Friday, May 26, 2023
A kid on the inside but an adult on the outside—that’s how Randy Wallace describes himself.
Before we get to know Randy, let’s set the stage going back to 50 years ago. The year is 1973.
The early 70s were a difficult time for many Americans. The United States ended its involvement in the Vietnam War after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. The prices of gas and basic living essentials were soaring and inflation was high. The 108-floor, 1,729-foot-tall Sears Tower in downtown Chicago was completed in May 1973; becoming the tallest building in the world.
Now, let’s turn our focus back home to 1940s Norman, Oklahoma.
Norman Municipal Hospital opened its doors on June 2, 1946. After the American Legion Memorial Hospital closed its doors in October of 1943 due to a shortage of trained personnel during World War II, Norman Municipal Hospital took over the premises three years later. During those three long years, Norman was without a hospital. Local news reporters recounted tragedies of local families whose loved ones, seriously ill or injured, had lost their lives on their way to an Oklahoma City hospital nearly 25 miles away.
When Norman Municipal Hospital finally opened in June 1946, it was a source of great pride for those dedicated physicians and citizens responsible for its existence. It was also a welcome relief to many families who had gone without a community healthcare facility for so long.
The year is once again 1973. Young Randy Wallace applies to work in the kitchen at Norman Municipal Hospital. He is hired, and over the course of the next 12 years, Randy decides to further his education and attend The University of Oklahoma. He works towards a degree in recreational therapy, all while continuing to work in the kitchen at the hospital on Porter Ave.
Recreational therapy, also known as therapeutic recreation, is a systematic process that utilizes recreation and other activity-based interventions to address the assessed needs of individuals with illnesses and/or disabling conditions, as a means to psychological and physical health, recovery and well-being, according to the National Council of Therapeutic Recreation Certification.
Norman Municipal Hospital changed its name to Norman Regional in 1984 to better reflect the entire community it served. This marked the beginning of an era of unprecedented technological growth and specialization.
In 1981, Randy completed his degree at OU. Four years later in 1985, Norman Regional was opening a new department called Behavioral Medicine.
At that time, Randy had his eyes set on something different. He knew he wanted to help and teach people but wasn’t sure how to at first until the Behavioral Medicine department opened.
“I thought I was going to be an elementary school teacher, but that didn't work out. But there is teaching that goes on with this type of work,” Wallace said. “But there is teaching in this type of work. I have always enjoyed recreational activities, especially when I was younger. There's a bit of that here with the exercise equipment and other activities that I have incorporated over the years.”
Wallace knew he wanted to be hands-on, help people heal through activities, and help people through tough moments by using ways to trigger positive experiences and memories.
“I knew I wanted to work on some kind of Behavioral Medicine Unit,” Wallace said. “At the time, it just worked out that [Norman Regional] opened up a unit in the hospital. There might have been a point where I was close to thinking about going somewhere else. I remember hearing rumors that they might be opening a unit up in the hospital. I thought, well, that is something I need to check out and see if it is something I'm going to really like. Basically, I got a degree not knowing if I was going to utilize it or not,” Wallace said.
Being active and hands-on are important to Wallace.
“My brother had asked me 'why don't you just go back and become a therapist?', and I said, well, if I become a therapist, I have to sit at a desk all day long. I prefer to be active, and this job allows me the variety...” Wallace said with a laugh. “There's nothing else going on, I want to do other things. This job allows me the variety of doing different aspects from day to day.”
Now on the fourth floor at Norman Regional’s Porter Campus, in a dedicated locked activity room, Wallace is helping patients heal in the inpatient Behavioral Medicine Department.
Inside the room, it compares to an elementary school art room. There are brown plastic folding tables with paint stains blotched in random places, the walls are lined with patient art, watercolor, pencil and all other art mediums. Musical instruments are visible awaiting the strum of a cord or the press of a key. A towering stack of coloring pages meets the eye at the door, which Wallace says he keeps stocked at all times, while tall, deep green, healthy plants line the windows. All of this with a centerpiece of floor-to-ceiling board and card games.
“It's not just set in stone of what I do because it depends on lots of things,” Wallace said. “What kind of patients we have, and if they're willing to do something or not willing to do it. I have to kind of convince them and kind of encourage them along. Usually, when they do it, they enjoy it. So, I feel like there's some teaching involved with this and there's some fun play involved with this. It's got a little bit of everything.”
Wallace says he’s not well known throughout the Health System despite being with the Health System for 50 years but his colleagues say that's in no way true. His colleagues emphasize that he's a humble man and doesn't like recognition but rest assured he's a pillar throughout the health system.
He's in a secure area inside the hospital. The secure area is for the patients’ safety.
“I stay locked up so it's not like I move around a lot on all the floors and I don't know the floors that well. I don't know the people that work on the floors particularly well either,” Wallace said. “People might know me or, I don't know, they might say ‘there's the guy that's been here a long time.’”
Describing his day, he says it’s structured but is always flexible.
“I do community meetings, the first thing with the patients,” Wallace said. “We kind of get together in the group room and I check on them and see how they're doing to see where they're at and try to get them to set a goal for the day. Then usually after that, I kind of figure out what type of activity we might do. I might do some kind of educational session, which could include stuff like stress management, anger management, relationships or codependency or stuff like that.”
Wallace continues, “Depending on the group of patients we have, it might be more beneficial to do some type of fun activity that can help relieve stress and anxiety. I do a number of things. Sometimes I set up chair balloon volleyball which is fun and very popular. It's fun.”
For Wallace, he’s all about support from the staff and each other. Sharing the mission and vision of Norman Regional Health System, the goal of Behavioral Medicine is to provide a multidisciplinary, team approach to ensure patients receive the most effective care.
“Treating people with respect and dignity is the main thing,” Wallace says. “Of course watching people get better is nice. We have some chronic patients, but most of our patients improve significantly in a short time. Some of the people we might see once... Some people come in every few months, need a few days to kind of either get back on their medications or adjust their medications or maybe their situations need to change a little bit on the outside and then get help through the staff.”
May 26, 2023, is Wallace’s 50th work anniversary and when asked what keeps him going he says “I've always said, in order to survive a job, you have to either like the job or like the people you work with. If you don't, then you need to look for another job. I have been lucky to have both here which is great!”
He continues, “I've enjoyed coming to work. It’s not really work because I love it so much but some days have been more stressful than others, depending on what's going on. I still enjoy the activities that I've done. The bonding I've done with patients over time. Occasionally I see these patients out in public. We never say hello to them, they have to approach us, that's just kind of the protocol, but a lot of times people will wave at me from afar or say, ‘I'm doing okay, now.’ I’ll give them a thumbs-up or something like that. Just let them know that’s great.
Wallace says with a chuckle, he’s now looking at potential retirement only because he says people keep bringing up how long he’s been here. He’s excited for Norman’s Regional next step to increase behavioral medicine care in the area.
Behavioral health services in south central Oklahoma will be expanded with the new 48-bed hospital offering state-of-the-art facilities and more than doubling Norman Regional's inpatient capacity for adult and senior behavioral health patients.
The joint venture partnership between Norman Regional and Oceans Healthcare will also introduce new services, including an intensive outpatient program and a dedicated geriatric behavioral health unit. The center will be located at the Norman Regional Porter campus, soon to be Porter Health Village, at 901 N. Porter Ave., at the southern end of the campus.
Congratulations to Randy Wallace, a dedicated and compassionate Norman Regional Health System healer for 50 years!
Behavioral Health Assistance
Norman Regional Health System’s board-eligible and certified psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric social workers, licensed professional counselors, and registered nurses are here for you.
If you are needing inpatient behavioral medicine services, Norman Regional Health System is here to help. Call our staff of caring professionals for 24-hour information and referral at 405-307-5555.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 for the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
All chat and text centers in the Lifeline network are accredited by either the American Association of Suicidology or the International Council for Helplines. Lifeline Chat and Text are available 24 hours a day 7 days a week across the U.S. and certain territories, according to 988Lifeline.org.
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Article by Garrett Fergeson, Norman Regional Digital Marketing Specialist.