Social services staffer wins hearts for pairing seniors and animals

Her golden retriever Gracie got national attention for comforting long-term care residents at Good Samaritan Society – Scotland in South Dakota. Now, Pam Stewart is earning recognition of her own.

The social services coordinator at the Society is this year’s National Ever Forward Leader Champion.

“I was totally shocked. Didn’t see that coming at all,” Pam says. “To win at the national level is a huge honor. It’s very humbling, though. It’s hard to accept an award when it takes a whole team to do what we do.”

'Wouldn't last two weeks'

Starting as a certified nursing assistant in Sioux Falls at age 19, Pam’s family didn’t think she’d stick to health care for long.

“My mom said I wouldn’t last two weeks because she felt I’d fall in love with some little old guy and he’d die and I’d be heartbroken. Here I am, many, many, many years later,” Pam says proudly.

Marriage would bring her to Scotland where she’s worn many hats at the rural center. From serving in activities and as an aide, Pam has worked in a variety of areas and her expertise shows.

“We call her the boss lady all the time,” says Rebecca Pedersen, Society director of nursing.

Administrator Julie Ramey adds, “it’s fun to have people come to my office looking for the boss. I’m not the boss they’re looking for – they’re looking for Pam Stewart.”

“Pam says she’s not the boss; she’s just bossy.”

'Loved, valued and at peace'

For residents and their families, Pam is often their first contact with the long-term care location.

“She’s always out there really promoting Good Samaritan, the value that it can bring to loved ones who are in need of care,” Julie says.

She’s the welcome wagon and a go-to in times of need.

“The mission of the Society, I feel, is to want to make people feel loved, valued and at peace. Everyone is somebody. That is what I keep in the forefront of my daily job,” Pam said.

Delores Kokes just moved in last August and says Pam is very friendly and outgoing.

“She’s always around and she helps you settle your problems. She takes the time to visit with you,” Delores says.

“It means a lot to me.”

Thinking outside the box

When residents were lacking visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pam used money from a second job to buy her dog Gracie.

“Gracie is always happy and trotting up the sidewalk. She’s very excited to come to work,” Julie says.

The pup was trained at the location and is now a cherished staff member.

“She’s just selfless like that. She wants to make a difference for people and she does every day,” Rebecca says.

Generating impactful ideas always with the resident experience in mind.

“Pam gets what you can’t teach in the classroom. She understands people. She understands the value of relationships,” Rebecca says.

'I get more than I give'

Friend and local nurse practitioner Brandi Pravecek credits Pam with organizing resident access to palliative care.

“We don’t have great access to palliative care with where we live in our geographical location. To be able to bring that service to people within our community has been phenomenal,” Brandi says.

“She has a compassion for helping others that’s unmatched.”

Much of that empathy comes from life experiences.

“When I came back to Good Samaritan 15 years ago, it was after my spouse had passed,” Pam says.

Her husband Jim died from cancer at age 47, making her a 42-year-old widow.

“People didn’t understand that. I felt my friends didn’t understand that. They couldn’t know what I was going through. But I came here,” Pam says referencing the Society. “I always say and have said that I get more than I give. Because these people here, the people who live here, they are giving and they’re caring.”

Brandi adds that Jim “was a great person and they were great together. It was a tremendous loss in her life. I witnessed an unbelievable strength to see her get through that.

“A lot of people go through a lot of hard things in life. Not everybody uses that for the positive. To see her be able to do that in her work setting has been amazing to witness.”

'Fuels my passion'

Receiving a national award will only spur Pam on to positively impacting more residents and teammates in the future.

“I have a saying on my fridge that life is all about how you handle plan B. Because plan A is always your perfect plan. It’s what you want. It’s the ideal. But it’s when that falls through, how do you handle plan B?” Pam says.

“It’s rewarding to know that people do see what you do. People do see the connections you make. That it’s important to others. It just fuels my passion to be in this industry.”

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