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Over Coffee

Finding a Way to Offer More Help
Dec 11, 2008 - 9:05:47 AM

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Some people just can’t get enough. But with Mercedes McGahee, it’s not a selfish thing. Mercedes, known to her family, friends, clients and co-workers simply as “Merci,” can’t get enough of helping her patients.
Penny Fletcher Photo Enjoying a cup of coffee is a real treat for Mercedes “Merci” McGahee who squeezes continuing education classes between several patients she works with every day as a certified nursing assistant.

That’s why the 51-year-old certified nursing assistant has headed back to school to earn a medical social worker degree.

The former Riverview resident who now lives in Brandon owns and operates her own business, Merci’s Caring Services, and works all over South County, with much of her work being done in Sun City Center. “I spend a lot of time at the Sun City Retirement Residence as a resident aide but I work private cases too. It’s just that as a CNA, my services are limited. I know there are so many more things I could do with a higher degree,” she said. Her main interest is in working directly with doctors upon patient discharges from hospitals and nursing homes, helping plot a course for recovery.

“I’d like to be able to see that they get the help they need,” she said, a cup of steaming Joffrey’s in her hand. “I could work with therapists, home health aides- and not just with the elderly, but with children and young people too. People don’t realize the needs when someone in the family has something like cerebral palsy.”
Although Merci’s been offering her services to agencies that need certified nursing assistants and home health aides since she was 20, she recently began classes at the new South County Hillsborough Community College and on line, working toward an associate’s degree. Following that, she plans to attend the Dale Mabry campus (unless South County begins to offer the courses she needs here first) because she wants to go for her bachelor’s degree in medical social work.
“It’s hard, because everything is expensive, especially with a family and all. But it will be worth it, and my family is very supportive,” she said.

Her immediate family consists of her husband Jimmy, a floor technician, and 25-year-old son who works as a cook at Sun City Retirement Residence Inc., 3855 Upper Creek Drive in Sun City Center where his mother often works.

Merci and her son lived in Riverview most of their lives, as did her parents. But she spent several years in Nashville, Tenn., and after her remarriage four years ago, moved back to this area. For awhile, she thought she would like to train to be a Registered Nurse, but decided to go a different direction. “Becoming a medical social worker is just a natural extension of what I’m doing now,” she said. “Add the training I had in nursing and I can understand ‘doctor speak’ well enough to really help patients understand what their doctors are telling them. That way, they can be sure and get everything they need medically.”

Merci and I had trouble arranging a time to meet because of our schedules. When I tried to lock in a time, she would call off a couple of half-hour increments in between two jobs, which of course preceded a class later in the day. We finally met in Sun City Center though, just as she was getting off from the retirement center. At least there was time for coffee. As I typed madly on my hand-held word processor, I was sure glad this column isn’t called “Over Dinner” because as it was, I know she barely made it to her next assignment with a minute to spare.

*Perhaps you have something you’d like to share. Or maybe you’d rather tell the community about your favorite charity or cause: or sound off about something you think needs change. That’s what “Over Coffee” is about. It really doesn’t matter whether we actually drink any coffee or not (although I probably will). It’s what you have to say that’s important. E-mail me any time and suggest a meeting place. No matter what’s going on, I’m usually available to share just one more cup.

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