Spotlight: Jessica Downs, Clinical Operations

HealthStar’s Corporate team is a very diverse mix of all walks of life. Today, we are nurses (like Jessica), medical billers, and office support staff. But many winding paths have converged to bring this team together. With history in auto maintenance, real estate, finance, marketing, teaching, and even some folks who moved to the continental US from abroad, we really keep things interesting!

We are all problem solvers in one way or another, but the thing that really brings us together is our love of caring for others. We may not be direct, hands-on care staff, but we show our helping hands in other ways. There are lots of treats and shared meals, plenty of “feelings Friday” discussions where we show our support for each other, and lots of inside jokes. There are no cliques – we all get along. No, seriously! It’s not always easy, but because we truly care about each other, we give each other grace and try to understand where others are in their own unique battles.

As awesome as Corporate is, if you really want to see what makes HealthStar shine, what sets us apart, and what we are all working for every day – you’ll need to look outside our colorful and multi-angled Corporate walls. Look out into “the field,” where the rubber meets the road. Can you see our clinicians, our practitioners, and our front-line caregiving staff? Maybe you also see our service office locations and some of our Clients – they’re the reason Corporate exists! We work to serve, and we work hard to make sure that we serve well!

Who else do you see?

While you’re looking out there, do you see a blonde? Not just any blonde, but a blonde who really OWNS IT? Maybe you see her climbing out of a big pickup truck with her hair flowing in the wind. Her broad, radiant, feel-good smile touches everyone she walks past. That blonde hair is a statement, and the shoes and smile are the exclamation point. Her red shoes reflect her true passion – love for all people, and a strong desire to take care of those who need it. Watch out, now – she’s a hugger, but her hug melts your worries away and leaves you feeling lighter. Just who is this happy, high-heeled hugger, you ask? I’m proud to say, this bright and bubbly blonde is Jessica “Jess” Downs, HealthStar’s Director of Clinical Operations.

Talk about winding roads to HealthStar Corporate – prior to her decision to become an RN, Jessica had worked as a CNA in HealthStar’s Duluth office. Jess even once considered becoming an attorney! We’re sure glad she didn’t go that route. Instead, while working as a CNA in a nursing home, Jess was encouraged by a mentor to pursue a career in nursing and decided to give it a try.

What a great fit for her caring personality! After getting her degree, Jessica’s career in nursing kicked off in her home town of Duluth, MN, working in a surgical center and hospital. She later worked in Wisconsin, Nevada, California, and Arizona, in a variety of clinical roles including corrections nurse, hospice case manager, and Director of Nursing. Then, in 2014, Jessica’s winding road led her full-circle right back to HealthStar. Some things are just meant to be! Because we are in the “month of love,” we thought it would be a great time to tell you a little more about Jessica and her big-hearted ways. Jessica Downs, the HealthStar spotlight is on you!

Happiness is contagious

One of the first things that I noticed about Jessica is that she always seems So Happy. It’s an overwhelming happiness, like I imagine it would be if everyone’s Facebook self was real. She projects positivity and happiness into the world in front of her, like a blinding pink tractor beam, daring sadness to cross its path. If ethereal auras were visible, Jessica’s would be pink and fuzzy, and it would probably sparkle in the sunlight.

Cass Lake 2018 Holiday Party.
Left to Right: Barb J, Michelle C, Julie S, Jessica D, Jean B.

Her happiness is wonderful in meetings, which are otherwise often dull and boring. Jess has a great laugh, bursting straight out of her heart; it is the glorious sound of freedom, a bird’s song of warm sunshine and wind ruffling his feathers as he soars through the open sky. Try to be stressed and frustrated in front of Jessica, I dare you. When you start to explain your problems, they suddenly won’t seem so bad any more. She’ll tell you “it’s OK, we’ll get through it.” And, poof – she’s right. It’s that simple. We will get through it.

Shine on, Jessica!

It’s easy to understand Jessica’s success in hospice, and as a nurse in general. A ray of sunshine in a cloudy and often difficult time, she’s exactly the type of personality to lift everyone’s spirits. Picture her sweet-talking her patients and showing them there’s nothing else that matters in the world. To Jessica, that’s the truth! She loves our HealthStar clients and pours her heart and soul into making sure that our team has the tools to deliver the best possible care!

While similar care is provided in both hospice and home care, there is a much more personal aspect to home care, because of the need for service to be provided in the Client’s living space. Jess has a great understanding of what this means to Clients. She expresses gratitude and compassion toward HealthStar’s Clients and says that she is honored to be invited into their homes. Her humility and friendliness help set Clients at ease.

Flexibility, much?

Some things are critical to a successful career at HealthStar. A sense of humor, I say. A love of food? Probably. The gift of patience? Can’t hurt. How about the ability to roll with the punches, to re-prioritize when a target shifts, or to “be the willow,” as our long-time employee Cathy Rivas-Carballo says. In my opinion, this is critical. HealthStar staff have an informal motto: “Give it a minute, things will change!”

Cass Lake 2018 Holiday Party.
Left to Right: Michelle C, Karen M, Jean B, Jessica D, Julie S.

Why is flexibility important? Take Jessica’s HealthStar history as an example. In her RN role, she started at HealthStar shortly after our transition from PCA/HMK agency to Medicare-certified agency. In the time Jess has been with us, the layout, structure, and focus of HealthStar’s branch offices, the organizational chart, and even our office addresses have changed. We have added and subtracted service offerings, and we have changed software programs many, many times. Staff have come and gone, sometimes more than once. (We joke about a revolving door. In a good way!) Throughout all these changes, Jess and the rest of our Corporate staff have flexed and sometimes flailed in the wind, but with flexibility on our side, we haven’t broken. We almost never make jokes about having a new priority. Instead, we come together as a team, again and again, and figure out how to continue.

But wait, there’s more…

Jess has also ridden the wave of change in her personal journey at HealthStar. Not including her time as CNA, Jessica first worked at Corporate, transferred to Duluth, transferred back to Corporate, and now lives in the Duluth/Cloquet area but still represents the Corporate office. Wait, what? Don’t worry about the details; the moral of the story is, she’s plenty flexible, and she goes with the flow. Jessica’s humility and “true to your roots” attitude make her approachable, and she always talks us down off the branches when things get a little too windy in that willow tree.

Open heart, open mind

Something that not everyone may know about Jessica is that, in addition to being an RN, she embraces a very unique skill set of healing. She is a Certified Level II Reiki Practitioner and says that blending western medicine and alternative medicine helps her to treat people holistically. Reiki has been around for thousands of years and is sometimes called “the laying of hands.” In practice, Reiki focuses on the transfer of healing energy from practitioner to patient, to revitalize the healing energy in the patient.

Maybe this explains why Jess has such grace and love for all of us – by sensing the energy around her, she sees more than just a single facet of a person, giving her a greater understanding of what makes us all tick. By keeping an open mind, and trying something different, Jessica is bringing a new perspective to HealthStar. There is something different about Jessica, and maybe this explains a little bit of that difference. There’s a lot that we can’t fully understand, but instead of dismissing those things, Jessica has embraced possibility and puts healing energy to great use.

But what about those shoes?

Yes, Jessica has some of the cutest shoes that I’ve ever seen. With my big clompers, I won’t be wearing anything like her shoe wardrobe. She’s not shoe crazy, she just has good taste. I know, this is four things, and usually I only do three, but this one is short. Great shoes. Hardly counts as a fourth.

By the way, Jess – how do you drive that big pickup truck with those fashion forward shoes on? And do you still wear heels when you go ice fishing?

Thanks for the positivity!

Corporate is lucky to have Jessica’s happiness, positivity, flexibility, and open mind on our side. Her love of HealthStar’s Clients shines through in every meeting. She is absolutely a strong advocate and spokesperson for the Client’s perspective and needs in receiving care. Jessica has brought a wonderful attitude of love and acceptance to HealthStar Corporate, and she has extended that attitude to the branch offices and to all of our Clients. We can’t wait to show you the benefits of this sense of love and caring!

Spotlight: Julie Swedberg, Cass Lake

It’s easy to mistake HealthStar as just a Metro-Area agency, with Corporate, Twin Cities Skilled, and Inver Grove Heights all being around the metro. But we have more offices outside the metropolis than in it! Looking north, you’ll find some of HealthStar’s craftiest and thriftiest “family members” in the Cass and Bemidji offices. Julie Swedberg, Branch Manager (aka Thrift Master) brings many talents to HealthStar’s Cass Lake office. She’s dedicated to serving HealthStar’s unique Client base and spends her time spreading warm, fuzzy feelings all through the land of Cass!

Inspired by her sister’s experiences as a CNA, Julie got her CNA certification and worked in a nursing home early in her health care career, and later became an LPN. Julie says that to feel the love and trust that patients have towards her as a nurse has been priceless. Her studies continued with a 2-year business degree, and in 2015 she found herself with multiple job offers (of course!). Lucky for us, HealthStar won the dangerous duel for Julie’s heart, and she joined our team as Branch Manager.

A Running Start

Oh boy, did Julie hit the ground running! Julie started during a period of great stress and transition for HealthStar. The Cass Lake office was going through some changes, to put it mildly. Things have settled down since then, thanks to Julie’s “special touch.” She knows how to take things in stride, and she doesn’t get too riled up during difficult times. Julie says that her love of gardening helps her stay calm – she loves to take photos of her flower gardens and often spends time thinking through her current challenges and stresses while walking through the flowers.

Keeping herself grounded and stress-free sure comes in handy when our HealthStar family gets together. Julie’s calm and matter-of-fact ways help keep us all on track and on time! But don’t let her “down to business” routine fool you – Julie has a great sense of humor and loves to stir up some fun. Her laugh comes up from her toes! And if you want to see her soft side, just ask about her sons. We’ve all met the little one, Ryker – he’s a Corporate Meeting Regular! Without further ado – please allow me to share with you my three favorite things about Julie. Julie Swedberg, the HealthStar spotlight’s on you!

An “old school” master chef

Julie’s mastery in the kitchen is appreciated by many mouths and stomachs across the land. In between office hours, community events, sports with the kids, and family time, Julie somehow finds time to preserve her own jellies and jams. She does this in large enough quantity that she sells them at the community farmers’ market! I can say as a personal recipient of Julie’s “jam variety pack” that this stuff is DELICIOUS! I would eat it with a fox, in a box, on a train, in the rain, and anywhere else for that matter. Yum!

Canning isn’t her only kitchen specialty, though – Julie can bake, sauté, steam, sear, and roast, too. She’s like a human instant pot, so many functions that you just can’t get enough! She’s not afraid of a little chopping – it lets her exercise her aggressive side. Yeah, she can get tough when she needs to, but most of the time she doesn’t. She gets pretty far with honey.

Julie’s love of cooking has a family history; her mom is also an awesome cook. Sometimes, they team up for community events – I know Julie’s mom makes a killer fry-bread taco! Why, oh why couldn’t Julie have grown up in the Metro so that I can have a fry-bread taco? It’s so true that life just isn’t fair.

Oh, so thrifty!

Julie pretends to come down to Corporate for meetings, but we’re pretty sure she actually comes down for the thrift store shopping. She makes a great round of the local thrift stores when she’s in town. Sometimes, she goes with Chasidy Myhrer, Bemidji Operations Manager (aka “hammer of the north”). They are a sight to behold, with so much treasure for so little cost! Great taste, great value – if Julie had a personal motto, that might just be it. I’m so jealous of her saving ways. I’ve never seen a dollar stretched so thin.

This special thrifting ability doesn’t just apply to shopping for Julie’s family, though. She also puts her special thrifty talents to work for her office, squeezing every penny out of her dollars. She considers her office budget with every decision she makes, going so far as to do her own cooking for events – lucky for the guests!

We didn’t know it when we hired Julie, but she’s a package deal, and we are so lucky for it! She gets her family involved in planning and hosting duties, which helps keep down the cost of extra help. Aside from helping out with community events on several occasions, Julie’s mom has also become our official “Corporate Meetings Mom,” always stopping in to say hello with Ryker when they’re in town. We’ve decided to make Ryker our official Corporate Meeting Mascot. It’s always nice for our HealthStar family to see the Swedberg family!

Heart full of love!

No one asks Julie to come to community events. They just put her on the schedule and tell her she’s coming! She’s made a name for herself in the community, and she and HealthStar are so proud of this! We’ve seen (and posted) photos of her spectacular booth setup at events; she really makes it look homey and comfortable. Julie doesn’t need much of an arm twist to help in the community – she gets involved because she loves it! She makes community events a priority for herself and her family because she wants to see the Cass Lake community thrive. Her energy and enthusiasm help get others going at events, which is why she is always invited back! The warmth and kindness that Julie brings with her to work is the same warmth and kindness that she pours into every event she attends.

Julie doesn’t save all of her love for community events, though. She also likes to know all about the people she works with, so that she can show us some love, too! At the recent Corporate meetings, Julie was spotted taking notes about everything, from Corporate updates down to each person’s personality type and conflict resolution style. “You never know when this kind of thing might come in handy,” she says.

Julie’s love for her community also translates to love for her Clients and staff. Julie is friendly and caring, and she expects her team to follow her example (which they do very well!). Call the Cass Lake office, and you’ll probably talk to Michelle Colliflower or Jean Bartell, two of the nicest and funniest ladies in Cass Lake! Karen rounds out the group with plenty of experience, wisdom, and patience. Julie puts a lot of love into this team, and it shows! This great group offers PCA, HMK, and skilled services in the Cass Lake area, and they are determined to show the love of their office to all of their Clients and field staff!

Julie, all wrapped up

Julie is like a pioneer woman, mixed with a kindergarten teacher, mixed with a ferocious lion – she has amazing kitchen skills, she loves to show her kind side, but when she needs to, she bares those teeth and gets things done! She represents HealthStar just the way we like it – leading with kindness and support, delicious with a touch of spice and a whole lot of love. Visit the HealthStar booth at the next Cass Lake health fair and find out what you’ve been missing!

And Julie – thanks for the jam, I’ve finished most of it and I’ll be patiently waiting for another shipment. 😊

Understanding Glaucoma

Occurring at any age but tends to be more common in older adults and often presenting itself with no warning signs, glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in the United States. The Mayo Clinic defines glaucoma as a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve, which is vital to good vision, and deteriorates more over time. Often, the damage is caused by an abnormally high pressure in your eye with symptoms so gradual individuals may not realize a change in vision until the condition has reached an advanced stage.

The fluid that normally flows throughout the eye may either over produce or not drain properly which leads to build up. This build up causes increased pressure and cause the optic nerve to gradually deteriorate. Glaucoma is also hereditary. Scientists have identified certain genes in some individuals related to this high pressure and optic nerve damage. There are different types of glaucoma:

  • Open-angle glaucoma:most common form of the disease, the drainage angle remains open, but partially blocked causing a gradual pressure buildup.
  • Angle-closure glaucoma:occurs when full or near full blockage forms and the fluid cannot circulate throughout the eye causing increased pressure.
  • Normal-tension glaucoma:although the eye pressure is within the normal range, the optic nerve still becomes damaged, possibly due to optic nerve sensitivity or a lower blood supply to this area.
  • Adolescent glaucoma:with some, glaucoma may be present at birth or developed early in life, typically caused by drainage issues or other medical condition.
  • Pigmentary glaucoma:with this type of glaucoma, pigment particles from the iris build up in the drainage area which causes the fluid to not drain properly and leads to increased pressure.

Glaucoma, if left untreated, will eventually lead to blindness. But, even with treatment, approximately 15 percent of individuals with glaucoma will become blind in one or both eyes. Depending on the stage of your condition, the signs and symptoms of the different types of glaucoma will vary. For example:

Open-angle glaucoma

  • You will experience blind spots in your peripheral or central vision, typically in both eyes.
  • You will experience tunnel vision with advanced stages.

Acute angle-closure glaucoma

  • You will experience blurred vision.
  • You will experience nausea and vomiting.
  • You will experience severe headaches.
  • You will experience halos around lights.
  • You will experience eye pain and redness.

Annual eye exams are key to early detection but contact an ophthalmologist immediately if experiencing symptoms such as severe headaches, blurred vision and eye pain. Glaucoma may not be preventable, but following these steps may allow for early detection, limited vision loss or even slowing the progress of the disease:

  • Regular eye care
  • Knowing the family’s health history
  • Exercise moderately
  • Use prescribed eye drops
  • Wear eye protection

HealthStar Home Health understands how overwhelming and challenging it can be to care for a loved one at home and offers a variety of home health care services to help support your loved one to live more independently in their own home. With services such as life and health management, mental health, home health and home help, we at HealthStar Home Health help make families and communities strong by enabling individuals of all ages to live longer, more independent and fulfilling lives. To learn more about the various mental health and behavioral health services we offer, visit our website.

With cultural care values as the foundation, our caregivers are able to provide quality service, delivering it with increased awareness and perspective. As we serve our clients and communities, we are motivated by our desire to bring services to everyone in need. Call us today at 651-633-7300 for more information or to schedule a no-charge consultation.

Creating a Dementia Care Plan

When faced with elderly relatives and dementia, the idea of taking care of them in-house can be overwhelming. Normal daily life and familiar routines don’t have to change completely, though; it’s important that they maintain as much autonomy over their daily lives as possible. It’s also imperative to think of the future, and discuss a time when either outside help will be required or the patient will need to be transferred to an assisted living facility.

Dealing with dementia is terrifying, and that’s why it’s important to create a schedule that everyone agrees to and can follow easily. When things get overwhelming or fear sets in, help with dementia care in Duluth is just a phone call away. Qualified, licensed professionals can reduce rifts that arise between families when this cognitive degeneration is in the mix, Getting much-needed help can reduce stress and tensions. Home care is a highly viable option that can be used right away or after a period of family time, when everyone has had a chance to adjust to both the diagnosis and the changes it brings.

Creating a Dementia Care Plan

The first step to creating a schedule is to create structured and appropriate divisions in the day and include activities that are pleasant, easy to accomplish, and low stress. Keep in mind that this isn’t a permanent plan and that constant adjustments will make home life and daily tasks enjoyable for everyone involved. Before creating a plan, be mindful of the person’s interests, likes and dislikes, and abilities. Creating a daily plan full of activities that the patient doesn’t enjoy will create a stressful, disjointed environment. Also keep in mind how they previously structured their day, however loosely their schedule was kept. If they always read the paper before breakfast, include that as part of the new schedule and try to keep other transitions easy and smooth.

Whether they’re a night owl or an early bird, everyone has a time of day that they’re more productive and happiest. Try to tackle bigger projects, like chores and social or intellectual activities during this time. Be sure to schedule large stretches of time for more complicated or difficult tasks like personal care, eating, or physical activities. Not scheduling enough time can make a patient nervous or feel embarrassed if they can’t complete the task before the next scheduled activity. When questions, or for those moments of insecurity, there are always professionals that are available to offer guidance and help create the best dementia care plan in Duluth.

Create a consistent schedule that is easy to follow. Often, individuals suffering from dementia have a hard time falling asleep or waking up, and having consistent times and activities daily will help them understand their new world. When writing a plan, keep in mind that it can include time for spontaneous, easy tasks for added fun, but that structure and routine allows a patient suffering from dementia to feel in control.