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At home for veterans in Michigan, the rewards are subtle but last a lifetime

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By Pablo Ros ·
At home for veterans in Michigan, the rewards are subtle but last a lifetime
Cathy Scott is a licensed practical nurse at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

At the Grand Rapids, Mich., Home for Veterans, where Cathy Scott has served as a licensed practical nurse for 26 years, members express gratitude in subtle ways.

“Most days you’re going to get a smile or a hand pat,” says Scott, who works in the Alzheimer’s unit. “But it’s the little things the members do that make you have a good day.”

The members are veterans of America’s wars and their dependents, such as spouses. Over the years, Scott has cared for former service members going back to World War II. Most members at the home today served in the Vietnam era.

Recognition is the last thing on Scott’s mind. To be a good nurse, she says, you must make it all about the members.

“We’re there for them; they’re not there for us,” she explains. “We work in their home.”

On a normal day, Scott goes through the routine of providing members their various treatments, getting them ready for medical appointments, helping with transfers, assisting doctors with medical orders and so forth. But the rewards and memories that come from her work are formed through the relationships that develop over time.

“No one person is the same,” she says. “I have so much respect for them. They talk about where they’ve been and what they’ve done; some are happy, some are sad. We’re grateful to them. I learn from them. They’ve done some things that seem impossible. I don’t think I could have done what they’ve done.”

Because she works in the Alzheimer’s unit, many of the members she cares for are often in a different time and place than the here and now.

“You don’t try to change it, you just go along with them,” Scott explains. “You have to have a sense of humor. You have to be able to adapt, and we’re there for that. You see a lot of flashbacks, and when you sense that they’re in flashback mode, you have to adjust to where they are mentally. I’ve enjoyed learning about them and how to care for them. There’s never a dull moment, for sure.”

Being a good listener is just one of the qualities of a good nurse. Empathy, compassion and respect are a few of the others.

Scott, according to fellow nurse Tammy Porter, has them all.

“Her patients always come first,” Porter says. “I have watched her cry with families when their loved one passes away. I have watched her hold her patients’ hands as they take their last breath, so they are not alone when they go to the next phase of their journey. She is one of the best nurses, employees and friends I have ever known. I am the nurse I am today because of her.”

For her service to her community, Scott, a member of AFSCME Local 261 (Council 25), is a winner of AFSCME’s Never Quit Service Award. The award seeks to recognize public service workers who go above and beyond the call of duty to make their communities better.

Sometimes, Scott acknowledges, her work can be mentally and physically draining.

“You learn to laugh and you learn to cry,” she says. “Sometimes you laugh first, and then you cry later. There are mentally rewarding days and mentally exhausting days. But we’re there for them, it is what it is.”

When Scott started out, the job was so hard that she didn’t think she would last more than five years. What keeps her going on tough days, she says, is knowing that her job has a purpose.

“I think what keeps me going at the end of a rough day is knowing that somewhere along the way, I’ve made a difference,” she says. “Some members, a lot of the time their family members don’t come see them anymore, and so we become like their family. They rely on us. I know I can’t be everything to everybody, but if at the end of the day I know that I’ve made a little difference, I’m OK with that.”

Never Quit Service Awards

Know a co-worker who goes above and beyond to make their community better? Nominate them for AFSCME’s Never Quit Service Award.

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