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Dickinson CNA wins state Caregiver Award for going the extra mile

Rose Klym fell and shattered her left hip at age 96 this past December at St. Benedict's Health Center in Dickinson. One of her certified nursing assistants (CNA), Shari Schwindt, comforted her until the ambulance arrived. But the next day, Schwi...

CNA Shari Schwindt was one of this year's caregiver of the year awardees. She was one of four winners among more than a thousand other nominations made by residents and their families. Pictured: Schwindt, Rose Klym and Bob Klym. Photo courtesy of St. Benedict's Health Center
CNA Shari Schwindt was one of this year's caregiver of the year awardees. She was one of four winners among more than a thousand other nominations made by residents and their families. Pictured: Schwindt, Rose Klym and Bob Klym. Photo courtesy of St. Benedict's Health Center

Rose Klym fell and shattered her left hip at age 96 this past December at St. Benedict's Health Center in Dickinson.

One of her certified nursing assistants (CNA), Shari Schwindt, comforted her until the ambulance arrived.

But the next day, Schwindt came to the hospital with a fleece blanket decorated in polar bears and penguins, a plush teddy bear and card to check in on her resident.

As a result of her kindness and compassion toward her mother, Peggy Pfau, Klym's daughter, nominated Schwindt for the Caregiver Award through the North Dakota Long Term Care Association - an award Schwindt and three other caregivers in the state won, beating out 1,000 or more other nominees. Schwindt was recommended by others as well.

"I'm just doing my job," Schwindt said. "I thought, 'Well, I'm glad they notice, but I'm just doing what I get paid to do: take care of them, treat them with respect and dignity, that's about it.'"

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But Jon Frantsvog, administrator at St. Benedict's Health Center, disagrees.

"She says she's just doing her job, but you really have to be here when all the CNAs on Unit 1 at Christmastime are dressed up like Santa's elves," Frantsvog said. "There is absolutely nothing in her job description that says, 'You and your colleagues have to put on very silly looking elf clothing.'"

Schwindt dyes her hair green and dresses like a leprechaun for St. Patrick's Day and brings candy to her residents for Easter. Last year one of the women she cares for told her she did not receive a single chocolate bunny around Easter, so Schwindt made sure all of her people got their Easter candy this year - all out of her own pocket.

"It's pretty exciting to have someone be honored with this award," said Bridgett Perry, director of marketing and development for the facility. "It's the first time St. Benedict's has had a caregiver receive it, and we're just very happy for Shari and happy for her to tell her story - that CNAs are really an important part of the caregiving process."

Schwindt's caring nature began at a young age - helping care for her 14 siblings. She said she began babysitting in second grade, walking around with her twin younger brothers on her hips. Later in life she ran a daycare out of her home, watching 18 children at times. She still remembers many of their birthdays, and some of them still call her "mom." One of the younger children she used to care for just returned from Afghanistan, she said.

She worked in the dietary department at St. Benedict's before starting her training as a CNA. She has worked at the facility in that role for the last seven years.

Some days Schwindt begins her shift at 5 a.m., showering residents and taking them to the dining room. She then spends the next several hours constantly on the move helping people with feeding, toileting, laying them down and preparing them for appointments all day long. Sometimes she goes with her residents to their appointments, even all the way to Bismarck.

But it's the personal touches that have impressed several family members of her residents.

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Tina Thornton, the daughter of resident Martin Haag, also recommended Schwindt for the award, noting her attention to her father's pain level. Haag cannot walk anymore but faces unbearable pain if he remains in his wheelchair too long, Thornton wrote in her recommendation. Schwindt checks on him frequently to see if he needs to lie down, cracking jokes and making him laugh much of the time.

"She makes every day special and fun for the residents and can elicit a smile from each resident," said Christina Fandrich, Unit 1 manager, in an email. "Shari is never too busy to dress the residents in holiday attire, curl their hair for a special occasion or just any day, help residents accessorize with their favorite jewelry/hats/etc. She makes the residents feel loved and important."

She also supports the families of the residents who may be struggling knowing their loved ones need to be in a nursing facility. Schwindt previously worked at Country House Residence, a memory care facility in Dickinson. There she dealt with residents suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's, diseases that can cause people to struggle to recognize their loved ones.

Schwindt said she has had family members come to her explaining how difficult it is to see their parents or other loved ones in that state when they may no longer seem like themselves.

"I said, 'No, she's not. She's still your mom, she's still inside there. Just come visit, sit with her, ask her questions about yourself when you were little and listen to what she has to say,'" Schwindt said. "They were surprised that their mom would talk about Johnny when he was little. But they don't remember that that's Johnny sitting right there, so things like that make a difference too."

Ultimately, her favorite part of her job is getting to know the residents and helping to put a smile on their faces.

"They're people just like everybody else, and they just need help with certain things," Schwindt said. "They appreciate you being there to help them with things they can't do anymore, even though it's frustrating to them that they can't do it. Just knowing you're here helping them makes a world of difference."

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