Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, May 15, 2000

Administrator enjoys nursing environment

By Jane Otto

Though she never intended it to be a career, 10 years later Jill Hess-Kollasch still works in the nursing home environment and loves it.

Hess-Kollasch replaced a very well-known face at St. Mary's Care Center, Helen Guggemos, when she left as administrator in August 1998.

Licensed as an administrator, Hess-Kollasch was working as a human resources director in Wisconsin. She had been to St. Mary's to do some human resources consulting, never thinking that a short time later she would be its administrator.

As a mother of two teen-aged children, the move to Winsted wasn't the easiest, but a worthwhile one.

"I feel fortunate to be in Winsted," said Hess-Kollasch. "It's a community that supports its nursing home; a community that feels a sense of responsibility and ownership ­ that's unique."

As a business person in Winsted, Hess-Kollasch is involved in the business retention and expansion group.

Only 2.4 percent of the Winsted working population is unemployed, she said. Staffing is a number one issue for a lot of the businesses, especially for those in the service industry, she added.

"Long-term care can be a scary job," Hess-Kollasch said. "It takes a special person to do the job."

St. Mary's has its fair share of special persons, as Hess-Kollasch said it has many long-term employees; people who have been there 10 to 20 years.

"There's a reason why they continue to come every day. We need to figure out what that is and sell it," she said.

Though not a St. Mary's old-timer yet, Hess-Kollasch said she's been there long enough to be comfortable about planning for St. Mary's future.

One issue confronting her is how to utilize the former hospital space. Part of the St. Mary's complex served as a hospital about 15 years ago. Ridgeview Winsted Clinic occupies some of that space now, but the remaining area belongs to the nursing home.

"The building is deteriorating somewhat. We do minimal maintenance, I know the old hospital area has always been an issue, but we haven't found the right use for it yet," Hess-Kollasch said.

The Alzheimer's and dementia unit is another area she would like to address by making a good program even better.

"That's kind of a niche for us," said Hess-Kollasch. "Physicians tell us that we're relied on for that."

She said that is one area where it's important to have continuity in staffing. It's like choosing a school for your children. You don't want to put all that time and energy into picking the right school, only to have the teachers change every two months, she said.

In the Alzheimer's unit, the staff and patients get to know each other. Hess-Kollasch said that the staff gets to know the patients so well that they can pinpoint changes in a heartbeat. That's important, she said.

What's also important to Hess-Kollasch is how much she enjoys her work. She had always been in the health care industry, but when she took that part-time job in a nursing home 10 years ago, she was somewhat apprehensive.

She had no experience in nursing home care, nor much knowledge about them. Once she got to know the people and saw how the staff really cared, she was hooked.

"I was surprised. It's something I really enjoy," she said. "I love to come to work."

Meeting residents' families and working with the staff are reasons why her job is so enjoyable. But, she really delights in being among the residents.

She takes special joy in getting to know the Alzheimer's patients.

"There's somebody in there," said Hess-Kollasch. "And to get to know that someone inside them ­ that's the big reward."

When asked why she finds this work so rewarding, she replied, "I get to take home far more than I feel I can ever give."

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