by James Coburn – staff writer
Willow Creek Healthcare is a second home for Heather Chbouki, LPN, and assistant director of nursing. Willow Creek offers long-term care and rehabilitative skilled nursing services for senior adults in Guthrie.
“These are my grandmas and grandpas. Actually, my grandpa is here,” she said. “He’s my step grandpa, but he sees me all the time and says, ‘There’s my granddaughter.’”
Chbouki earned her nursing license in 2013 after graduating from nursing school at Ozarka College in Melbourne, Ark. A year later she moved to Guthrie where she has worked at Willow Creek for seven years. She was a home health aide before joining all of her cousins going to nursing school. Upon graduation she enjoyed going into home to care for the elderly. She had been very close with her grandmother before she passed away in 2016.
“There was a nurse that kept coming in and I adored her. She made people who came in feel so good and I was like, ‘I want to be her. I want to care for the elderly like she does,’” Chbouki said. “She was so compassionate.”
It is compassion that she most admires in the nursing staff at Willow Creek. She sees them take extra time to be with someone who is having a bad day. Sometimes it’s as simple for going for a walk with a resident. Sometimes it’s as simple as holding their hand, she explained.
“I have a big staff, I really do. All of them have big hearts that really care. And they do go that extra mile to sit with that person, or talk to them about their family,” she said. “Right now, it’s really hard. Some of them are really missing their families. It’s getting better now with COVID that we’ve got to open a little bit. We’ve had to step up and show a little bit more compassion.”
Family members are able to see their loved one’s inside Willow Creek for the first time since restrictions were set due to the pandemic.
“It makes me happy that my step grandmas get to see their loved ones,” she said.
One family member at a time can make an appointment to sit in the front lobby with their loved one. They can enter the facility wearing a mask and sterilizing their hands in order to sit with them and give them a hug.
“Just holding their hands, I’ve seen daughters just cry for the first 10 minutes because they haven’t been able to do that in over a year,” Chbouki continued.
She has teared up a few times, herself, when seeing reunions in a more intimate setting.
“The smile on the resident’s face when they get to see them touches my heart,” she said. “We do that twice a week now. And it’s usually full for all scheduling. We still have our outdoor visits, but of course it’s behind plexiglass.”
Seeing family members has reenergized the residents as they look forward to regular visits. Joy has returned. For a while some of the residents had entered a depression, Chbouki said.
Residents are coming out of their rooms more for activities.
One of the perks of working at a long-term care center is that history comes alive. Chbouki gets to listen to residents tell stories about their lives through the years, adding dimension to life.
“Some of it is amazing. You see this person who barely comes out of their shell, but when you start talking to them about their life — they light up.”
Something as simple as trinket may have a story behind it. She learns they were teachers, doctors, housewives or professors. One resident had been a scientist.
Chbouki recalls how she would sit with her grandmother going through shoe boxes of photos.
“She would tell me about the favorite things in her life. That’s my favorite part,” Chbouki said.
She brings a bevy of special qualities to her profession. Geriatric care requires a strong will and good work ethic, she said. The nurses must be kind with a blend of compassion and abundant patience, she added.
“This is slow paced. It’s the same routine every day. So, if you don’t want the same routine every day — you don’t want to be with the same people every day — this is not for you,” she said. “There are different types of nurses and you can try other things. When I did clinicals I tried other things, but geriatrics is where I want to be. That’s what I love.” For more information visit: http://www.willowcreekhealthcare.net/