After 36 years, Ann Thompson enjoys reminiscing with patients

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By The Staff

In life, we learn soon enough that just about the only thing that doesn’t change is the fact that everything changes. But some things don’t change as quickly or as often as others, and Ann Thompson is here to prove it.

“Here” is Williston Rehabilitation and Nursing Center (once known as Oak View Care Center, then as Oak View Rehabilitation, then as Williston Care Center.) But no matter what the changes in name or ownership, for 36 years Ann Thompson has been showing up to take care of people in the big building under the oaks at 300 NW 1st Avenue.

One Friday afternoon in 1973, Ann, a mother of eight who had just moved to the area from Miami, walked into the nursing home and asked the administrator, a Mrs. Cox, if they had any work. Mrs. Cox answered by immediately hiring her as a nurse aide, and she began working the 3 – 11 p.m. shift the following Monday.

“There was no paperwork, no training, no nothing,” says Ann, who a few years later became a Licensed Practical Nurse.

When Ann began in 1973, the nursing center was 8 years old and an extension of a doctors’ clinic that operated out of what is now the eastern portion of the building as it stands today. The nursing center was divided into north and south wings, separating the people with the most difficult medical conditions from those with fewer problems. Ann often served those who required the most help and, for a while, she says, she didn’t know if she’d last. Even a mother of eight is not necessarily prepared for the complex needs of people whose basic functions are seriously compromised.

But a mother of eight certainly knows how to hang in there and do what needs doing, and Ann hung in there. By 1982, when the nursing home became the first facility in the area to formally train nurse aides, the west wing had been built and Ann was an LPN. A few years later, the north wing was built, and Ann began handling admissions and medical records from 8 a.m. till 3:15 p.m., then at 3:15, she would begin an 8-hour nursing shift.

I asked how she was able to work such long hours and still manage the demands at home. Ann replied that things were different then, that like a lot of old businesses, the nursing home was a family-run operation and it was in the nature of things at that time to make a certain kind of room for the family life of employees. Her own high school-aged daughters volunteered at the nursing home after school; the younger children could come by after school and watch TV or do their homework. But, as everyone knows, things change – official regulations and requirements, business practices, the ways families manage, what kids do – and while young visitors and volunteers are still welcome at WRNC, the particular kind of family involvement Ann describes is no longer a pattern.

But family involvement remains. While Ann and I were talking, residents and employees came in and out of the room, and Ann seemed to know them all. She had known CNA Shana Parker (who works with Ann in WRNC’s Dementia Unit) since before she was born, “since she was a bump!” said Ann, who was working alongside Shana’s mom, LPN Maria Hiers when she was pregnant with Shana. “I bought her first stuffed toy!” Ann exclaimed.

Having lived in Williston for close to 40 years, Ann also knows most of the local residents of the nursing center from days gone by. One was her daughter’s school teacher, another was a babysitter for her children. She says it helps when people first come in to WRNC, whether for short-term rehab or long-term care, to see some familiar faces. Ann is likely to be one of those faces, and she says its fun to see the re-encounters that frequently happen between residents who knew each other in past lives.

As we begin walking down the hall, Ann stops to talk to Otis McGowan, who has lived at WRNC for the past five years. Ann and Otis have known each other for more than 30 years, and Ann knew Otis’ grandfather when he was in the nursing center many years ago. While we’re talking, we’re joined by Linda Foster, who has a room across the hall from Otis and was his mother Hazel’s last roommate before she died two years ago. Linda was often needed as a messenger between Otis and Hazel, and she has remained good friends with Otis since.

“This is the best part of my job, talking with the residents,” says Ann. “I love it. We go back, we say ‘I remember when’ a lot. And they enjoy it, too.” She pauses for a moment then says, “You have to have someone to talk to.”

Members of the Williston community have a standing invitation to come visit your old friends and neighbors – or to make new friends – with people living at your neighborhood nursing home. You’ll find that you, too, enjoy having someone to talk to!

If this is your first visit, it’s a good idea to call to make arrangements through Activities Director Penny Moore or Social Worker Carmen Wagner at Williston Rehabilitation & Nursing Center at 352 528 3561. WRNC is located at 300 NW 1st Avenue, behind Hardee’s.

Donna Mitchell interviewed Ann Thompson, took the accompanying photographs and wrote this article. Donna is the Community Liaison for Williston Rehabilitation and Nursing Center as well as Parklands Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Gainesville. She also serves on the board of Friends Across the Ages (AcrossTheAges.org), a Gainesville organization whose volunteers make friends with people living in nursing homes.