Since an early age Janelle Zimmerman knew it was in her blood to help others. Janelle’s parents both worked in long-term care throughout her childhood; her mom as a social worker and her dad as an administrator/regional director/purchasing director.
“I have literally become my mom,” Janelle said with a laugh. “I started volunteering at the nursing home where my mom was the social worker at a very young age. I remember when I was finally old enough to help push a wheelchair to bring a senior to their dining room – I thought it was so cool that I got to help. I remember feeling very grown up.”
For the past nine years, Janelle has worked as the director of social services at Good Samaritan Society – Ambassador in New Hope, where she oversees the department and provides social services to residents.
Janelle graduated from St. Catherine’s University with a degree in social work. Shortly after graduation, Janelle took a position as a social worker at Golden Living Center – St. Louis Park in 2006. She eventually became the assistant director of mental health services.
After five years, Janelle decided to pursue a new role in the non-profit sector. In 2010, Janelle took the position as director of social services at Good Samaritan Society – Ambassador. Janelle was impressed by the newly remodeled facility. Its long-term care rooms made the building feel more like a home than a “facility.”
“The longevity of the staff that works here is impressive,” Janelle said. “The fact that I’ve been here nine years and that still makes me one of the new kids says a lot.”
As the director of social services, Janelle manages a caseload of 44 residents, nearly half of whom are in hospice care. “Compassionate end-of-life care is an integral part of senior care, both for residents I serve and their families,” she said.
Putting her passion for quality end-of-life care into action, Janelle has worked to make Good Samaritan Society – Ambassador a care center known for providing excellent service during the last chapter of people’s lives.
“When providing end-of-life care, you become part of an individual’s final journey. That is a powerful experience, and not to be taken lightly,” Janelle said. “You get to help shape the family’s grieving process. It’s very fulfilling to be able to lead families through that process, give them options and collaborate with their hospice team to ensure the best end-of-life experience possible.”
Janelle speaks enthusiastically about the Angel Care program she developed to provide additional support to residents and their families during the final days of an individual’s life.
When a resident is part of Angel Care, each department provides little “extras” such as additional chaplain visits, aroma therapy, music in the room, a courtesy cart with simple beverages and snacks for visitors, and more. It is all done with the goal of making the time of transition into death as comfortable, physically, emotionally, and spiritually as possible for all involved.
Janelle acknowledges the sadness and grief that is often associated with working within the end of life care arena, but she reminds people of the love and happiness that are also found within the walls of long-term care centers.
“My work day is often filled with laughter. The seniors and I laugh a lot, and I know many of my co-workers have a similar experience,” Janelle said. “The residents have so much life experience, and the stories they share are incredible, sometimes inspiring, and often very funny.”
In that spirit, Janelle founded the Adopt an Elder program in 2017 as an inter-generational craft exchange activity that connects elders who live at Ambassador and children at Bright Beginnings Learning Center, a daycare in Maple Grove. The two groups take turns creating small crafts for the other that is then hand-delivered by Janelle weekly.
“Delivering the crafts to the residents is easily my favorite part of the work week,” Janelle said. “The resident’s look forward to seeing what their child created for them. Their joy is contagious. Much of the children’s art work is proudly displayed in each resident’s room.”
In 2018, Janelle and a co-worker were recognized for their work in the development and implementation of the program and awarded, the Innovative Program of the Year Award from Care Providers of Minnesota.
Looking ahead, Janelle said she doesn’t know what she will focus on next. “I work with a great group of people,” she said. “We will continue to work together to provide a place where seniors can feel comfortable and safe.”