After 20 years at Lakewood Health System in Staples, Kerry Weappa received the 2018 Nurse of the Year Award from Care Providers of Minnesota. “I was starstruck,” Kerry said. “It was a great honor.”
Kerry’s grandmother had worked as a nursing assistant at Lakewood until she was in her 70s. “I felt comfortable working with the elderly,” said Kerry, who grew up in Staples. “My grandma and grandpa had a lot of influence raising me during my childhood.”
Kerry’s own career in long-term care began in Lakewood’s dietary department when she was in ninth grade. During her senior year of high school, Kerry became a nursing assistant and continued working as a nursing assistant throughout college to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN). In return, Lakewood paid for 100 percent of her schooling.
When she became certified as an LPN, she transferred to a different position within the organization she had come to love. Today, Kerry is raising two children and drives 34 miles to work every day from her home just west of Sebeka. “I’ve never ever questioned it,” Kerry said. “I feel it’s the right place for me and it’s where I feel comfortable.”
Kerry’s respect for elders has deepened over the years. “I think back on what they’ve gone through. We wouldn’t have what we have if it wasn’t for them,” Kerry said. “They have a lot to teach us about life.”
Kerry said a caregiver must be patient, understanding, respectful and a good listener. “You have to be willing to work until the job is completed,” she said. Interacting with the families of elders is another important aspect of being a caregiver. “They may not see the care you’re doing, but when you interact with them, they need to know they’re in excellent care and you’re doing the best you can for [their loved one],” said Kerry.
Kerry has witnessed increasing demand for Lakewood’s 100-bed care center and worries about older adults who may not find the care they need when they need it. Soon, more than one million Minnesotans will be 65 or older. “They’re human beings and they have gone through so much in life. Now, they’re in a point of life when they’re depending on someone to care for them,” said Kerry. “Are they going to get the quality care they need?”
To this day, Lakewood Health System offers scholarships for employees seeking to advance their education in long-term care. Career awareness should start in high school or even earlier, said Kerry, to get kids excited and exposed to the rewards of careers in long-term care. “Maybe there are people out there who can’t afford to become a nurse or aid. [We need to make] sure people know about the benefits,” Kerry said.
Kerry has considered continuing her nursing education through Lakewood, but said it would be difficult at this stage of life with two young children. Still, “the opportunity is there.” She may pursue it in the future.
If there is one thing Kerry never expected, it is that she has remained right where she is. “I didn’t realize I’d love it – I didn’t realize I’d stay,” said Kerry. “It’s a demanding and hard job, but at the end of the day, you took care of someone’s loved one.”