When you think of nurses and administrative staff in retirement homes or assisted living care centers, perhaps you envision women and men in scrubs, taking blood pressure, delivering dinner trays, walking with or wheeling residents around, along the hallways and outside into the sunshine and fresh air.

What about a couple of cats sidling up to a stranger? When left alone, animals don’t understand what’s happening, where their owner is, or how long he or she will be gone. They don’t know when they’ll get their next meal or how long their water will last.

What happens to the pets of residents, when their humans are suddenly admitted to care centers?

Many CHIRP nominees stress the importance of helping heal not only the patients themselves, but the patients’ families as well.

For Regina Schimmeyer, MDS Coordinator and Care Management at Countryside Rehab and Healthcare Center in Palm Harbor, Florida, caring about the entire picture at handthe resident, their loved ones, their background and storyis what led her to the MDS department in the first place.

Schimmeyer has worked in long-term health care for 20 years. Originally, she began her career as a unit manager and floor nurse. For the past decade, she has made Countryside Rehab a home away from home for countless residents.

According to Andrea Mattern, RN and fellow MDS comrade, Schimmeyer not only excels in her administrative duties, demonstrating “extensive knowledge,” but she’s also an “excellent critical thinker, known for thinking outside the box.”

While Schimmeyer’s not currently involved in direct nursing care nowadays, she manages to invest herself in patients’ lives in other ways.

She emphasized how much she “enjoys spending one-on-one time with patients,” and told us how this MDS position has enabled her to connect with residents and families even more than in her previous roles, and how it provides a more vivid picture of residents’ histories and backgrounds.

However, sometimes working closely with patients’ loved ones has its painful moments.

“Sometimes it’s hard when families are not realistic, or if they don’t truly see the long-term prognosis, and you have to update them, and sometimes the news is not good. Sometimes you can relate to what they’re going through, because you may have had that same thing with your family member or someone you’re close to,” Schimmeyer explained.

For such difficult situations, the solution she offered is stripped-down and simple: “Put yourself in their shoes, be sympathetic, empathetic. Have a heart.”

Fortunately, when it comes to compassion and empathy, the Countryside Rehab families are in the right hands.

Schimmeyer truly puts the passion in compassion. She says that it’s this passion for the residents that fuels her. She knows that actions speak louder than words, and her “big heart” enables her to go above and beyond, fully living out her thoughtful sentiments.

For Schimmeyer, caring for residents’ families extends even beyond the nuclear family unit, and includes residents’ furry companions as well.

Which is how she found herself keeping company with cats. Schimmeyer relayed a story about a resident whose wife had previously been admitted to Countryside for long-term care, and who now needed to stay for awhile himself. Schimmeyer said he was worried about his cats, who were now at home by themselves.

Schimmeyer was quick to step up. She said, “I have animals. I can relate.” When asked about going to check on them, Schimmeyer responded with compassion. She took care of the cats’ needs, gave them love and attention, and snapped photos of them to bring back and show the resident for his peace of mind.

“Sometimes when you connect with a patient, you feel like they’re family... if there’s something going on with them, you want to help. And it doesn’t always fall within the scope of my nursing duties. Sometimes you have to do other things, like check on patients’ cats.”

She explained: “Sometimes when you connect with a patient, you feel like they’re family… if there’s something going on with them, you want to help. And it doesn’t always fall within the scope of my nursing duties. Sometimes you have to do other things, like check on patients’ cats.”

Occasionally, the circumstances turn more dire. Schimmeyer elaborated: “We’ve had residents that have been admitted to the facility, and we had no contacts [for them]. We had a patient here who was actually passing, and had no contacts. I found out where his family was, had the cops go to his family’s house to notify them. They called me, and they were able to get here while their loved one was passing.”

She explained that the hospital had transferred this patient to Countryside, and his family had no idea where he had gone.

Once again, Schimmeyer circled this situation back to compassion: “I always try to put myself in their shoes. If that was my father, or if that was me, how would that make me feel?”

Understandably, the regular demands of the MDS role, as well as going above and beyond consistently as Schimmeyer does, can take its toll. For other administrators and especially MDS professionals, Schimmeyer advises: “Sometimes you need to just close your door, sit back and breathe for a minute… Sometimes it can be very chaotic, and you have time constraints, you have things that have to be done, and it can be very overwhelming at times. I’d say, if you need to sit back and just take a couple minutes to just breathe, and know that you’re going to get this done, it will be okay!”