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‘It’s part of us’

Nursing became a family calling for Emily Pochardt and her children — all three are CNAs at Morningside Heights

Photo by Deb Gau Emily Pochardt, center, said she became a CNA to help people. Her daughter Belinda and son Dean have followed in her footsteps, and all three are working at Avera Morningside Heights Care Center in Marshall.

MARSHALL — Emily Pochardt said she became a certified nursing assistant because she wanted to be able to help care for people. Over time, it’s also become something of a family calling. Pochardt and two of her children — her daughter Belinda and son Dean — are all CNAs together at Avera Morningside Heights Care Center.

“They lived this almost their whole lives,” she said. “It’s just part of us.”

“We work the same unit,” Belinda Pochardt said of herself and her mom. They even have weekend shifts together. But Belinda and Dean Pochardt said it’s not only a family connection that sparked their interest in nursing. It was also their mother’s example.

“Mom made me love helping people,” Belinda Pochardt said.

“All three are dedicated to what they do,” Morningside Heights Administrator Mary Swanson said of the Pochardts. Last year, Dean even went right from attending his high school graduation ceremony to working a night shift at Morningside Heights, she said.

“We literally could not do the work we do without these three and others like them,” Swanson said.

Emily Pochardt has been working at Morningside Heights for almost 16 years.

“After I had my kids, I had a desire to help people,” she said. She became a CNA, and worked in home care before switching to long-term care.

Over the years, her children also became familiar with her work and Morningside Heights.

“We were around it our whole lives,” Dean Pochardt said. “I remember standing here for the bus if there was a snowstorm or something.” In bad weather, it was easier to catch the school bus by driving to Marshall with their mom than waiting at their home in rural Lynd, he said.

As Belinda and Dean entered high school, Emily encouraged them to check out the CNA certification program available through Marshall Public Schools.

“I think Mom helped a lot with pushing me to take the class,” Dean Pochardt said. Her encouragement “definitely paved the way,” he said.

“I said, it’s a credit you can get … and you get college credit besides,” Emily Pochardt said. The experience of being a CNA could also open up a potential career path. “It helps you really see, is health care what I really want to do?”

Belinda Pochardt said her mom’s example was another reason she was interested in nursing. Belinda went from working as a lifeguard to become CPR-certified, to getting her CNA certification and working at Morningside Heights.

“Here, I’m always busy,” she said.

Emily Pochardt said the connections she’s able to make with residents at Morningside Heights are a big part of why she loves her job.

“You care for them like a parent,” she said.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what being a CNA is like, the Pochardts said.

While it can be part of what CNAs help nursing home residents with, “You’re not going to spend eight hours in the bathroom,” Emily Pochardt said. The Pochardts said working a shift at Morningside Heights can include assisting residents with meals, reading to residents or taking walks with them — or even painting a resident’s fingernails.

“Your day is never the same as before,” Emily Pochardt said.

“You always have something to do. Everyone is unique,” Belinda Pochardt said.

The past year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, has been a challenging one for long-term care workers, and for residents, the Pochardts said.

“It was rough on the residents. They didn’t get to see their families,” Belinda said. Things did get better for residents when Morningside Heights was able to set up iPads to do video calls with residents’ families, the Pochardts said.

For caregivers, the pandemic was also tough in different ways. The Pochardts said wearing full protective gear and masks could make it hard to communicate with residents, especially if they were hard of hearing. The Pochardts said there was also the worry that they could inadvertently expose residents to the COVID virus, even with safety precautions.

At the same time, Belinda said, working through the pandemic helped her “see a whole new side” of nursing.

Both Belinda and Dean Pochardt say they want to pursue careers in health care. Belinda is attending nursing school at the University of Sioux Falls with the help of a long-term care scholarship from Avera Morningside Heights. Swanson said Morningside Heights has scholarship opportunities both for employees who pursuing careers in health care and employees pursuing degrees in other fields like business, teaching or information technology. Part of the scholarship requirements include that recipients work at Morningside Heights a minimum of 10 hours a week.

Dean is currently a sophomore at Concordia College, where he’s studying nursing and chemistry.

While he hasn’t started his clinicals yet, “Working as a CNA definitely helps” with his studies, Dean said. He comes back to Morningside Heights when he has breaks from school. In the future, he would like to work in intensive care or as a certified registered nurse anesthetist.

Belinda Pochardt said she had thought of maybe becoming a midwife, but she still feels a connection to long-term care.

“Right now, I come here and I know all my residents,” she said. She wants to come back to Morningside Heights after nursing school.

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