 other counties. That's mainly due to not enough acute care facilities in Cole County to house those clients.

"So many people don't know what this office does, and before I worked here, I had no idea," Gordon said. She worked at a day care before coming to this office. "We always say we could do a TV show with all the things we have to do. It's an eye-opening job because we have clients whom we get who have been taken advantage of, and it's so sad."

Gordon said many of the clients just don't have families or friends who can help them.

"They lean on us for a lot of things," Gordon said. "It makes a huge difference to be able to be there for them."

Gordon said they get Christmas cards from many of their clients, and often they'll write notes thanking them for what the office has done for them. She said many of the clients become like family to the office staff.

"They say don't get too attached to them because you have to keep the boundary of being their guardian," Gordon said. "There are times when we're doing something in their best interests, and they don't always like having us say 'no' because we don't think it's something they should do."

One client, Gordon said, calls the office every day to see how the staff is doing.

"If the weather is bad, he wants to make sure that we've all made it in OK," Gordon said. "He doesn't know our families, but he asks me how my mom is doing, and he'll tell us how his family is doing."

This is not an 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. job, so if Public Administrator Ralph Jobe does need help in dealing with clients' needs after hours then Gordon said she's there.

"Our phones don't shut off at 4:30 p.m., they roll over (to Public Administrator Ralph Jobe's cellphone) so it doesn't end when we walk out the door -- they need us 24/7," Gordon said.

"I tell people who ask about what it takes to work here that you need a lot of empathy and a lot of patience," Gordon added. "I enjoy what I do and helping people that can't help themselves. It's a good feeling."

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