Tag Archives: Fairmont

Educator, nurse, joy promoter

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Aja Ross embodies all three identities on the staff for Vista Prairie at Goldfinch Estates in Fairmont, MN. Most recently and by popular demand, she’s escorted Lenny, her Bichon/Lhasa Apso mix – a source of plenty of joy for Goldfinch.

“He’s a little timid but once he gets past that, he’s a social butterfly,” Aja explains. “People just seem to light up when they see him.”

Now that the community is more open, with COVID-19 waning in Martin County, Lenny tags along with Aja (pronounced Asia) a few days each week. His coat is hypoallergenic, so no risk to residents — and he’s well compensated. “Sometimes the residents give him treats, his favorite form of payment,” Aja says, “and the back scratches and playing fetch with him.”

The pandemic’s fewer restrictions are a welcome transition for the whole Goldfinch community. Aja is thankful that the residents responded so well to the vaccinations.

“My guard still isn’t down. I was nervous when we opened up,” she says, “but that’s just the nurse in me.”

Aja brought her Med-Surg and ER experience at Mayo Clinic Health System-St. James Hospital to her new position as Goldfinch’s staff development nurse, responsible to ensure that the whole staff complies with the latest state health department requirements and Vista Prairie’s stringent policies for quality care. She’s now taken on the added responsibilities as the Director of Health Services, a position that still requires her to tap her earlier roots as an educator.

Career transitions are nothing new for Aja. In 2007 she started a one-year stint as a social studies teacher at Fairmont High School, before she decided to go back to college for her degree in nursing.

“The combination of being able to teach and still work as a nurse with staff development was perfect,” Aja says of her initial Goldfinch role. “I’m still using my nursing skills but I’m also teaching.” One of her earliest clinical training experiences in nursing school was at Goldfinch, and her grandpa lived there for a time, in memory care.

Goldfinch Estates offers 41 memory care suites that provide a long-term option for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. We also offer 92 one and two-bedroom apartments for seniors who want access to supportive services while maintaining their independence.

The Right Stuff

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Monica Shelgren became the Director of Health Services (DOH) for Vista Prairie at Goldfinch Estates in Fairmont last February, one month before the coronavirus crises hit Minnesota. When Martin County erupted as a Minnesota hot spot for COVID-19 the Goldfinch staff demonstrated it had “the right stuff.” Monica applied 37 years of health care experience to guide the clinical response. During the first six-months of the crisis, Goldfinch has experienced only one positive COVID-19 test and that was in a staff member who had no symptoms.

“It’s a team effort here,” Monica says. “We also rely on the Vista Prairie support staff, especially Melissa, to provide current information from the Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.” She’s referring to Vista Prairie’s Organizational Director of Health Care Melissa Plachecki, who supports all the Vista Prairie communities. “She does a wonderful job and what we learn from her, we incorporate here,” Monica adds.

Goldfinch’s success in keeping residents safe comes with sacrifice. “My heart breaks for our residents and their families,” Monica reflects. “The inability to interact as we’re all accustomed to is overwhelming for the families. They understand the rules, but it doesn’t make it easy.” Thankfully, cases within the county have leveled off most recently and that trend will allow Goldfinch and other long-term care communities to welcome back family members who previously provided essential care to residents.

As one of the larger employers in Fairmont, with 88 full and part-time employees, Monica also acknowledges Goldfinch’s role in the community. “We come to work and go home, and it’s our responsibility to encourage our staff to remain educated and to follow the guidelines presented to all of us.”

Amid the stress, Monica says there’s still joy at Goldfinch, “I work with a wonderful group of people. Out of all the jobs I’ve had over my career, I feel the most rewarded with this one, and excited to come to work every day.” Monica specifically acknowledges the Goldfinch nursing staff, including three registered nurses and two licensed practical nurses.

“Being a native of Fairmont, I was familiar with Goldfinch Estates at a high level,” Monica explains. “It was highly recommended, and I was thrilled to take advantage of the opportunity.” The community offers 92 one and two-bedroom apartments for seniors who want access to supportive services. We also offer 41 memory care suites that provide a long-term option for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.