Susie Akin has taken her life experiences, good and bad, and brought them to her new position as program director for Arkansas Hospice Conway and Russellville.
Akin, who lives in Pottsville, is a registered nurse and spent almost 25 of her 55 years at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Russellville, where she opened four departments.
Nursing was a natural fit for her, she said. Akin grew up in North Little Rock, the fourth of five children. Akin said one of her older brothers, Jim, is a nursing director in northwest Arkansas, and her mother, now retired, was a nurse.
“My daddy was sick with heart disease most of my life. I was around hospitals, and I decided that’s what I needed to do,” she said.
Akin married Jerry, her teenage sweetheart from Sylvan Hills High School, when she was 18 and he was 21. Her first job after graduation was as a staff nurse at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock.
“Oh, I loved it,” she said. “I probably would have stayed there, but I had a baby.”
She and her husband, who died two years ago in a tractor accident on their farm in Pottsville, were married just shy of 35 years. Their anniversary was May 5.
Akin said that after they married, she stayed home with their son, Jeff, for about 1 1/2 years, then went to Cornerstone Clinic for Women in Little Rock, where she performed ultrasounds. She moved with one of the doctors to another location in Little Rock, still doing ultrasounds.
“That was awesome. Yeah, that was really a fun job,” she said. “I did probably over 2,000 ultrasounds before we moved up here,” she said, referring to Pottsville.
Jerry ran a tire business in North Little Rock, and when the couple moved to Pottsville in 1989, he opened a tire business there. Their son, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business, worked with Jerry through the years. When her husband died, Jeff took over the business.
Akin started her relationship with St. Mary’s in 1990, honing her managerial skills. First she opened the pediatric department, relying on her experience at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Her father died that year.
She opened the inpatient-rehabilitation department in 1992, which she ran until Jerry died. She was also tapped to open the outpatient therapy clinic in 1997 and the hyperbaric department.
Akin didn’t go home and put her feet up at the end of the day. She sat in front of the computer and studied to get a Master of Business Administration degree in health care management.
“I worked during the day and did homework at night,” she said.
Being a good manager takes certain skills.
“You have to be able to multitask,” Akin said. “You have to be able to delegate … and have good communication skills. You have to be very, very flexible. You cannot micromanage. You have to teach people to fly on their own and be accountable.”
She had to learn to fly on her own after Jerry died, too. It was a shock.
“You think you’re going to walk on the beach when you’re 88; then it’s just gone one day — it’s gone,” she said.
Akin said her husband was “the life of the party.
“Everyone who knew him loved him. Over 700 people came to his funeral.”
Akin said she had a hard time functioning for a while.
“This time last year, I barely even left my house. I went to work and came back home,” she said.
“I couldn’t have lived without my sister the past couple of years,” Akin said. “She has been my rock.”
Akin took a few months off work, trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her life.
Although Akin said she loved her St. Mary’s job, “It just didn’t fit anymore, you know? That job just didn’t fit.
“I basically cried every day. I got on my knees and prayed, ‘God, show me what’s next.’ I got the phone call the next day. I had a really good friend who was manager of River Valley Home, and she knew of the opening [for a manager at Arkansas Hospice].”
Ding, ding, ding. That was the answer.
“I’ve been a manager all my life,” Akin said. “God has led me to be with Arkansas Hospice.”
She left St. Mary’s in March 2013 and started to work for Arkansas Hospice as area manager for the Conway office.
A few weeks ago, Akin was promoted to program director. In that position, she travels between the Conway and Russellville offices and oversees approximately 80 employees, including those at the eight-bed River Valley Home in Russellville, the only freestanding facility Arkansas Hospice operates.
She is also responsible for operations in Johnson, Pope, Logan, Yell, Perry, Conway, Faulkner and Van Buren counties, as well as portions of Newton, Searcy, Stone and Cleburne counties.
Akin’s responsibilities include creating the strategic plan for the company, budgeting and scheduling, among other managerial duties. She also helps keep the mission of Arkansas Hospice going, she said, quoting it: “To enhance the quality of life for those facing terminal illness and grief by surrounding them with love and embracing them with the best in physical, emotional and spiritual care.”
“One blessing of this job is I’ve been put in the position to talk to grieving people — widows, even,” Akin said.
“I’m able to speak with and help other people and maybe be a blessing to them and help with their grieving process,” she said. “Every person is different. I want them to make sure that they know their grieving is not like anybody else’s, and it can’t be rushed. If they go fast, it’s not bad. If it goes slow, it’s not bad.”
One thing Akin said she’s learned is not to say “condolences,” because “it sounds so cold.” What grieving people want to hear, she said, is “I’m so sorry. I am so sorry.”
For Akin, coping with her grief is a day-by-day process.
“Now, with the family atmosphere of Arkansas Hospice employees, I’ve learned there is life and that it’s OK for me to be happy,” Akin said. “I’ll always miss him like crazy, but it’s OK to live again, and it’s OK to laugh and get out and not just stay at home and cry all the time. That’s kind of what I hope to spread to other people, too.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.