The way Tamara Zimmerman sees it, being a Director of Nursing (DON) is about taking care of people and advocating for their care and safety, regardless of how much administrative work is involved.
Zimmerman is about 4 ½ weeks into her new job as the DON at Life Care Center of the Willows – a high-profile job that essentially serves as the right-hand person to the executive director. She oversees the nursing care at The Willows, which is a 100-bed skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility in Valparaiso that offers short-term rehab and long-term care as well.
About 27 years ago, Zimmerman left the banking industry to become a nurse and hasn’t looked back since. While she worked hard to make that happen, she also knew what to expect. Her sister was a nurse, and one of her daughters is married to a doctor.
In fact, Zimmerman’s son was in nursing school at the same time she was.
“He graduated a year before me,” she said, the pride sneaking through in her smile. He is now a nurse practitioner in Hobart.
Zimmerman was introduced to skilled nursing care early in her career. She had worked at a transitional care unit in Dyer, and a physician's office, and later shadowed a doctor who was rounding at a skilled nursing facility.
“I saw that there were patients who needed care and someone to love them –some of them had nobody,” she said.
Years later, she sharpened her proclivity for caring deeply for those in need when her mother was diagnosed with dementia. Zimmerman and her husband Rich took care of her mother for three years before her passing with the help of her children from time to time as well.
“Nurses find it easy to care for other people, but I’ve learned that it’s altogether different when it’s your family member,” she said.
It was difficult but gave Zimmerman a new perspective on the challenges families might be facing when their elderly loved ones need advanced or long-term care. It’s why she considers working closely with families as much a part of her job as caring for patients.
“I also think I have a closer bond with people with dementia than I’ve ever had,” she said.
Zimmeran’s father is now in the end stages of kidney disease and needs dialysis, so she also is learning from that.
“It definitely makes you a better nurse,” she said.
While the skilled nursing industry is highly regulated and Zimmerman’s job involves mounds of administrative work, she always makes time to connect with the nursing staff and care for patients, too.
“Sometimes it’s just popping into their rooms and fluffing their blankets, or maybe fixing their hair a bit before they eat breakfast,” she said. “My favorite part about this job is just making residents smile. Calming them down if they’re having a bad moment. I put myself in their shoes.”
Zimmerman said she feels lucky to have known several of the nurses and the executive director at The Willows before she accepted the job.
“It’s one of the biggest reasons I came here. I knew the strong work ethic of this team,” she said. “The staff is wonderful, and so is our medical director Dr. (Michael) Mirochna.”
Zimmerman and her husband reside in Wheatfield with their puppy Arya, a 7-month-old Irish Wolfhound still in training. She can sit and stay, she said, but is still pretty much a wild puppy at heart.
“I wanted a strong female name from Game of Thrones for her,” she said.
Arya’s furry sisters are two cats – one 18 and one about 8 or 9 years old. The Zimmermans love animals and enjoy spending their free time traveling to places like Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
“We like to sit on the back deck of the cabin and watch the bears,” she said.
And then there are eight grandkids who also round out the family, for which Zimmeran had two words:
“They’re great,” she said.
For more information about the services at Life Care Center of The Willows, or to schedule a tour, visit https://lcca.com/locations/in/the-willows/.