Three years into her second nursing job, Jenna Szymanski, LPN, is right where she wants to be serving residents at Good Samaritan Society – Luther Manor in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“I feel like this is my calling because it fits into my values and my goals. I’m a people person. Being able to take care of people and make them feel good and smile seems to be a good fit,” the 31-year-old says.
It’s a world away from her first gig caring for inmates in the Jameson Annex at the South Dakota State Penitentiary. That’s the maximum-security unit.
“Working in geriatrics is very different than corrections,” Szymanski says.
If you’re thinking the work happens at a slower pace at the Society, you’d be guessing wrong. Keeping up with Szymanski while she’s checking on residents in her skilled nursing facility takes endurance. She moves fast to have quality time with those in her hallway.
“Really for me, it’s serving the underserved. The patient that can easily get forgotten, that doesn’t always have a voice. Being a nurse means taking care of those people,” Szymanski says.
Treats resident ‘like a queen’
Ron Nelson’s wife Diann is going on five years as a Luther Manor resident. Diagnosed with dementia 13 years ago, the love of his life and mother of his children can no longer speak or walk.
“I used to come every day from about 2:30-6 and I’d help Diann eat supper,” Ron says. “The virus changed everything.”
Ron can plan visits once again but early in the pandemic he wasn’t allowed inside because of COVID-19 safety precautions. He relied heavily on Szymanski for updates. She came through.
“She treats Diann like a queen,” Ron says. “I feel comfortable. I just know that she’s got the best care.”
He says Szymanski reaches out at convenient times to keep him in the loop.
“Every day Jenna puts her on the telephone. Calls me and holds the phone up to Diann’s ear. I can hear Diann jabber and say whatever. At least I get to hear her voice,” Ron says. “She’s top of the line. I know that. I’m glad she’s here.”
National Ever Forward Caregiver Champion
Szymanski is as present as they come during a year where the nurse/resident relationship is as important as ever.
“To me, they’re like family. They’re somebody’s grandmother, somebody’s grandpa,” Szymanski says. “How would you want your grandparents taken care of?”
Many would like them taken care of by Szymanski. It’s why she’s the National Ever Forward Caregiver Champion at the Good Samaritan Society. The award is for someone who provides care in an incredible way through calling, courage, family and service.
“She stands out among all the nurses. Every nurse here is wonderful but she does just take that extra quality time with each of the residents. Whether it’s from watering their plants or bringing in a cup plant because their plant died. Giving them a little love and extra attention through the COVID when they weren’t able to see their spouses and kids and family members,” Renae Molksness, Society social worker, says.
Molksness is one of three colleagues who nominated Szymanski for her efforts over the past year.
“Three people from three different disciplines as well,” Linda Studer, the Administrator at Luther Manor, says.
A 38-year Society veteran herself, Linda says Szymanski has a mind for the mission every time she walks through the door.
“The nurses like working with her. They respect her. Social services is seeing what she’s doing with residents and responding,” Linda says. “The dietary team lead recognizing that she steps in and helps with, especially during COVID, passing trays with meal service.”
‘Devoted to everybody’
Szymanski also reads devotions with residents and helps with prayers at bedtime. Going above and beyond anything that’s asked of her.
“As the social worker here, I get all the compliments about her. It’s wonderful to hear. At the care conferences and the phone calls with the families, they’re always telling me all these positive things about Jenna,” Molksness says. “She’s the sweetest person you’ll ever meet and very devoted to everybody.”
When resident Dorothy Tucker found out her nurse landed a special honor, she was tickled.
“I think it’s wonderful. She deserves everything,” Tucker says.
Battling an infection in her leg, Tucker says Szymanski’s timely attention improves her quality of life.
“She’s just willing. Need anything, she’s right there. She’s one of the gals who have kept me out of the hospital,” Tucker says. “I told her I was going to adopt her as my daughter. She’s wonderful.”
The Society ‘standard’
It’s like Szymanski was built for this.
“You just do it,” Szymanski says.
Receiving recognition is not the reason why she goes all out.
“What I do every day, to me, doesn’t seem like it should be awarded. It’s just our standard here,” Szymanski says. “It made me choke up. I don’t feel right. I don’t know. It just feels weird taking that role just for me just because we are a team here. It’s not just one person that makes the difference. It’s everybody. I’m able to do what I can because I have great teammates. I just feel like they should be recognized too.”
Health care heroes who are a close-knit group dedicated to health, healing and comfort.
“It’s my job to carry out the Good Sam mission. It’s not just a nurse passing pills. It’s not just somebody who’s going to sit there and be a robot and chart,” Szymanski says.
Getting to know each resident and treating them like family.
“It’s putting in your values and taking care of them on a spiritual level, on a personal level,” Szymanski says. “It goes beyond just a medical need. It’s mind, heart, body, soul, it’s all of those things into one. How we can better serve our patients, our residents, and how we can provide for them the best to our ability.”
Szymanski is always trying to be better. She’s currently studying online to become a registered nurse.
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