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"We're caring for people who need us. At the end of the day, that's why I'm here." accent

May 1, 2024 | By

(Note: In honor of National Nurses Month, take a moment to get to know the organization's No. 1 nurse!)

Karie Kesterson-Gibson's proudest moments don't occur when the clinical team at WesleyLife receives an accolade, an award, or even a superior clinical rating. 

Although she admittedly loves all those things, her favorite moments occur when a client or family member in one of WesleyLife's health centers tells her a WesleyLife caregiver has made a difference to them during a challenging time.

"That's why I do it - that's why I became a nurse and why I can't see myself ever doing anything else," Karie, WesleyLife's Director of Clinical Excellence, says. "I became a nurse because I cared deeply for people, for helping them and for making their lives better. I think that's really why most nurses became nurses."

In her leadership role with WesleyLife, Karie has clinical oversight throughout the entire WesleyLife organization: 15 locations in all, and more than 1,000 clinical team members - Certified Nursing Assistants, Licensed Practical Nurses, and Registered Nurses. Although each location has accountability for its own teams, policies, procedures, and clinical culture roll up to Karie.

"We may be hundreds of different people, but at the end of the day, we're all here to do the right thing," Karie says. "We're here to take care of residents and clients and their loves ones, and it's the job of us as leaders to make sure our nurses have the tools to do that."

Karie knew she wanted to be a nurse at the age of 14; her beloved grandfather had emphysema, and Karie felt herself drawn to helping to care for him. 

"It's like I could see beyond the symptoms and what was happening and just see the person I loved who needed comfort," she says. "That's what it's still like for me, and what I see in many of the other nurses here. I know it sounds like a cliche, but it's more of a calling than a job."

Commitment to innovation

Karie says she remains committed to WesleyLife primarily because of the relationships she's built within the organization and because she feels connected to her work with residents and clients, but also because WesleyLife empowers its clinical leaders to innovate.

"We not only have an in-house training program for CNAs, dementia education, and other programs you can't easily find in other organizations, but we recently started a therapeutic-touch program that teaches our clinical team members how touch can actually encourage healing," Karie says. "If someone has a good idea for something we should try or offer, we are often able to implement it."

Karie's office is in WesleyLife's organizational headquarters in Johnston, but she spends much of her time traveling between the organization's 15 sites to teach, fill in, remediate challenges, and help implement programming. When she's not on the clock, she relishes the time she spends with her family: husband Steve, sons Kane and Kyler, and 3-year-old twin daughters Irelyn and Gracelyn, whom she carried while leading WesleyLife's infectious-disease mitigation efforts during the pandemic.

Karie says her favorite part of traveling between locations is feeling cohesiveness from team to team.

"We say we're 'one WesleyLife,' and when I'm in a community and see the care that's taking place, I can tell there is a connection between the people who are doing the caregiving," she says. "We try to be a very team-oriented culture and build each other up, and that's how I personally like to work, too."

Karie and JanetStrength in relationship-building

Janet Simpson (in red at left with Karie), WesleyLife's vice president of campus operations, has worked with Karie since Karie's first day with the organization. Janet identifies Karie's ability to build relationships as her strongest skill.

"No matter if she is talking to a team member or a resident or a client, Karie makes them feel like they are the only person who matters in that moment," Janet says. "She also can always be counted on to circle back and make sure that whatever needed to be taken care of was followed through on, and that people who do a good job are recognized for it."

Karie says as she thinks about the future of her role and her department, she looks most forward to WesleyLife's ongoing commitment to meeting the health needs of people who wish to remain in their homes as they age.

"We know that not everyone embraces the idea of being in a community, and we owe everyone the same chance at health and happiness and independence and a good life," she says. "I'm proud that we are meeting people where they are in caring for them."


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