By Stacy Bronec

“The best part of working at a care center in a small community is getting to know your residents. There’s a more ‘homey’ feel,” Anne-Marie Benjamin says.

Benjamin is a social worker at Missouri River Medical Center (MRMC) in Fort Benton. MRMC is a Critical Access Hospital, and they currently have 20 residents, ranging in age from 62-97. Benjamin finished her Bachelor of Arts in Social Work in 2008, and this is the third facility she has worked at.

When asked why she wanted to be a social worker, her immediate response is, “I’ve always loved helping people.”

When the pandemic first hit the U.S. in 2020, residents of MRMC weren’t able to eat in the cafeteria together. Each of the staff members would sit with the residents in their rooms while they ate.

Benjamin says, “For a while, some of the residents who didn’t eat well in the cafeteria were doing better because they were actually eating. But then we noticed a lot of the residents started to decline—losing weight and cognitively slipping.”

They came up with a way for the residents to social distance in the cafeteria, and things got better.

In a normal year, things look different at the Care Center. In the past, they have had the Dedman Animal Shelter bring in animals for the residents to pet and love on. The staff would also provide spa days, where they would do their nails and give them facials, as well as hand massages.

Benjamin says, “Even the guys like those!”

The Care Center staff also had regular social events with ice cream, popcorn, or cupcakes.

Now they have to get a little more creative. The animal shelter isn’t able to bring pets in during the current crisis, but Benjamin says, “Our CEO just approved us bringing in our own pets. So I can bring in one of my dogs.” She laughs. “Not all three, but one.”

Because families aren’t able to visit in the normal way, one-on-one time between the staff and residents is crucial.

“We have really added a lot more time with each resident,” says Benjamin.

To accommodate for social distancing, MRMC is using the patio for residents to sit on, and their families can visit with them there. Benjamin says they will have to come up with a new plan when the weather changes and the patio isn’t an option anymore.

Another perk of a small town is the community. Over the years the Care Center has received donations from the Women’s Club for some of their activities. They have had shawls and blankets made and donated for the residents. The local elementary school has come and sang to them, as well as local musicians The Lucky Valentines. Previously, they had BINGO night, and volunteers from the community would come to help out. This past summer, Community Bible Church organized a drive-by parade to show their love for the residents, while not exposing them to germs.

Benjamin’s favorite part of working with the elderly is “the smile on their faces when you say hi. Their face just lights up, just by saying hello to them, giving them a pat on the shoulder or a hug.” She pauses. “They love to talk about when they were younger, and some of them love for you to joke around with them.”

Every Christmas, Santa and his elves visit the Care Center.

Benjamin says, “You might think they would think it was silly. But their faces light up like little children. They love it.”

Staff members take names and buy gifts for each of the residents. Then Santa gives them each a stocking and their gifts. While no one knows what the holidays will look like this year, there’s one thing for certain—the residents are being loved and taken care of, thanks to people like Benjamin.

Her words are a reminder that it really is the simple things in life. From a kind word to a smile or a hug—it might mean more than you know.