Helen Guggemos began with St. Mary's when it open in Winsted in 1960
By ANDREA VARGO
She started out small, taking care of younger siblings. But Helen Guggemos ended an entire career of caring for others Sept. 30, as administrator for St. Mary's Care Center in Winsted.
Guggemos (nee Sterner) came from a farm background, but moved to Winsted about 1950.
"Way back in grade school, I thought it would be nice to be a nurse," Guggemos said.
"I didn't give much thought to being a doctor, because that wasn't usual at that time," she said.
She entered St. Mary's Hospital School of Nursing in Minneapolis, a division of the College of St. Catherine, for three years of training after high school.
"It was a lot of work, but I loved it," laughed Guggemos. "Tuition costs were kept down because the hospital made good use of the candidates."
The Benedictine sisters ran a strict shop, but they were there to support the girls in their goals, she said.
There was one physician, a young surgeon, who gave a lot of recognition to the nurses. That was not common, said Guggemos.
Dr. Chisholm was a plastic surgeon, specializing in children's facial problems, and gave full credit and praise to the attending nurses for a lot of his success, because they maintained clean surgical sites that allowed the children to heal quickly, without complications.
This was not an easy thing to do, since they were many times working with small children.
Guggemos loved it all.
"I never had any opportunity to be a candy striper or anything, so it was all new to me," she said.
In fact, she said, she showed her ignorance of health care the first time she was told to attend to an IV . . . she thought the nurse was referring to an ivy plant.
"It was fairly humbling," she said.
With a class of 40 nursing candidates, the group became a family, said Guggemos.
"We still get together," she said.
After graduation, Guggemos worked at the St. Cloud Veterans Hospital for about a year in the psychiatric area, and worked in a limited capacity in surgery.
Waiting for her husband, Don, to finish his service in the army, she worked for about a year at the Ireland Army Hospital in Fort Knox, Ky.
There the nurses did more paper work, and the medics did most of the procedures. It was an interesting time and another exposure to a different area of health care, she said.
She and Don returned to Winsted in the fall of 1959, and she started doing private duty nursing at the Watertown Community Hospital.
This was before the time of critical care units, and at that time, a family hired a private nurse to take care of a family member's critical needs in the hospital.
"St. Mary's opened here in Winsted in 1960," she said, "and I took a position as a nurse."
It was a hospital and nursing home, rather visionary at the time, and really the pride of the whole surrounding area, said Guggemos.
The facility had 25 hospital beds and a 40-bed nursing home attached.
When Guggemos was expecting her third child, she took an extended leave to be home with her family.
From 1962-72, she was very busy raising and caring for her own growing family.
When she felt it was time to go back, she experienced what she termed as culture shock.
"In addition to the medications being used, the whole concept of disposable had come into being while I was gone," she said.
Mentoring by someone in administration brought Guggemos to that side of health care. Then there were more education classes to take to help her learn about establishing standards, policy and procedures, and interaction with each physician's staff.
"Once I got to where I was offered the job of administrator, I had to go back to school for my license," said Guggemos.
As director of patient care services, acute and long-term care in 1982, she took on more responsibility in both the hospital and the nursing home.
"I had the help of an excellent head nurse in acute care," she said.
When the hospital closed in 1989, Guggemos was appointed director of operations for the nursing home.
She was the on-site operations person under Steve Bresnahan, CEO of Health One Buffalo Hospital.
With her new license for long-term care administration, Guggemos assumed the job as administrator in 1991.
"I always enjoyed working at the hospital and the nursing home. We really got to be like a family, because it wasn't so huge. We knew everyone's kids," she said.
"The long-term care was different then. People retired to a nursing home. Now, it is a place for rehabilitation. Most people return to their own homes in a short period of time," she said.
People don't consider long-term care until they need it. Guggemos said they need to know they have choices.
"Ask people who have experienced care in different facilities, what they thought of the care. Ask lots of questions and plan ahead," she said.
Over the years, Guggemos has had a lot of support in her education and her job from her husband and family.
Now that both she and Don will be retired, they plan to visit the ones who are no longer close to home, and plan on doing a little long-term babysitting for one set of parents, so those parents can take a vacation.
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