‘… this is what God was calling me to do’
Published 6:10 pm Tuesday, June 29, 2021
By Matt Holsen
Courtesy of Sanford Health
A squishy unicorn displays prominently on Jenna Crooks’ desk at Good Samaritan Society – Comforcare in Austin, Minnesota. The director of nursing received the mythical creature as a gift and keeps it in her office to brighten up the space.
“So when staff are stressed, they come in. They get to squeeze the stress ball (unicorn). They sit here and vent and then we all move on with our day,” says Crooks, BSN, RN.
A rare strategy that seems to be working at the 45-bed skilled nursing facility. Crooks has built great rapport with employees in Minnesota and elsewhere.
“It’s so silly. My office is a safe environment,” Crooks says. “This unicorn has actually travelled with me to other GSS locations.”
Volunteering for COVID-19 response team
The 28-year-old, mother of two, has flown to many Society locations over the past year in a unique role. Crooks raised her hand and volunteered for the Society’s COVID-19 response team. She says it’s easier for her to step up than to take her staff away from the care floor in Austin.
“It makes me sick to my stomach to think of someone not getting the care they need. I wanted to be that friendly face to step in and help care for them,” Crooks says.
If a center has an outbreak, she takes off on short notice. Her impact on the organization during outbreaks last fall and winter was immense.
“We had a COVID outbreak in Bottineau, North Dakota, that hit very severe and very quickly, very hard. Jenna was there and was a lifesaver,” Mike Deuth, Society Region 2 executive director, says.
Deuth says Crooks hits the ground running when she arrives on campus.
“The administrator of that facility was out with COVID-19. The director of nursing was out with COVID-19. Jenna just stepped in and did an amazing job. An answer to prayer,” Deuth says.
‘What God was calling me to do’
When Good Samaritan Society – Albert Lea in Minnesota had an outbreak, administrator Katie Davis called for reinforcements. Crooks was there. Walking past Crooks after a long shift in a COVID-19 unit, Davis remembers her positivity. Jenna didn’t utter a word of complaint.
“She didn’t say that to me. She said, ‘I’m happy to be here.’ That’s something I will never forget as an administrator of a building,” Davis says.
Davis gets emotional just thinking about it.
“It was the most heart-wrenching, stressful, heartbreaking situation that I have ever been in in my long-term career. To have an employee like Jenna step up to the plate and really say ‘I’m going to come help’ meant so much to myself, meant so much to our residents and so much to our employees at the Albert Lea center,” Davis says.
Putting herself in harm’s way to look after those in need.
“Some of these residents didn’t have anybody to take care of them. They were sick. They were dying,” Crooks says. “I really feel like this is what God was calling me to do.”
National nursing services champion
If you don’t consider the mythical animal, a unicorn is also defined as “something that is highly desirable but difficult to find or obtain.” You could say, Crooks is a unicorn.
“Amazing employee. I wish we could have many employees like her,” Davis says. “I would say she lives out the Society’s mission on a daily basis, not only here at Comforcare, but all those other centers that she participated in, in the COVID-19 response team.”
All of Crooks’ efforts, the traveling and spending nights in hotels away from her family are being recognized by the Society. Jenna is the National Ever Forward Director of Nursing Services Champion.
Clara Palm, an administrator-in-training, nominated Crooks for the award.
“She came to Howard Lake. We had an outbreak there. She came in and she had been to other centers that had outbreaks. She was just this saving grace,” Palm says. “After meeting her, I was like, ‘This person is very special.’”
‘Never above doing one thing versus another’
Crooks has been on the COVID-19 front lines in more than 10 locations.
“She inspires other people to do Christ’s work by caring for these people and by never being above doing one thing versus another,” Palm says.
Not only does she bring infection control expertise, but she also suits up in protective equipment and serves on the floor.
“I think Jenna is a good representative of the Good Samaritan Society because she knows that her calling is helping older adults. She knows that her calling is helping those in need. She knows what’s a priority and what’s not and she blesses everybody with her presence,” Palm says.
Staying safe in COVID-19 units
Operating regularly in COVID-19 units can be scary.
“I’ve seen really sick residents. I’ve seen residents that haven’t had symptoms at all. It’s a crazy virus,” Crooks says. “My biggest fear was getting COVID and bringing it back to my facility.”
Living proof that PPE and proper hygiene works, Crooks has never tested positive for COVID-19.
“I’ve never washed my hands so many times in my life. My hands were raw and bleeding. I actually had pressure ulcers on my face from wearing my N95. I was very careful because I did not want to bring it back to my home or my facility,” Crooks says.
She underwent countless COVID-19 tests to make sure that didn’t happen.
Crooks’ location in Austin hasn’t had a resident test positive during the pandemic. She credits her staff and their hard work to keep residents safe.
“This is a great place to work. I love coming to work. There is not a day that I dread coming to work,” Crooks says.
‘Like you’ve known her all your life’
Rick Knutson says it shows. His dad has been living here for two years and has Parkinson’s and dementia.
“Her personality is so bubbly. It’s like you’ve known her all your life. She is just so helpful and kind,” Knutson says.
That trickles down to the staff. Knutson says he has a great level of trust that his dad will be taken care of when he can’t be there.
“I’m grateful. You better believe I am,” Knutson says. “You can see by the nursing staff and how well they’re trained through Jenna. If I was a nurse I’d like to work for her too.”
All jokes aside, he has a heartfelt message to share with all the Society’s health care heroes.
“Thank you for all your hard work this past year. You and all the nurses and all the health care workers here, you have done a heck of a job. Thank you for everything you do for our family and thank you for everything you do for all the residents here at Good Samaritan,” Knutson says.
Safety at the Society
Thanks to COVID-19 vaccines and safety measures, Crooks’ travel schedule for outbreaks is pretty empty these days. However, she’s now being asked to fly to other locations to share her long-term care nursing expertise.
“I love being a nurse. I couldn’t see myself doing anything different,” Crooks says.
It’s something she’s more than happy to do.
“I love the elderly. I love getting to know the residents, their families and I love hearing their stories,” Crooks says.