Thursday marked the end of the World Health Organization’s designation of 2020 as the Year of the Nurse. What better way to honor nurses than to give special recognition to those who work with the infirm, elderly.

A majority of older adults live in the community. Only about 4-6% are residents of long-term care facilities. Yet, these individuals need much care, both physical and psychological. The nurses who care for them call upon all their special skills.

This writer’s nursing career included direct care and teaching in the field of aging. I realized early the importance of teaching nurses to care for the residents. Today, there are formalized training programs for Certified Nurse Assistants and special gerontological courses for nurses who work with the aged.

After 24 years in the field, Tammy Fischer, director of nursing at Rim Country Health and a registered nurse (RN), said, “I like the bonds that I develop between the resident and their family members.”

Nurses who work directly in nursing homes face many challenges: Residents may be unable to communicate or may be combative or angry. Family members may have strained relationships with the resident. In the COVID environment, this year has been especially challenging with more safety precautions and wearing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Yet, all resident care duties must be completed.

With all the difficulties, why do the nurses stay, some for many years? Here in Rim Country we are fortunate to have several nurses who attended Eastern Arizona College/ Gila Community College, continue their careers in our community working in the long-term care facilities.

At Payson Care Center, three nurses shared their thoughts. Jennifer Meeks, director of nursing and a RN, has been in the field of aging for 15 years. She said, “I lost my Mom at a young age and decided to become a nurse, I love the geriatric resident. We get to become their family.” When asked why she stays in the field, she said. “I feel that this is where my heart is.”

Heather Armenta, licensed practical nurse (LPN) has stayed for 12 years because, “we grow attached to the residents after seeing them every day.”

Currently in the RN program, Erica Overton, LPN, said, “The residents are so kind and caring. We laugh with them and we cry with them when they have a death in the family.”

Across town, at Rim Country Health, Chris Rehm, LPN, a staff nurse for more than seven years said, “These people are my passion. I love hearing their stories.”

For more than 15 years, Barbara Haugan, LPN, has cared for the elderly. She said, “When you sit down and listen, they each have a story to tell, so they are not forgotten.”

You notice the staff call those they care for residents, not patients. Most are there for long periods of time until end of life. They get to know each other well.

The Year of the Nurse may have ended, but we always can send thanks to all the nurses, especially those who care for our parents and grandparents when they can no longer care for themselves.

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