An activity aide in any healthcare settings can wear a lot of hats and is responsible for the emotional and physical well-being of those they serve. No matter a small or large facility, activity aides know the challenges and rewards of meeting the needs of residents, add a pandemic to that daily mix and any challenges are magnified. That is why SDAHO has selected Michelle Butler, CNA and activity aide with Philip Health Services as this week’s Healthcare Hero. The SDAHO Healthcare Hero campaign is designed to recognize and celebrate healthcare professionals across South Dakota.
Michelle has been part of the Philip Health Services team since 2017. She says her job has allowed her to not only care for the residents she serves but she is honored to have the opportunity to get to know them on a more personal level. “As an activity aide, it’s more relaxed and I get to know the residents more closely which makes their health problems more personal, but when they pass away it’s harder because I have gotten to know them and love them.” Those who work beside Michelle say she is willing to jump in and do any task that is asked of her. “Michelle’s role has included being the social director for families at visitation times which means she must keep the visits on time and the room cleaned, which she does.” Denise Buchholz, RN/DON, Philip Health Services
Michelle grew up on a ranch 45 miles from Philip, South Dakota, and calls herself a small-town girl familiar with Philip and the surrounding area. While raising her children, Michelle ran an in-home daycare and would often take the daycare children to the Philip Nursing Home to interact with the residents. Once her own children were grown, Michelle retired from being an in-home daycare provider and applied for the activity aide position at the Philip Nursing Home. Michelle says it is one of the best decisions she has ever made. “It took me 20 years to find out where I am supposed to be, and God definitely put me where I am supposed to be. This job is very rewarding, hard at times, but very rewarding.” Michelle says many of her colleagues also grew up in or around the Philip area which has made it easy for her and them to connect with the residents. “The residents feel good with the staff that have grown up here and they feel good about the staff taking care of them. It is easy to connect with our residents that way and it makes it feel like home for them.”
As COVID-19 spread across South Dakota, Michelle and her team put in place safety protocols to help keep residents safe and healthy. “Early on we were still doing activities and when the first case hit us, everyone was quarantined to their rooms, and we made a makeshift COVID wing. Residents went for days without seeing family.” What made it more difficult, the Philip Nursing Home was in Phase 1 of a Phase 3 construction project making even window visits hard to do during the pandemic. “Those days got really long with our residents. You can only do so many word searches. Keeping them motivated to get up the next day to do another day got really hard.” Activities were pushed to the side as Michelle and her team assisted with baths and in-room meals. Keeping the residents connected to family was a top priority for Michelle, even if it meant doing so virtually. This also meant Michelle had to learn how to use today’s technology. “I did not have a lot of technology in high school or college, so I am technology challenged. So, I talked to a lot of my friends’ kids who taught me what I needed to know.” Michelle then worked with the residents and their families to help them connect via computer, cellphone, or iPad. “I will never forget a 99-year-old lady talking to a computer screen so she could see her family. She couldn’t really hear them, because her hearing was bad, but she was so excited just to be able to see them.” COVID-19 Safety protocols have loosened which allows Michelle to come up with creative ways to engage the residents, connect them with the community and keep them safe. “Ever since the pandemic Michelle has worked tirelessly to make sure our residents stay connected to their families. Our facility has outdoor visitations, window visits and indoor visits. It has been a scheduling nightmare at times, but Michelle gets it done with compassion, care and a great attitude.” Denise Buchholz, RN/DON, Philip Health Services
Michelle has even recruited local elementary and daycare students to make crafts to share with the residents and to decorate the bulletin board each month.
As more and more healthcare professionals are being recognized for their selfless dedication and courage before, during and after the pandemic, Michelle says she is honored to be called a hero but says she has not done anything above and beyond anyone else on her team. “I could not do what I do without the support of my family, management, physical therapy and the office staff. You are only as good as your team, and we have a phenomenal team and we complement each other very well.” As concerns continue to rise about a second outbreak, Michelle is thankful to have learned so much over the past 16 months and is confident she and others will survive if faced with another outbreak. Michelle encourages everyone to live for today. “We know to focus on one day at a time. We have today and today is a good day and we can see our families and we can let people in to see their loved ones and today we have that, and for that I am grateful.”
Michelle, thank you for all you do and congratulations on being a SDAHO Healthcare Hero!
If you know someone that is a healthcare hero and would like to nominate them, visit us online and nominate them today. https://sdaho.org/heroes/