As we honor the nurses who serve our residents throughout the state, one thing is clear: Caring for the residents we serve is a calling to them, and the heart of our Mission. Today we meet three Directors of Nursing to learn how they found careers in senior living communities – Jacqueline King, from Westminster St. Augustine; Niki Perez at Westminster Oaks in Tallahassee; and Laure Zulkowski from Westminster Winter Park – and what inspires them at a time of pandemic.
“Nursing is really a calling,” said Zulkowski. “At Westminster, we put the residents first, do the right thing for the right reason. That’s the way we should be practicing.”
Zulkowski said that she has always known she wanted to be a nurse and work in senior living. “I knew from when I was 13. I worked as a CNA in a nursing home, and then I just got pulled into long-term care,” she said. “I was one of those kids who was always interested in helping others, whether it’s other kids or an injured animal.”
Her relationship with the residents and their families, and a desire to help them understand, is what’s making the difference right now, she said. “The trust we have with the families has been helpful to us and to them. Early on, we had families call and say, ‘Should I take my mom out?’ But we reassured them through education.”
Perez, a nurse for more than 30 years, agreed that spending time with the families is an important reassurance while they can’t visit. “We spend more time with them than ever,” she said. “We’re really starting to be the second families of the residents.”
After a career in restaurants early in her life, Perez said being kind and good hospitality were second nature to her. “I’d always wanted to be a nurse, and kindness is even more important in nursing than when you’re working for tips. I discovered that I had an even greater capacity to care,” said Perez. “It’s great when your passion becomes what you do.”
At Westminster St. Augustine, King said that a love of people is what drew her to long-term care. “Right now, there’s an emphasis on keeping seniors safe, so as a nurse, that makes me want to make a difference now more than ever,” she said.
After more than 15 years of nursing, King has worked in almost every setting available — she found working in a senior living community after nursing in a hospital intensive care unit, a hospice and in a home care setting, and was moved by the loving care her aunt received at another community. “I was so impressed and so inspired that I ended up switching to long-term care after that,” she said.
King has a master’s degree in nursing education, and she said that being patient and teaching our team members and residents on how to manage can make a difference for everyone. “I have always been caring, I’ve always loved them. This has changed how the whole world works. Now, I can educate them more, show them how we’re trying to keep them safe,” King said.
With the spread of a pandemic like COVID-19, the tasks they perform have changed, but the core emphasis of nursing hasn’t, all three Directors of Nursing said. “Take this as an example of what could happen,” said Zulkowski. “We’re not doing anything different so much as we’re doing more of everything.”
Perez added, “This isn’t anything we can’t handle. A lot of things are probably going to stay this way until they find a vaccine, unfortunately. But this is our routine now.”
“Your heart has to be in it, 100 percent, right now,” King said. “We have to keep the residents’ needs first and foremost.”
This National Nurses Week, these nurses say that the best way you can share your appreciation is to be kind and be understanding. Zulkowski said, “Everyone I speak to always follows up with, ‘You’re doing a great job.’ They seem to understand the sacrifices we’re making to keep the residents safe.”
King agreed: “It’s not just about our work, it’s about the people we’re caring for.”
How can you Work With Excellence and Serve With Heart in serving the residents of Westminster Communities of Florida? Read more about it on our Careers page.