'I don’t call it elder care, I call it living'

Jan 18, 2018 | News

Carrie Willekes, Mount Saint Joseph Resident Care Manager.Carrie Willekes, Mount Saint Joseph Resident Care Manager.

MSJ Resident Care Manager Carrie Willekes on the future of residential care and why she loves her team.

Carrie Willekes got her start caring for older adults when she took a Resident Care Attendant course right out of high school, at age 17. She was immediately touched by the people she cared for.

“I fell in love with it right away,” says Carrie, who attributes a close relationship with her grandparents and, by extension, her grandparents’ friends as a reason why she has always had an affinity for spending time with older adults.

“The different stages of growing old, these are our different stages of life, and as I experienced with my grandparents, these stages of life can be wonderful.”

Carrie, who holds a Masters in Nursing and also has certification in gerontological nursing, went on to work in both acute care and emergency care but residential care always remained a constant in her life and career.

She didn’t realize at the time, however, the impact that her first job would have on her.

The opposite of institutional

Carrie’s first job was at a care home that was, literally, a home. It was in a large house. The 21 residents were welcome to bring their own furniture from their own homes. There was a cook on staff but residents ate when they were hungry and meal preparation was shared by all. When Carrie and her coworkers ran errands, they invited residents along because it was, after all, their home.

In terms of residential care, this was about as far from an institutional model as you could get.

“These were the first few years of my career,” says Carrie, “so I thought this was residential care. I thought this was how it was done. And it made sense to me because it wasn’t that different from how I lived.”

It was at this early stage of her career that Carrie decided to go back to school. When she later rejoined the workforce, this time as a Registered Nurse with a larger residential care program, she saw that elder care was actually more like the institutional model we associate it with.

“There were lots of people sitting around in chairs without any stimulation and I felt a huge disconnect between my values and the environment I was working in,” says Carrie. “This was very tough for me. It even prompted a break from elder care and I switched to working in acute care for a time. I found I needed to get inspired in a different way.”

Fortunately, Carrie’s departure from elder care was not permanent.

Over the years, Carrie circled toward operations level work in order to be involved in decision making but always kept the hands-on side of her work that was nursing. She continued to think about how things could improve in elder care and how she could be a part of that change. During this time she also taught in a nursing program where she could motivate and inspire students to love a career in elder care.

With both her work and her teaching, she was bursting with ideas when, in 2017, a position opened up at Providence Health Care—a leadership position in residential care.

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St. Paul’s Foundation is a proud supporter of elder care across PHC. To support residential care programs and be a part of the innovations currently underway, give to St. Paul’s Foundation now.

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