Saturday, October 16, 2021
HomeHealthcare HeroHealthcare Heroes Highlight: Amanda Uecker & Jessie Kuechenmeister

Healthcare Heroes Highlight: Amanda Uecker & Jessie Kuechenmeister

Life inside any long-term care facility comes with unique challenges, opportunities and rewarding moments. The activities team often bring the heart, the fun and the special into everything that goes on within a facility. That is why SDAHO has picked the activities team from The Neighborhoods at Brookview, with Brookings Health System as this week’s healthcare heroes. Congratulations to Amanda Uecker, Activities Director, and Jessie Kuechenmeister, Activities Assistant, for being nominated and selected as healthcare heroes.

Brookings Health System’s mission is to provide high-quality, compassionate, personalized health care. At The Neighborhoods at Brookview, that type of care includes giving the residents meaning and purpose for life. “The activities team does that by finding ways to bring joy and laughter in the facility and increasing the quality of life for residents.” Jason Hanssen – previous administrator – Brookings Health System

Amanda and Jessie both agree that there is something special about South Dakota’s healthcare community. No matter the size of the facility you work in or the community you live in, there is a unique small town feel that they both have come to appreciate. “People come first and it’s not about the money or that kind of thing, we all care about the people. We care about the people we work with, our community and those we serve.” Amanda Uecker, Activity Director, The Neighborhoods at Brookview  “We are all family.  Whether it is our coworkers or the residents, we get to know them and their family.  I appreciate that about the healthcare system here. Our residents are not just a number, they are a person, and we know them on a personal level.” Jessie Kuechenmeister, Activities Assistant, The Neighborhoods at Brookview

Jessie was born and raised in Brookings, and began her career in the non-profit world, not healthcare. She would often visit a friend at The Neighborhoods at Brookview. Jessie participated in activities and later eventually  became a volunteer there. “I was in-between jobs and looking at changing my career and there was an opening for this position, so it just fell into my lap. It was a natural fit.” Jessie Kuechenmeister, Activities Assistant, The Neighborhoods at Brookview

Amanda grew up in Minnesota but came to South Dakota when her boyfriend at the time, now husband went to school here. She has called South Dakota home for the past 17 years and has been with Brookings Health System for 15 of those years. “I literally finished an internship at the VA in Sioux Falls on a Friday and the next Monday I started at a different nursing home and worked there for 6 months and then came over to Brookings Health System and I’ve been here ever since.”Amanda Uecker, Activity Director, The Neighborhoods at Brookview

The pandemic has been a difficult time for Amanda, Jessie, and the residents. Keeping them connected to their loved ones was challenging. Amanda and Jessie found innovative ways to connect the residents with family and friends. Seven iPads were obtained which allowed residents to talk with family via zoom. The activities team also used them so residents could hold virtual rosary services, attend virtual family weddings, and share photos of the residents with family members on a private Facebook page. Amanda and Jessie also came up with ways to keep residents engaged to ensure they were continuing to live a high-quality of life, even during a pandemic. “The Neighborhoods purchased 2 tandem electric wheelchair bicycles through a grant the activities team applied for. The bikes have been used to allow residents to safely leave the building and enjoy fresh air with over 500 miles put on them in the past year.” Jason Hanssen – previous administrator, Brookings Health System. When COVID was active in the building, the activities team started window visits with the residents, with the team wearing inflatable costumes. These visits have now become a regular occurrence inside the building.

Those who work alongside Amanda and Jessie say the residents cannot wait for the activities team. “It melts your heart when we walk into a room and the residents all start laughing and cheering for us and that is so fun.” Amanda Uecker, Activity Director The Neighborhoods at Brookview  Jessie says the relationships she has built with the residents is the most rewarding part about her job. “My job here is for fun and I do whatever they need me to do. Today that meant running to Burger King to get lunch for one of our residents because she just wanted it.” Jessie Kuechenmeister, Activities Assistant, The Neighborhoods at Brookview

When asked what they think about being called a healthcare hero, both are quick to point out the many other healthcare professionals they work alongside. “It’s not just me. It is the team I work with. If I can take a half hour away so a CNA can catch her breath and create a sense of calm for the residents, that is humbling for me.” – Amanda Uecker, Activity Director, The Neighborhoods at Brookview  There are a lot of people that do a lot more, they are taking on the burden daily, then we come in for the fun. I am thankful I have the skills I have to come and help, and it’s the least we could do.” Jessie Kuechenmeister, Activities Assistant, The Neighborhoods at Brookview

Jessie Kuechenmeister and Amanda Uecker thank you for all you do and congratulations on being a SDAHO healthcare hero.

Do you know a healthcare hero that should be featured? Nominate them here.

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Unified Voice Newsletter

Events This Month


18octAll Day21Recreation & Activity Professionals Virtual Conference(All Day) Event Type :Education Events,Webinar

19octAll Day20​​Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Clinical Skills Lab(All Day) Event Type :Community Events,Education Events

19oct10:00 pm12:00 pmSDAHO District II Fall Meeting10:00 pm - 12:00 pm CST Event Type :District Meeting

20oct12:00 pm1:00 pmReimagine Patient and Family Communication with Mobile Technology12:00 pm - 1:00 pm Event Type :Education Events,Webinar

20oct10:00 pm12:00 pmSDAHO District IV Fall Meeting10:00 pm - 12:00 pm CST Event Type :District Meeting


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Monday, October 18

10:00 – 11:00 am | Discover the Power of Meaningful Activity | Barbara Speedling

This program is designed to provide caregivers, particularly those involved in designing and facilitating behavioral interventions, with ideas and strategies for satisfying the needs of a rapidly changing population. Developing a team approach to the provision of meaningful activity, integrating technology, recognizing the benefit of “life skills” programming, and recognizing the impact of positive activity interventions on challenging psychosocial behaviors are the focus of this discussion. The intent and objectives of the federal regulations relative to behavioral health and the provision of meaningful and diversional activities will be reviewed in anticipation of compliance with Phase 3 of the Final Rule.

11:00 am – 12:00 pm | Love Your Neighbor: Preventing Resident-to-Resident and Resident-to-Staff Aggression | Barbara Speedling

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened resident anxiety, depression, isolation, and loneliness which has resulted in an increase in dissatisfaction, social unrest, and, at times, resident-to-resident and resident-to-staff aggression. This session provides strategies for anticipating the circumstances and events that may trigger negative interactions in a diverse community of residents, offering new thinking on how to achieve an environment of healing and recovery for today and tomorrow.

1:30 – 2:30 pm | Fairness, Equity, and Social Justice: Emerging Transgender Issues in Nursing Homes and Long Term Care Facilities | Patrick Arbore

There are more than 2.7 million LGBT adults ages 50 or older living in communities across the country. Transgender adults often lack traditional support systems, so many of these individuals will rely on nursing homes and other institutions that provide long term care. Since many elder care facilities are not equipped to deal with the unique needs of the transgender elderly, these adults often become vulnerable to discrimination and harassment. If we are to develop balanced and tailored interventions that support the strengths of as well as address the challenges facing transgender older adults, it is critical that we fully investigate factors leading to good nursing home care of this population.

Tuesday, October 19

9:00 – 10:00 am | Achieving Excellence Through Positive Team Relationships Gail Weinstein

This session will provide an understanding of the process involved in developing and maintaining a cohesive and productive team. Gain tools to aid in understanding different staff personalities, confronting and resolving conflicts, and facilitating positive team outcomes.

12:00 – 1:00 pm | Cultural Diversity and HealingPatrick Arbore

Care professionals need to examine their expectations, attitudes, biases, and assumptions about how they engage with older adults from diverse groups.

Because most of us are uncomfortable acknowledging our cultural biases, acknowledging these mindsets takes courage. Until we are aware of the predisposed attitudes we hold towards diverse older adults, we may be unable to establish and maintain successful relationships with them.

In this training, participants will broaden their definition of culture and diversity, recognize and understand its importance, and identify communication skills that will strengthen interactions among a diverse group of older adults.

2:00 – 3:00 pm | Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 PandemicAlisa Tagg

Experiences during the pandemic have given activity professionals a fresh set of eyes to see more clearly the need for positive resident engagement. They can now grow and cultivate life-enriching experiences that will make quality engagement even better in the senior living setting. In this session, we will review the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the resident engagement experience and discuss the top five senior living trends affecting activity professionals.

Wednesday, October 20

11:30 am – 12:45 pm | Depression and Therapeutic Recreation Dr. Robert Figlerski,

Feeling depressed is something we all have experienced from time to time. However, when symptoms begin to reach a clinical threshold the way a person functions in their environment can be compromised. In a long term care environment this can lead our residents to socially withdraw, leading to more serious emotional and behavioral difficulties. With the current shift away from the use of pharmacological interventions, recreational therapy is an ideal psychosocial treatment to help maintain or improve our residents’ level of functioning and well-being. What if residents exhibiting symptoms of depression present with low energy and a lack of interest in participating in participating? This session will increase your recognition of the signs and symptoms of the various types of depression and introduce the theory behind Behavior Activation Theory.

1:00 – 2:30 pm | Residents’ Rights to Sexual Expression and the Legal Ramifications in a LTC FacilityKen Kern, Dana Walsh Sivak, Anne Weisbrod

The desire for sexual intimacy is an often overlooked part of residents’ lives, and it is important that long term care facilities recognize this need. With proper education and the enactment of policies which direct team members how to sensitively and appropriately respond when residents are found to be involved in sexual relationships in the facility, uncomfortable encounters and conversations can be avoided, and residents can feel supported in their ability to freely carry out their romantic relationships. This session will address various how facilities can enact “sexual expression policies”; how to appropriately balance the residents’ right to sexual expression and intimacy with facilities’ concerns regarding protecting residents’ safety; and much more.

Thursday, October 21

12:00 – 1:30 pm | Meeting the Activity Needs of Younger Populations in Nursing Homes Catherine R. “Cat” Selman

Long term care is no longer synonymous with "geriatric care." In the past 10 years, adults ages 31 to 64 have been the fastest growing population in nursing homes and now make up 14% of their population. Faced with a variety of issues, these younger residents can provide complicated challenges to facility staff who are attempting to meet their needs. With the CMS focus on person centered care, it is necessary to recognize the needs of this population and improve their quality of life during their time in a facility. The activities that have normally been provided to the elder population will not fit the bill. The younger resident will need a purpose and sense of accomplishment through activities. In this session, the speaker will discuss the challenges/barriers/needs presented by this group, the strategies/interventions that need to be provided, as well as an extensive list of successful activity ideas for this very special population.

2:00 – 3:30 pm | One-on-One Activities from Around the World!Catherine R. “Cat” Selman

COVID-19 turned everyone’s world upside down. In addition to the horror of the illness and death, group activities were cancelled, no communal functions/dining/ events could be scheduled, residents were isolated and confined to their rooms, and had no physical contact with anyone from their families or the community. The format and philosophy of activity programming HAD to change during this time to be responsive to the safety and well-being of our residents. As a result, and by default, nursing homes converted the delivery of all activity services to the provision of 1-1 activities. Going forward, how do you enhance your 1-1 programming that is designed to meet the needs of each individual resident? How do you involve ALL staff (which is a required component to be successful)? How do you capitalize on the use of technology? And WHERE do you come up with enough ideas? This session will address all these questions, plus provide participants with a list of 1-1 activities from nursing homes around the world.


Patrick Arbore, Ed.D., Director and Founder, Elderly Suicide Prevention & Grief Related Services, Institute on Aging, San Francisco, CA

Dr. Patrick Arbore, a nationally recognized expert in the field of elderly suicide prevention and grief services, has devoted his life to increasing awareness of isolation, loneliness, and depression in older adults. Dr. Arbore’s presentations promote better-informed and healthier communities whose members have increased understanding of the issues of aging, inner loneliness, sorrow, stress, and anxiety, and reach out to listen, make connections, and support each other as we adjust to the experiences of older age.

Robert Figlerski, PhD., Clinical Psychologist, Regional Director, CHE Behavioral Health Services, Inc., Brooklyn, NY

Dr. Robert Figlerski is Regional Director of CHE Behavioral Health Services. Prior to joining CHE Behavioral Health Services, he was the Director of Behavioral Health with Team Health and Director of Psychological Services at IPC Healthcare, where he managed, trained, and supervised a staff of more than 65 psychologists, providing clinical services in post-acute care with a primary focus on clinical matters, training, quality of service, productivity, and corporate compliance. In addition, Dr. Figlerski was the clinical director at RG Psychological Services hiring and training psychologists, supervising clinical services, productivity, and relationships with over 120 contracts with skilled nursing facilities and rehab programs. His focus was on quality of services and meeting regulatory guidelines established by the Department of Health, Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance companies and managed care contracts.

Ken Kern, Esq., Partner, Cona Elder Law, Melville, NY

Mr. Kern leads the firm’s Health Care Facility Reimbursement and Recovery Department, concentrating his practice in civil litigation, complex Medicaid eligibility matters, Fair Hearings, Article 78 proceedings, guardianships, and resolution of all issues related to resident financial accounts and health care facilities’ bottom line. He has received the prestigious Leadership in Law award, been named a Rising Star by Super Lawyers, and been featured in Who’s Who in Health Care Law.

Catherine R. “Cat” Selman, President and Owner, The Cat Selman Company, Vonore, TN

Educator. Motivator. Communicator. Consultant. Author. Catherine R. “Cat” Selman, BS, uses her dynamic personality and compelling presence to spread the message of positive, realistic, and common-sense strategies for the aging services professional. She is president and owner of The Cat Selman Company, a company specializing in continuing education for healthcare professionals. With over 30 years’ experience in management, education and consultation, Ms. Selman has trained providers and surveyors in all fifty states. Since 1989, she has often been requested by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to sit on stakeholder/expert panels responsible for the revision of surveyor guidance and compliance issues.

Dana Walsh Sivak, Esq., Senior Associate Attorney, Cona Elder Law, Melville, NY

Ms. Sivak concentrates her practice in health care reimbursement and recovery, devoting her time to litigation, guardianships, complex Medicaid eligibility issues, PRUCOL matters, HMO/Private insurance coverage issues, contract review, Article 78 proceedings, Fair Hearings, and other matters related to health care facility residents’ financial accounts.

Barbara Speedling, Quality of Life Specialist, Innovations for Quality Living, Bayside, NY

Barbara Speedling is an author, educator, and management consultant at the forefront of person-centered care. An innovator with more than 30 years of practical experience within the adult care community, she is the expert providers turn to when they want to ensure that the services they provide meet not only the physical needs of their residents, but their emotional and psychosocial needs as well. The author of two books devoted to common sense advice for meeting the holistic needs of an increasingly diverse and challenging community, both Why is Grandma Screaming and Toward Better Behavior: Yours, Mine & Everyone Else’s are now widely distributed to staff at community, residential, and long term care facilities across the country and in Canada.

Alisa Tagg, BA ACC/EDU CADDCT CDP CDCS, Association Director, National Association of Activity Professionals, Eau Claire, WI

Alisa Tagg has been a certified activity consultant since 2006 and an activity director working primarily in skilled nursing facilities since 1995. She also works as an independent consultant in various facilities throughout southern Nevada. Ms. Tagg holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, a provider’s Certificate of Completion specializing in Aging with the Nevada Geriatric Education Center, and is a Certified Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Care Trainer, a Certified Dementia Practitioner with the National Certification Council for Dementia Practitioners, and a Certified Dementia Communication Specialist with the Silver Dawn Training Institute. Ms. Tagg is the past President of NAAP.

Gail Weinstein, MS, LNHA, CTRS, Consultant, LeadingAge New York ProCare, Latham, NY

Gail Weinstein is a New York State licensed nursing home administrator and certified therapeutic recreation specialist. For more than 40 years, Ms. Weinstein’s long term care and adult day health care experience has ranged from a hands-on recreation therapist to supervisory, administrative and, since 2000, consulting positions. She has lectured on subjects relating to Alzheimer’s disease, behavior management, accident prevention/root cause analysis, care planning, policies and procedures, quality assurance, and therapeutic programming throughout NYS and appeared as an Alzheimer’s expert on the Sally Jesse Raphael Show. She is also the co-author of the “Approaches to Special Programming” chapter published in Dementia: Issues in Nursing Home Care.

Anne Weisbrod, Director, Social Services, Hebrew Home of Riverdale, Bronx, NY

Anne Weisbrod, LMSW, has had a passion for advocating and caring for older adults that spans over three decades. She graduated from SUNY Binghamton and received her master’s degree in Social Work from Adelphi University. She has worked in both the community with seniors in supportive housing programs as well as medical model day care programs. Ms. Weisbrod has been at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale for over 30 years and is currently the Director of Social Work, overseeing the social workers in the Discharge Planning Department as well as the nursing home’s long term care social work staff. She works closely with residents, families, and staff in matters of sexual expression and intimacy within the nursing home setting.