By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN St. Mary’s new administrator/CEO Christina Gamaldi was hired Oct. 25 to replace Andy Opsahl, who has been promoted to vice president of long-term care operations within the Benedictine Health System.
Gamaldi has had experience with multiple levels of long-term care, since she graduated from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire four years ago, which gives her an appreciation of her new position at St. Mary’s.
“Being a newer graduate makes it exciting to be here at St. Mary’s and to be a part of a place that is moving so rapidly in the right direction,” Gamaldi said. “This is where health care is going more towards a St. Mary’s campus approach, serving everyone in one location.”
Gamaldi has stepped into her new position with the facility she is in charge of expanding right before her eyes, as a $2.5 million remodeling project is taking place at the care center and construction has started on a $3.5 million memory care facility.
“There is a lot going on here. But an important piece for me right now is getting to know the community,” Gamaldi said. “It is not just my residents and my staff that I serve, but I serve the community, as well. From what I am hearing, the community is very supportive of St. Mary’s and the Benedictine Health System.”
Learning more about the community will require some time for the woman who grew up in Wisconsin and was not familiar with anything west of the Mall of America until a short time ago.
Her family moved to Hudson, WI from New York when she was 3 years old. She attended elementary and high school in Hudson, and then went to the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire for her bachelor of science degree in health care administration.
Opsahl said the university Gamaldi graduated from, “has one of the best health care administration programs in the country.”
When Gamaldi first attended the university, she was still undecided about what her major would be. The university’s career advisor suggested she begin looking into introductory classes and she chose one called “intro to health care administration.”
As part of the course, students visited a nursing home in the Eau Claire area.
“There was a younger patient there who had been a history teacher, and he made a presentation to our class,” Gamaldi said.
Gamaldi estimated the man to be less than 60 years old. He had entered the nursing home in his 40s, or possibly early 50s, and was confined to a wheelchair.
“He told us about his (health care) administrator and what a difference he had made in his life, and how he had helped him live his life to the fullest extent,” Gamaldi said. “The next day, I declared my major. That was my hook.”
As part of the administrator’s program at Eau Claire, Gamaldi did a practicum (internship) of 52 weeks at Golden Living Center in Three Oaks, Marshfield, WI, a long-term care facility with an attached assisted living facility.
By the time her practicum was completed, she had worked in medical records, administration, payroll, dietary, and laundry.
“I got to wash every toilet, serve every resident, and work in every single department to see how the whole process worked,” she said.
The 52-week practicum included more than 2,000 hours at the nursing home to fulfill her requirements, where in most of the other programs throughout the county, only about 400 hours is really hands-on, according to Gamaldi.
One of the first experiences she had at the facility, as part of the practicum, was to be a resident for 24 hours to see what it was like and what the challenges are for those needing care.
Halfway through her stay, the doctor at the nursing home discovered that she had shingles.
“So, I had to go home. As it turned out, I must have had them for awhile because they were already healed and they weren’t contagious,” Gamaldi said. “It was a fun experience while it lasted, but unfortunately, I didn’t get to do the entire time.”
Soon after Gamaldi graduated from the university, she accepted her first position as an administrator at Columbus Nursing and Rehabilitation in Columbus, WI just outside of Madison.
The facility had been designated by the state and the federal government as an underperformer in many of its standards, according to Gamaldi.
“Each month, I would have to go to the state department and give a report about the progress being made at the facility and what my action plan was,” she said.
She is proud of the accomplishments she made at Columbus because, in just one year’s time, the facility was removed from the list as an underperformer and had all of its tags and deficiencies removed by the state.
Before coming to St. Mary’s, Gamaldi had been living in Houston, TX. She had moved to Houston when her fiancé, Jarvis Haupt, graduated with a PhD and found a job there.
While in Texas, Gamaldi served with the National Health Care Association as a senior examiner, reviewing applications from health care facilities applying for quality awards.
In August, the couple returned to Minnesota when Haupt was employed at the University of Minnesota as assistant professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering. He is described by Gamaldi as “a wonderful man.”
They live in Apple Valley, but are considering a move closer to both of their jobs in the future.