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Jenna Hemstock cherishes the little things

May 12, 2019

On a warm, breezy day in April, Jenna Hemstock walks outside with one of the residents of Roger Metz Manor in Winona, both enjoying the sun on their skin and the view of the lake in the distance.

When the two come back inside the manor, which is home to about a dozen older adults with memory-related disorders, it’s time for lunch. Hemstock scans the room, making sure each person has what they need and is seated by a friend.

“The moments are so rewarding,” she said. “You just have your special moments together. And they may not remember it, but they remember you as a person.”

Video: Jenna Hemstock cherishes the little things

Hemstock, who for five years has been nurse manager of Winona Health’s senior living facilities, is one of the top 10 nurses nominated for outstanding service in the La Crosse and Winona areas as part of the “Nurses: The Heart of Health Care,” sponsored by the River Valley Media Group honoring those in the nursing profession.

In school at Winona State University, Hemstock enrolled in the nursing program to pursue a future as a midwife. But when she took an internship with Winona County’s public health department, she knew life had led her to something good.

Hemstock spent 16 years as a public health nurse for the county, treating young and elderly folks alike. She transitioned to Winona Health prepared to use her public-health background to continue seeing the whole person, not just a patient.

“You’re not just the nurse. A lot of times you’re the social worker, you’re a financial worker, you’re somebody to talk to when they need emotional support,” she said. “A lot more than just passing the pills and doing a care plan.”

As one might imagine, Hemstock’s job does not fall within the 9-to-5 hours. She splits her time between the two memory-care homes on the Winona Health campus and the Watkins assisted-living residence on Wabasha Street, and she’s on call in the evenings.

And as the only registered nurse at the Watkins facility, she said the door to her office spins when she’s there, either working with patients or providing a listening ear for the staff.

For example, because seniors sleep less than the general population and those with dementia are awake in the night even more, pacing and wandering during the early hours of the morning is common, she said.

That can be a challenge for both the resident and for the staff member staying up with them, so she leaves her door open in case they need to talk it through.

“If they’ve struggled with that, maybe in the morning they come and talk to me for a while,” Hemstock said. “I know it helps them, and hopefully I’m meeting a need.”

Despite it all, though, the job doesn’t tire her out. Her team is flexible, respectful and always supportive of one another, she said.

The respect piece is key: The new resident you’re caring for isn’t going to be exactly like your last one, she tells her staff, and most importantly, treat them the way you’d want to be treated — especially because unlike other Winona Health departments, they’ll be caring for them for much longer than a quick hospital stay.

“We get to know people on a different level, more intimately. And you can kind of see if things are changing. They may not notice it, or want to tell you that something’s necessarily bothering them,” Hemstock said. “So you can usually approach them, because you got to know that person over time, and say, ‘Hey, something seems to be going on,’ and have a conversation about it.”

And with those strong relationships in place, the special moments she holds so dear can happen almost every day — even if it’s just a leisurely walk in the sun.

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