“I know it sounds cliché, but you get what you give,” said Gale Kritenbrink, licensed practical nurse (LPN) for Life Care Center of Valparaiso. “I’m hoping that one day, when it’s my turn to be cared for, what I’ve given comes back to me.”
Kritenbrink deemed to a lot of her responses clichés during our interview, but after 25 years of devotion to Life Care Center of Valparaiso and ample experience taking care of patients and coworkers, she’s entitled to slip a few into the conversation. Another one: she does her best every day to make a difference in people’s lives, and in her area of expertise, that’s a telling truth more than a terse turn of phrase.
“Our patients are our everything—we’re with them every single day just like we are with our own families,” she said. “We see them at their best, we see them at their worst. When you work somewhere like this, your life ties into theirs. If somebody’s feeling down, you feel it, too.”
Part of the reason Kritenbrink loves her work is because she can form those close relationships with patients. Starting her career as a medical assistant in pediatrics, she found her real niche when she pursued geriatric nursing at the age of 23.
“I love this kind of nursing and I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “I like knowing the patients, becoming a part of their lives, and helping to make their lives better.”
Kritenbrink’s love for the work solidified when she simultaneously began caring for her own mother.
“My mother had Lou Gherig’s disease (ALS), and we were fortunate enough to take care of her at home,” Kritenbrink said. “Everything that I learned from doing this and taking care of her made me want to do it better.”
With no children of her own, Kritenbrink explained she focuses her energy primarily on her work. Her job entails caring for more than 80 different people at any given time, communicating with patients, physicians and families to make their lives easier. Plus, Kritenbrink adds personal touches of comfort to their busy days every now and then. During our conversation, a nurse passing through revealed that Kritenbrink loves to bake for her coworkers. Kritenbrink laughed but admitted to the habit.
“Actually, I do a lot of baking! I like to bring a little bit of home to them when I can.”
Kritenbrink has a tendency to infuse her work day with little actions that promote an overall sense of kindness in the lives of those around her.
“I think a lot of that [mindset] is missing these days,” she said. “We just have to love deeper and care a little bit more about each other.”
Kritenbrink said the mindset extends to Life Care Center of Valparaiso’s leaders, who she described as “very approachable, amazing people.”
“You couldn’t work with a better group of people—they’re hands on, always ready to help if needed, always leaving an open door,” she said. “Their attitudes make all the difference in the world. Anything less certainly wouldn’t have kept me here for 25 years. I can’t say enough about the place.”
Though she dedicates herself to work, Kritenbrink always looks forward to spending time with her nieces and nephews, whom she dotes on. She’s also looking forward to embarking on some new adventures with her husband of 30 years; the two are surreptitiously shopping around for a camper.
“We’ve been keeping it a bit on the downlow,” she joked, “but we’d love to get back out to Nebraska and camp. It really is a lovely state. My husband partially grew up there, so it holds a special place in his heart and mine, too.”
Kritenbrink said that companies like Life Care Center of Valparaiso can help change the perspective surrounding nursing homes.
“Nursing homes tend to be a scary thing for people, and it is a huge life change, but don’t be scared,” she said. “Don’t listen to all the crazy attorney commercials on television. Come in and meet us and allow us to become a part of your family, too.”
For more information on Life Care Center of Valparaiso, visit their website.