By Katie Bohannon, Staff Writer
McGuffey Healthcare & Rehab First honored its longest-serving employee Jan. 10, dedicating a reception to a woman whose compassion and devotion affected countless lives for 54 years. After more than five decades of service, Jewell Dean Garrett entered retirement with recognition and the assurance that as she cared for people, people care for her.
Garrett’s current and former staff members, family, friends and patients clustered in the facility’s dining room, bringing gifts, letters and gratitude along with them. Each person embraced Garrett and thanked her for her outstanding contribution to McGuffey Healthcare & Rehab First. Throughout the room, eyes swelled with tears at the thought of Garrett’s departure.
“She’s gone from one end of nursing to the other,” said McGuffey Healthcare & Rehab First Director of Clinical Services Linda Lasseter. “A lot of people you see here don’t work here anymore. They came back because of Mrs. Jewell, to see her.”
Gadsden City Council District 4 representative Kent Back attended the reception and presented Garrett with a proclamation from Mayor Sherman Guyton’s office that detailed her years at McGuffey. Beginning her career in July of 1965 as a charge nurse, Garrett also worked as a nursing supervisor and clinical nurse manager and retired as clinical services director.
The proclamation declared Garrett a leader and mentor among her fellow employees as she displayed an unmatched work ethic, high principles, self-motivation and dependability. Her unwavering character earned the respect and admiration of her coworkers and patients, who both agree that she excelled in her profession while balancing her roles as a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother outside of her work life. With her estimable efforts, Garrett upheld and promoted McGuffey’s mission and provided quality care for the elderly and disabled in the Gadsden community.
In 2003, Garrett was recognized as the Alabama Nursing Home Association’s Nurse of the Year in 2003. On Jan. 10, she had a day named in her honor. The proclamation ended with declaring Jan. 10, 2020 “Jewell Dean Garrett Day.”
In her 54 years at McGuffey, Garrett witnessed the evolution of the facility, from its original building to its new additions. She worked with different people and nurses constantly and served generations of families, including caring for a 103-year-old woman, her daughter and granddaughter. She developed a personal relationship with her residents and treated them as if they were her own family in their own home.
“I love to love the residents,” Garrett said. “They are so precious. I get along with the family too. [When] the family knows that their loved one is taken care of, they don’t have to worry too much.”
While Garrett endeavored to remain positive and spread happiness throughout her career, she faced certain aspects of her profession that were difficult.
“I’ve seen so many people pass and I’ve seen so many people leave and I’ve lost friends throughout the years,” Garrett said. “That’s the only thing that kind of bothered me a little bit. I’m the oldest one that’s working here except for two; the rest are all new. That’s the only sad part.”
Garrett is not just attentive to her patients. Her dedication and generosity extend to all of those around her, including her coworkers. Each Thanksgiving, Garrett cooked an entire meal and served the staff at McGuffey. Throughout her years in healthcare, she maintained an uplifting attitude that inspired others to perform their best and acted as an example of service and diligence to all.
McGuffey Healthcare & Rehab First Vice President of Clinical Services Tracy Humble shared one of her fondest memories of Garrett. When Humble began working at McGuffey in 1998, she and Garrett were both nurse managers. Humble emphasized how Garrett took her under her wing and showed her the ropes. Early one January, Garrett decided to take a week off. Nurses cover each other’s units if an employee is on vacation. While Humble was checking on Garrett’s patients, she discovered Garrett in her office. When Humble asked Garrett what she was doing at work because she was supposed to be on vacation, Garrett replied “Oh, I forgot.”
“I’m not sure if that was the first time she forgot she was on vacation, but I know it wasn’t the last time,” said Humble. “[Garrett] is truly a dedicated nurse, dedicated to these patients. I love her. There’s no other way to describe her than the epitome of a nurse.”
In retirement, Garrett plans to spend her time taking care of her 90-year-old mother, traveling and enjoying her great-grandchildren. She looks forward to relaxation and not worrying about an alarm clock. She joked that although she has tried to retire for the past 10 years, she hoped her coworkers would not miss her too terribly. But for the staff at McGuffey, that is not an easy task.
“We’re going to miss her,” said Humble. “It won’t be the same. I’m sure we’ll still be looking for her. She has forever changed McGuffey in her being her, her dependability, just knowing that she’s here. She’s kind of a security blanket.”
Though McGuffey might have to give up its security blanket, Garrett did not leave her workplace empty-handed. Her example lives on in those she inspired daily to achieve excellence, practice kindness and display compassion, and her influence remains in the patients and families whose lives were content and joyful thanks to her contributions. To those Garrett left behind and those entering healthcare, she offered a few parting words of wisdom and a personal gratification of her own that she gained throughout her years of service.