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Anne Diekmann, her nursing degree fresh in hand, stood at a fork in the road. She had an offer from the hospital and an offer from the nursing home.
It was a no-brainer. She went to the nursing home. She knew exactly what she was doing. That was in 2001, and she has never looked back.
While she was in college, Anne had worked as a nursing assistant in a nursing home in Glenwood, Minn. There she learned the secret of what truly matters.
Today, after working in every skilled nursing job at Ecumen of Litchfield, she’s the Director of Nursing. But she still knows what she learned as a nursing assistant, which may be why she is the nurse in charge.
What matters most in long-term care nursing is simply this: the profoundly personal relationship between resident and caregiver. It is usually deep, intimate and special beyond words.
She believes as director of nursing she is not the most important caregiver on the floor. In fact, what she does now as an administrator is of little concern to the residents. What matters most to them are the nursing assistants—the people closest to them every day in the most intimate of relationships.
Long-term care nurses and nursing assistants are there for people in the most trying and challenging moments of their lives. They are there in a way not even the closest family members and spouses can be. They hold the hands of people who are preparing to leave this earth. They hear and see the most private, definitive moments of life and death. And it is way more than a job to them. It is an honor and a privilege.
And that’s why Anne chose the nursing home over the hospital. “This work fills your heart,” she says. “It’s hard sometimes, but it’s so important and so rewarding — this special relationship…this bond you form with people.”
At the hospital, people come and go. A nurse may have a two- or four-day relationship. But at the nursing home, something else happens, something abiding. People usually do not walk out of nursing homes. But when they leave, someone is always there with them on the journey to the next place… someone they have come to trust…someone whose calling is to care.
Anne sings while she works, and, one time, while caring for a dying resident, she drifted into song. It came naturally to her, and she was totally unaware the family was watching. When they asked her to sing at his funeral, she felt a sense of honor she has never forgotten.
That is why she does what she does. It is mostly about the relationships.
But obviously there is much more to nursing — like being a teacher. Nursing is often about teaching people how to help themselves. “There are so many teaching moments as a nurse,” Anne says. “Practically everything a nurse does is a teaching moment.” It could be something as basic as what medications to take when, or something as challenging as how to eat with the other hand after a stroke. And occasionally you might have to politely instruct a doctor in how to be a little kinder.
Anne rarely does direct care herself now. Her job is to make sure the care her staff provides is the very best. And, according to Shelley Matthes, Ecumen’s senior director of quality improvement, Anne is an exceptional leader with high standards who expertly plays to the strengths of her staff.
“Anne is unique,” Shelley says. “She is humble, yet she is always the person I can count on to speak her mind. She is a great devil’s advocate who pushes back and makes you think, but she does it in the kindest, most diplomatic way.”
Anne describes her management style this way: “I try to pick the right people and give them latitude. I expect great things, and they deliver. I know I can’t accomplish anything without their buy-in and support.”
Ecumen is “rich in quality,” Anne says, and her job is to keep the bar high and to continue shaping a highly skilled and compassionate culture of care.
Anne is one of Ecumen’s approximately 2,800 nurses and nursing assistants. Today we honor them — and all nurses — for the care they give so selflessly and the positive difference they make in people’s lives every day.