Joanne’s mother was a resident at Tobacco Roots for three years. Here, the mother and daughter couple dance during the facility’s prom for residents. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOANNE GALIGER

Her calling

Joanne Galiger retires from Tobacco Root Mountains Care Center
“I love working with the elderly people,” she said. “They’re all grandmothers to us.”

Joanne Galiger has been married to her husband, Mike, for 47 years. Each of those 47 years, the couple has lived in Sheridan.

Galiger has worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at Tobacco Root Mountains Care Center in Sheridan since 2000. She manages the kitchen at the facility, purchasing groceries, creating menus for residents and taking care of residents’ nutritional needs. The CNA license allows her to work with residents’ eating and feeding schedules and help facilitate these necessities on the floor.

Collaborating with a dietician from St. James Hospital in Butte, Galiger monitors menus and diet orders from residents’ doctors. Once menus are approved, they can be implemented into a care center. Each resident has their own specific diet order, she explained, and some include therapeutic options.

“Some people don’t have enough teeth in order to chew meat, so we have to grind it or puree it for them,” Galiger said.

She sees and interacts with the residents every day, going from the halls of the nursing home to the kitchen, and occasionally helps residents who cannot feed themselves. Galiger’s mother was a nursing home administrator for many years, and Galiger worked in nursing homes through high school. “I love working with the elderly people,” she said. “They’re all grandmothers to us.”

“I think it was kind of my calling to be in geriatric work,” Galiger said.

Before working at TRMCC, Galiger was the manager of the Pic and Pan Pharmacy for five years, and before that, she met her husband in Dillon while attending school. The couple now has three children, lots of grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“It’s just a very friendly community,” Galiger said of the Sheridan area. “Everybody cares for everybody else. If someone is having a problem, the whole community comes together for them. I was originally from California, and I’m not moving back!”

Working in a nursing home facility through the coronavirus pandemic propelled that notion of community spirit but was also heartbreaking.

“It’s been very trying,” Galiger said. “My job hasn’t really changed much because we’re still cooking and feeding them, but I think watching them struggle because of being in lockdown and not being able to see their families, or maybe see their families but not have that family touch. We can’t take them out—we used to take them out for lunch or rides, and we can’t do any of that now.”

The staff at large made the best of the lockdowns and community members would come to the windows and sing to and smile at residents. Sheridan Girl Scouts wrote letters and sent pictures. “And they just love that kind of stuff,” Galiger said.

“I think watching them is the hardest part of our jobs because it has definitely taken a toll on our little people,” she said of the coronavirus’s impact on residents.

Moving forward, hopefully at one point out of the pandemic, Galiger thinks connection with family will be crucial for nursing home residents. Some, she said, have new grandchildren they have not yet been able to hold due to pandemic precautions. Just being with their families will be the biggest plus for them, she said.

“We’ve taken over what their families are for,” Galiger said. “We can give them hugs and sit and visit with them, where their families can’t right now.”

That family element and the close bonds with residents is what Galiger is going to miss the most.

Galiger will retire from her position at TRMCC March 31 to travel with her husband and take time to do some of the things they could not do with her job demands.

“I’m going to miss my coworkers a lot and I’m also going to miss the residents a whole lot,” she said. “We get pretty attached to them.”

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