By Teri R. Sumbry
After spending more than 50 years taking care of others, one Alabama nurse is finally getting a little more time for herself. Jewell Dean Garrett celebrated her retirement this month from McGuffey Healthcare & Rehab First in Gadsden, where she has worked for 54 years.
After graduating from Good Samaritan Nursing School in Selma, Alabama, Garrett followed the advice of a cousin who worked at McGuffey and began her career in long-term healthcare on June 7, 1965. But, her commitment to caring started well before then.
“I was raised by my grandmother. This influenced me to love and want to provide care to the geriatric population,” Garrett said.
She started as a certified nursing assistant because she didn’t want anyone to know that she had taken her nursing board exams, just in case she didn’t pass. She needn’t have worried because she was successful and became a licensed practical nurse on October 3, 1966. Since then, she’s served as a charge nurse, nursing supervisor, clinical nurse manager and will retire as the clinical services director.
For Garrett, a typical day begins at 7 a.m. and is spent keeping an eye on staffing, doing rounds with the doctor, gathering reports and ensuring the residents have their medical needs met. As a healthcare veteran, she has seen a lot of changes over the years — new medical technology, better medications, the arrival of millennials in the workforce, etc.
However, the things that remained the same kept her coming back year after year.
“I will miss the residents. There are some families where I have taken care of three generations. It has been a pleasure getting to care for and know all of these individuals,” Garrett said.
Passion for caring
McGuffey Administrator April Conley said that it’s Garrett’s positive attitude that makes her so special and has contributed to her not only being the center’s longest-serving employee but one of its best. Known as “Miss Jewell,” Garrett has earned a number of recognitions, including being named Nurse of the Year by the Alabama Nursing Home Association in 2003.
“Jewell is passionate about ensuring the well-being of all the residents she serves,” Conley said. “She has a very strong work ethic that is grounded in strong moral principles. She has been a great mentor for so many employees throughout the years.”
Friday, many of those employees, past, and present, were there to honor Garrett during an afternoon reception at McGuffey Healthcare.
“I have watched my peers grow and become great professionals, Garrett said of her co-workers. “It has been my privilege to help shape new nurses and CNAs over the years.”
Former colleagues like Bobbie Landrom said working with Garrett was a “wonderful” experience. She also remembered that Garrett was very attentive to details when they worked together.
“She always followed the guidelines for policy and procedures,” Landrom said. “When you go that way, you can’t go wrong.”
Love for family
Although she was the guest of honor, Garrett was rarely in one place for very long at her reception. Between the many presentations, including a mayoral proclamation, and hugs and photos with her well-wishers, she still made sure other guests got enough to eat and drink. McGuffey Healthcare’s MDS coordinator Alan Jarrells was one of many who stopped by for a hug. He, his sister and mother all work at McGuffey and were there to celebrate the impact Garrett has had on their lives.
“That’s my second mama,” a smiling Jarrells said of Garrett.
Married to her husband, James, for more than 50 years, Garrett has balanced a career of caring with being a devoted matriarch. She is the mother of three children and has four grandkids and five great-grandchildren. In a 2003 feature on grandparenting, she was noted by the Gadsden Times for being one of her grandchildren’s biggest fans. According to the article, ‘”Miss Jewell” Garrett was at every game both her grandsons played. She was there, win or lose.”
Although Garrett will be on hand to work if needed at McGuffey, she is most looking forward to having more time to be with her 90-year-old mother, travel with her sister and care for her great-grandchildren.
“I have worked a long time and enjoyed every minute of it. However, I am ready to relax and enjoy time with my family,” Garrett said.
Editor’s Note: Teri R. Sumbry is the Communications and Public Relations Specialist for Turenne & Associates and McGuffey Healthcare & Rehab First.