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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.