In Conversation... with Jenny Messell

By Jacqui Jones
Tuesday, 15 October, 2019

In Conversation... with Jenny Messell

In Conversation provides a glimpse into the life of an ‘outlier’ — an exceptional person going above and beyond to improve outcomes in their field. We speak with Jenny Messell, Service Manager at Northern Territory Indigenous residential aged-care facility Juninga Centre. In recognition of her work, Messell was named winner of the 2019 Nurse of the Year at the Northern Territory Nursing and Midwifery Excellence Awards. She was recognised for her dedication and commitment to her clients and their families, as well as her leadership in the workplace. “At the heart of the Juninga Centre is Jenny Messell’s dedication to professional service delivery,” the judges said.

Your Nurse of the Year award recognises your work with the Juninga Centre. Can you tell us about the centre and who it provides services to?

Juninga Centre has been operating for 30 years. It is an Indigenous residential aged-care facility catering for 24 permanent residents and two respite beds with 10 independent cabins at the back that have home care packages. It is for Indigenous people but we do have non-Indigenous people reside here at times.

We have residents coming from all over the Top End communities to either have respite care or permanent care. They come from the islands too: Elcho Island, Groote Eylandt, Tiwi Islands.

What makes Juninga unique, compared with other aged-care centres/services?

Juninga is pretty unique in that it is built with Indigenous people in mind — open areas, access to the outside from every room. It has lovely gardens, a camp fire area and a great outdoor activities area. The residents can wander around and they feel right at home.

What does your role at Juninga involve?

My role at Juninga is the Service Manager. It involves me in making sure the day-to-day running of the centre is smooth. Making sure the residents are happy and comfortable, making sure the staff are happy. I greet the residents each day and have a little chat with them to make sure all is well. I have a lot of paperwork and reports to do so I am kept pretty busy each day.

How did you start in nursing and aged care?

I started my training at Manly Hospital, NSW, in 1976. My mother was a nurse and worked in aged care for as long as I can remember. My three sisters are all nurses working in different sectors of nursing. I did do some work at the aged-care centre my mother was working at when I was still at school and I think that may have contributed to my interest in aged care.

What are most important qualities for nurses working in aged care?

The most important qualities for nurses in aged care are compassion, patience, understanding, caring and listening to the residents.

What are the challenges of your role?

The challenge in my role is time. Time to get everything done on time. Also trying to connect the residents with their families, as they are so far away in communities and they rarely see each other or speak with family.

And the rewards?

The rewards are simple. When I see a resident smile and enjoying themselves it is very rewarding. We are doing something to make their lives more enjoyable.

The award judges highlighted your professional care of your clients and their medical, emotional and cultural needs. How do you meet emotional and cultural needs and why is this important?

I think we meet the emotional and cultural needs of the residents as a team. The lifestyle person gets information about the resident when they are admitted so a ‘Lifestyle Care Plan’ can be put together for their individual needs. These care plans are followed to make sure the resident is doing things they enjoy. We celebrate many cultural days with the residents, NAIDOC day being the biggest celebration of the year.

You are also described as a ‘natural leader’. What makes a good leader?

I think a good leader is one that listens to staff and hears their issues and actions them as quickly as they can. Also having an open door policy for staff to come to me anytime. I know in the bigger facilities this is not possible, but we are a small facility so I can accommodate that. I think staff need to know that they are being listened to — sometimes they just need to get things off their back.

What does Juninga mean to its residents and their families — how do they benefit from the services offered?

Juninga means home to the residents and their families. They seem really happy to be here but they do miss their home communities and families.

What does the Nurse of the Year award mean to you?

The Nurse of the Year award means a lot to me. I am proud to have won it but I think all nurses need to get an award as they all do such a wonderful job and are such caring, compassionate and adaptable people.

Top image: Jenny Messell with the Honourable Natasha Fyles MLA, Minister for Health, and Professor Catherine Stoddart, Chief Executive Officer, Northern Territory Department of Health.

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