Nursing director honors father after winning national award

About as far north as you can go and still be in the United States is where you’ll find Good Samaritan Society – International Falls in Minnesota. Jennifer Burchell is the long-term care center's director of nursing. She’s also this year’s National Ever Forward Director of Nursing Services Champion.

“We’re right next door to Fort Frances, Ontario. People are like, ‘Canada is right there?’ Well, yeah,” Jennifer Burchell says with a chuckle.

“We don’t have a lot of big-name things around here.”

The rural town in Koochiching County is famously known as the “Icebox of the Nation” due to its frigid climate.

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else because this is home. Everybody wants to be home,” Jennifer says.

The registered nurse, 39, also considers the Society home. She started caring for residents as a CNA at the age of 16.

“I loved that job. It was the best job ever,” Jennifer says.

'This is where I belong'

A move to the Twin Cities would bring her into the business and mortgage world but it just didn’t fit.

That’s when Jennifer decided she wanted “to move back to the falls. My parents were here. I thought back to the place where I was the happiest. I was like, I’m going to go back to the Good Samaritan Society.”

“This is where my heart is. This is where I belong.”

While serving as the center’s marketing coordinator in 2012, Jennifer’s dad James McKelvey was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Before he died, Jennifer put in countless hours looking after her dad’s health.“It was during that time that I realized I needed to be a nurse. That was my true calling,” Jennifer says.Society scholarships helped Jennifer move up the nursing ranks from LPN to RN.“I knew it would have made my dad really proud,” Jennifer says, tearing up.

Seeing Jennifer come through for residents in need would, too.

'She's the best'

Resident Bill Dunn says he owes Jennifer “everything. My life, my soul.”The 76-year-old lost his footing while packing boxes at his house in 2020 and hit his head on a table.

“I messed up. I tripped and fell. Broke my neck,” says Bill, now partially paralyzed.

He was in and out of nursing homes before finally coming to the Society in International Falls two years ago. When Bill arrived, he had a gnarly bed sore threatening his quality of life.

“I came back here to the falls and met Jen. She took care of me, and she healed it,” Bill says with gratitude.

“She’s the best. That’s all I can say.”

With the International Falls location missing a full-time administrator, Jennifer finds time to interact with residents while also being responsible for much of the facility.

Her team and the residents moved into a new building in 2013. It’s a beautiful long-term care center with assisted living apartments and a spacious therapy and rehabilitation area.

“She comes in on weekends and works. When you see that – when you see a director of nursing come in and being in a room, picking up urine bottles and changing people and pulling a shift, 8-12 hours – that’s when you know you’ve got the right person,” Bill says.

Society clinical care leader Kelsea Manning adds, “She is why I am here.”

“When I first got my degree, I was never looking into long-term care. Knowing her as a person, Jen is what made me want to come to this position.”

National Ever Forward DNS Champion

Developing clinical staff and collaborating with other departments is part of why teammates nominated Jennifer for an Ever Forward award.

“Her positivity, her leadership, her willingness to take on a lot of different tasks and be open to new ideas has really benefited our facility as a whole, and our residents, and ultimately our community,” Society rehab supervisor Cassie Thompson says.

When Jennifer won the award, Cassie was “not surprised at all. She definitely deserves it.”

The recognition is affirming the director’s decision to dedicate her life to health care.

“Winning this award means that I’m fulfilling my dream of being a wonderful nurse. I’m going to get emotional, sorry. That I’m doing something positive for our community because this community is where my heart is. Aging population, we need the Good Samaritan Society here. It means that I’m making an impact,” Jennifer says.

“If you have a goal, a dream, and you want to do it, just go and do it. This place is going to help.”

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