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Cindy Mostue (left) and Karen Sjostrom
The Nursing Assistants who take care of the frail elderly are a special breed who give compassionate care to people at their most vulnerable. It’s a job that can be both intensely challenging and deeply rewarding. It’s an absolutely critical job that requires compassion and understanding along with technical caregiving skills.
This week is National Nursing Assistants Week, and Ecumen honors its 1,800 Nursing Assistants for their dedicated care and commitment. (Nursing Assistant is a general job category with many more specific job titles such as Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA), Resident Assistants, Home Health Assistants, Personal Care Attendants, Adult Day Services Assistants and Trained Medical Assistants.)
Here is a story about two very special CNAs at Pelican Valley Health Center.
By Barbara Garrity Axness, Executive Director, Pelican Valley Health Center
Karen Sjostrom and Cindy Mostue are two of Ecumen’s longest serving Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs). Karen is celebrating 36 years and Cindy 35 years at Pelican Valley Health Center in Pelican Rapids.
“Between the two of us, we have 71 years of experience!” Karen jokes.
Being a Certified Nursing Assistant, or CNA, can be a challenging career. It is physically and emotionally demanding. “You get to laugh and cry with the residents and their families,” says Karen. “Some don’t have family — so really, you become their family.”
When Cindy and Karen began their careers at Pelican Valley Health Center, the nursing home wasn’t their first job in town. “I worked at the turkey plant for seven days,” says Karen. “I did about a month,” added Cindy.
Both wanted a career that had more interaction with people, and both had friends who worked at Pelican Valley. Plus, health care wasn’t totally new to them. They both had worked as CNAs in the area before moving to Pelican Rapids.
When Karen began her career in 1979 and Cindy in 1980, the nursing home was a much different place. The major change they have witnessed is from an institutional setting to a home-like environment.
“It used to be so institutional” says Cindy. “There were no decorations, and the walls in the dining room were cinder block.”
“The kitchen would send trays down to the rooms,” added Karen. Today, the nursing home has a welcoming atmosphere with decorations, colorful painted walls and meals in the dining room instead of in the rooms.
“When I started, a lot of residents used to be in bed most of the time” says Cindy. “Now we have therapy, and we can work with them to get better and stronger.” Cindy has spent the majority of her 35 years as a restorative CNA, working directly with residents to do exercises that build strength as well as working to maintain strength. “I just love to watch them get stronger,” she says.
Cindy takes her role seriously and wants to see each resident improve and gain strength. Sometimes some residents need a bit more motivating than others to continue working. “Some didn’t care for their exercises,” Cindy says. “Oh, I have had a lot of names over the years — like ‘Sarge.’ When they see me coming for their exercises, they know we’re going to work hard.”
Both Karen and Cindy give the same reasons for their longevity at Pelican Valley Health Center: It’s all about the people who live and work here.
“I just like the smaller setting where you know everyone,” says Cindy of the 36-bed care center. “At a bigger place, you just don’t get to know everyone. We know everyone here. “We know all our people, and that’s huge.”
“Sometimes, you don’t even see your family as much as you see the people you work with,” says Karen.
So what are their favorite parts about their jobs? Again they agree: the residents and the relationships they’ve formed. “Meeting all the families, the residents. I know more people than my husband does,” said Karen, estimating she cared for thousands of people over the years.
Adds Cindy: “I’ve taken care of a lot of relatives, a lot of people we used to work with, and a lot of my teachers.”
Both Cindy and Karen have left lifelong impressions on those they have cared for and worked with. “Many years ago, we had a younger man living here. Cindy really went above and beyond for him. She made his last days on this earth better,” said Laura Hagen, who has also worked at Pelican Valley for 35 years. “We had another resident a while ago who was very young, and he had younger children. Cindy did so many nice things for him and his children, and of course she wanted to be anonymous. Cindy always goes out of her way and does the most for the people who have the least.”
Karen has always been someone the nursing home can count on — no matter what. “Karen cares for the residents like they’re her own family, and she is always willing to help out, train new staff or just be there for our residents,” says Director of Nursing Chandra Eaton. “Karen is simply amazing.”
When asked why both of them have stayed for more than three decades, they both had the same response, summed up by Karen: “It’s still the people. The residents are great, and the people I work with keep me laughing. I just like it here.”