Ready to get back to her country roots, Rebecca Pedersen, RN, packed up her things and left the Twin Cities in 1994 in search of a start to her nursing career in rural southeast South Dakota.
“I got in my car with a road map, an atlas, which most people might not even know what that is these days,” says the Waseca native who grew up on a dairy farm. “Drove from town to town asking people on the street, literally, ‘Does your town have a nursing home? Do you know where it is?’”
Pedersen, a recent Bethel University graduate, had spent some time as a certified nursing assistant and enjoyed working with older adults.
Love was the other reason for coming to South Dakota. She met a fella during a visit to Menno over Christmas break who’d turn out to be her future husband.
Determined to move closer to him, she showed up one day at Good Samaritan Society – Scotland and said, “‘I’m a nurse. Can you use me?’ Here I am 28 years later.”
It was meant to be. The director of nursing services at the long-term care location for the last 21 years, Pedersen says it was a calling to come work for the Society.
“What really drew me to Good Samaritan here was the mission of sharing Christ’s love in word and deed. I saw the staff here really living out the mission. They walked the talk,” Pedersen says.
Strong in her Christian faith with a mission to serve others, Pedersen fit right in.
“Going back from the very first day I met her, that’s the first thing I recognized about Rebecca was her faith,” Society administrator Julie Ramey says.
A tragedy in the community
That faith and reliance on God would be crucial for Pedersen and her team in November of 2021 and the months to follow.
“The facility received a phone call that there was an active shooter in the community,” Ramey says about a deadly incident that happened a few blocks away from the center. “The facility was instructed to go into immediate lockdown.”
With Ramey at home sick with COVID-19, Pedersen was the senior person in charge in the building that houses dozens of residents.
“We were in the dining room here at the time. All the residents were eating. Came out here, in a loud voice, just said we need to evacuate the dining room. We need to take shelter,” Pedersen says.
Huddling in a central hallway, Pedersen remembers fearing what could happen.
“There are some times in life that you can’t do anything but get on your knees and pray. That’s all I knew how to do,” Pedersen says. “I looked down that middle hallway and residents were praying in their wheelchairs.”
In the aftermath, the center would never be targeted but it tragically wasn’t spared.
“Five people were shot. Two of those who were shot and killed were co-workers of the facility,” Ramey says.
The Society family lost Angela Monclova, a restorative aide, and Diane Akins, an LPN.
“I had sent Diane and Angela a text earlier in the night. ‘Are you OK? Please be OK.’ Nothing was coming back,” Pedersen says. “This is too terrible to happen here.”
“I just sobbed. I wept hysterically. I was alone in my office and there were no words.”
The two were beloved team members Pedersen says would do anything for their community.
“That’s what Angela and Diane did. Every day they came to work they shared God’s love,” Pedersen says.
‘She just stood strong as a rock’
The night of the shooting, Pedersen stayed past midnight calling each employee to give them the somber news.
“It’s unexplainable, just the punch to the heart,” Pam Stewart, Society social services coordinator, says. “I know that myself, I could have never done what she did that night. She just stood strong as a rock and knew what to do.”
Ramey adds, “When you see somebody in a crisis, you see just a different level of leadership. It wasn’t nursing leadership; it was leadership of faith.”
That leadership continued the next day and every day since.
“She is the rock that holds this place together,” Darla Scribner, RN, says. “Her whole heart is in this business. And it’s not a Monday-Friday type of situation. We’ve been through a lot of hard times in the last few months. She was there for us all.”
National Ever Forward DNS Champion
Pedersen’s guidance through tragedy is only part of the reason she is getting recognition as the Society’s National Ever Forward DNS Champion.
“It’s been a long time in my plan to get her nominated. She’s always one who I could see winning or being blessed with this nomination,” Ramey says.
“She has high expectations. We know when we’re coming to work there’s high expectations. There’s not mediocre work here. Rebecca is going to make sure the best quality care is being provided to the neighbors who reside here.”
While she admits it can be annoying at times, Stewart says, “it’s almost like working with a surveyor every day of the week. I do think that’s what makes us such a great team here.”
A team achieving a consistent level of excellence.
“That’s what gets the five-star recognitions, the deficiency-free surveys, because people know that they’re coming here to give their best and it gets delivered,” Ramey says.
Delivered by caregivers inspired through strong, compassionate leadership.
“I just didn’t think there was anybody else that could compare with Pedersen. She is all there is to know about Scotland and Good Samaritan Society, and you can’t top that,” Scribner says.
Michelle Hlavac, Society MDS nurse, says “I’m very glad that she won this award and she very much deserves it even though she’ll tell you she doesn’t.”
“We’re not just co-workers here in Scotland. We’re family.”
‘He will direct your path’
Pedersen would describe her team as a family of heroes who all deserve recognition for their hard work, not just her.
“(The award) made me feel pretty overwhelmed honestly. I don’t feel like I’m anything or anyone super special. Just somebody trying to make a difference in the life of someone else. I’m just trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” Pedersen says.
Spreading God’s love in word and deed in rural South Dakota.
“My grandma gave me a verse when I was in eighth grade and it’s become my life verse. It’s Proverbs 3:5-6. ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your path,’” Pedersen says.
“There’s just no better calling. I feel like I was called to serve here. It didn’t just happen by circumstance.”
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