After 17 years working with hospice patients, Maureen Nelson retires

The RN began her career at St. Gabriel’s Hospital in 1975

By Tina Snell, Staff Writer

After 37 years at St. Gabriel’s Hospital, and 17 with the hospice program, Maureen Nelson has retired. Sept. 2 was her last day.

Maureen Nelson

“Unity Family Hospice has thrived through Maureen’s outgoing personality, compassionate demeanor and knowledge in symptom management,” said Laura Scherer, RN, Unity Family Home Care and Hospice director.

“A recent family commented their loved one was only on hospice for five hours but the care they received from Maureen and the hospice team in those five hours was amazing. As I look back over Maureen’s career, I see this same sentiment over and over from families, caregivers, facility staff and coworkers. Maureen’s contributions to the hospice program will continue on with the well-trained team she’s mentored over the years. Her positive attitude, knowledge, compassion and good humor will be greatly missed,” Scherer said.

Nelson began her career with St. Gabriel’s Hospital as a licensed practical nurse in 1975, working on the medical floor. In 1983, she transferred to kidney dialysis where she spent the next 13 years.

Also in 1983, Nelson received her degree as a registered nurse.

“When the dialysis department was sold to the St. Cloud Hospital, I made the decision to continue working with St. Gabriel’s, so I moved into the hospice department.”

With no special training required, Nelson learned while on the job.

The hospice position then, as it does now, consists of going to patients’ residences and teaching family or caregivers how to take care them.

“A client, a person who is dying, needs to have a caregiver. If not, and when it’s considered not safe to allow them to live on their own, they are moved to an assisted living facility or nursing home. Hospice follows,” she said.

Nelson said the program does not take over the care of the clients, but manages symptom care. It’s a team approach with a hospice coordinator, nurse, social worker, chaplain and medical director.

“We all make sure our clients are receiving the best possible care,” she said.

While the hospice nurses are not with the patient 24 hours a day, they are there for support, teaching and to help with  the control of symptoms.

“We see the patient weekly, then as needed,” she said. “We will provide home health aides if needed. It is hard to be a caregiver and we are there to help.”

Nelson said it is impossible not to become attached.

“We walk the walk with the client and their families. I get very attached to the families. I know the patient will be going to a better place, especially if they are not experiencing quality of life,” she said.

People think that hospice is primarily for cancer patients. But Nelson said the program is also for end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Parkinson’s, dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

The program helps patients be as comfortable as possible when there is no longer anything that can be done with treatments or medications.

“I don’t look at this as a sad job,” Nelson said. “Just as there are nurses who bring babies into the world, I’m there to send them to a better place.”

When one of her clients does pass away, it is sad, and Nelson said she does cry with the family.

“I send a rose to each deceased client and attend the wakes or funerals,” she said.

Over the years, Nelson said she has met so many wonderful people that it has made her job so much better.

“Hospice workers get to be part of the family,” she said. “When I first started in hospice and families would tell me ‘thank you’ for being there, I was a little taken aback. But I have learned that I help families through a difficult time in their lives and they are grateful.”

The hardest times Nelson has dealt with have been when either the family or the patient denies that death is eminent.

“Having the families or the client talk about death helps in the healing process for those who are left behind,” she said. “It’s mostly the younger people who don’t think they will die, or mothers with young children. They won’t admit the situation to themselves or their families. That doesn’t help their families deal with the situation or prepare for the loss.”

Also hard is hearing about families who want their loved one to continue treatment when the patient doesn’t want to. It’s hard on everyone when families don’t want to let go, she said.

Nelson has found that animals are very keen during the dying process. She has seen animals who have never before been allowed to jump on the bed, who won’t leave the side of the patient, the person who has taken care of them their entire lives.

“I also heard about a woman, dying of cancer, whose dog died the same day she did. The age of the dog was unknown, but it was definitely her companion,” she said.

Nelson grew up in Little Falls, graduating from the Little Falls Community High School. She met her husband Bob while working in St. Gabriel’s Hospital’s dialysis department.

“I am going to miss my clients and their families,” she said. “And, I am definitely going to miss my coworkers. They were a huge part of my hospice life.”

What Nelson won’t miss is the business side of hospital life. “Or the travel a hospice nurse needs to do during the cold weather,” she said.

The Nelsons have plans to build a patio home next to their current residence. They will also have more time to spend at their cabin near Orr and she will be able to devote more time to her quilting.