CAREERS IN NURSING
MEMORY CARE A CHALLENGE, BUT HIGHS OUTWEIGH LOWS
by Traci Chapman – staff writer/photographer
Memory care takes a special kind of person – it is difficult and painful to first-hand witness someone’s decline. But, it can be the most fulfilling of positions, and for the CNAs at Village on the Park, there’s nothing else they would want to do.
“There’s nothing like seeing the residents light up as they tell their stories – who they were, who they loved, what they were like in the past, how hard they worked, their kids,” Village on the Park CNA Jennifer Mallory said. “They remember everything about their past, and they tell these inspirational stories that make it so easy to get attached to them; it’s amazing how much it means to be able to be there for them when they need it the most.”
Mallory wasn’t always a CNA, but what she was always willing to do was whatever it took to support her family. For a long time, that was working in fast food, something Mallory excelled at, as she was promoted to management positions and increased responsibility. While the jobs, however, lacked good pay, Mallory said there was always something else missing – it just wasn’t fulfilling.
“I always wanted to be a nurse, but when I had a child I got sidetracked,” she said. “I was in a dead-end situation and then I had a great situation come up – I had a really good boss and supportive friends that allowed me to work Monday through Friday and take evening CAN classes.”
Those classes led to a change in Mallory’s life and in her outlook, as she found meaning in helping others. The new CAN worked in several facilities, even in California, when her sister became ill and she moved there to help her. In 2013, Mallory was ready to come back to Oklahoma, and her preparation before returning paid off.
“It took 20 minutes to find a job when I got back,” she said.
Moving to Chandler, Mallory worked full-time while also taking her son to Moore Autism Center; a Facebook ad was how she became a CAN at Village on the Park – working double weekends, while juggling the travel and other positions. It took perseverance, which paid off. Mallory applied for a day shift when someone left and moved to Moore the weekend before she got the job.
Still, her work ethic remains stronger than many – Mallory still takes double weekends, in addition to her usual memory care work, dispensing medication in the Village’s assisted living section.
“I’ve always had two jobs, and I just love working here,” she said. “That makes it worthwhile.”
Shannon Coe has worked at the Village for more than three years. Living in Altus, the young mother worked in home care and hospice – but she needed more to provide for her family. That’s when she heard of Village on the Park and its memory care unit.
“When I started here, I worked Monday through Friday in Altus and double-weekends (a from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m., 16-hour shift) here,” Coe said. “I did that for six months and waited for my daughter to finish school, and then we moved here.”
Coe’s work ethic and spirit impressed her supervisor, Tammie Bohanon. The Village on the Park’s director of resident care said Coe – and her fellow CNAs – had a gift that made them perfect for the facility’s memory care unit and its residents.
“It can be really hard to see someone transition, to decline, and we all get very attached to both our residents and their families,” Bohanon said. “My staff does much more than physical care – they keep the spirit alive and they provide love and a home for our residents.”
That’s what Coe said she loves most about the job – the day-to-day interaction with residents and activities staff develops to keep them engaged. On a day last week, Coe led the way with a weekly “Fun with Food” session – making a whipped cherry cream salad that residents would later eat during their afternoon get-together.
“Every day is a new day – what’s special is being able to interact wit the residents, getting to know them on a personal level,” Coe said. “We become family with the residents, and with our coworkers too.”
For Phyllis Middleton, Village on the Park represents a career change – the result of a transition from being a “numbers person” to dealing with what many healthcare professionals consider among the most challenging of situations.
“It can be so stressful and it’s sad – it’s just really tough to see people decline and to lose patients as they come to the end of their lives, you get acquainted with them, you become close,” Middleton said. “But, it’s also a wonderful thing because we get very attached because they are so wonderful – our residents have so much history behind them and we get to hear their life stories and what meant the most to them.”
Middleton’s path to Village on the Park was unique, perhaps – after working for 14 years as a bookkeeper for former Ziegfield Follies girl, Doris Eaton Travis, the then 52-year-old decided to change to home health care after Travis’ death. When the woman she cared for moved to Village on the Park after a few years, Middleton went with her – and fell in love with the facility, its staff and residents.
“After awhile you get tired of numbers,” shed said. “This is a wonderful place to be – it’s inspirational, and I’m inspired every day.”
Denise Ahpeatone’s heart has always been with elder care. She worked hospice for three years, after serving as a CNA at Integris Southwest Medical Center’s geriatric floor.
Her three-year hospice stint taught her a lot, Ahpeatone said, but it was draining – the travel and her particular position of being called out at the very end of a patient’s life. She needed a change, and said discovering Village on the Park gave her a new lease on her career.
“This is the best place I’ve worked – all of the friendly and loving people,” she said. “I just love helping people when they need it, and our residents are so appreciative of what we do for them.”
Ahpeatone and Coe are the unit’s “planners,” their coworkers said. Getting to plan activities and decorating the memory care area is something special to Ahpeatone and a big part of the best of her job, she said.
“We’re doing things that keep our residents engaged and active, and that means a lot to them and to us,” Ahpeatone said. “I love decorating and bringing the holidays home to the residents because they really love that and it’s something special for them.”
“There’s no doubt this can be very hard because we get so attached to our residents and to their families,” she said. “But, it’s just so amazing to have them become part of your family and that you can make sure they are loved and cared for no matter what.”