July 8

Shining a Spotlight on Nursing: Chapter Two

By Rick Banas of Gardant Management Solutions

As 2020 is designated as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife by the World Health Assembly, we are Shining a Spotlight on the registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and certified nursing assistants in the assisted living and memory care communities Gardant manages.

Today, we focus on Stephanie Sell, who has served as the Director of Nursing at Heritage Woods of Ottawa since May 2001, and Mychelle Benton, who serves as the Director of Memory Care at White Oaks at Heritage Woods of South Elgin.

Stephanie Sell, Director of Nursing Heritage Woods of Ottawa

Stephanie Sell 

At what age did you decide to go into nursing?

I decided to go into nursing at the age of 14.

What sparked your desire to become a nurse?

I had a dear aunt who always wanted to be a nurse. She was unable to fulfill her dream due to family obligations. As a young lady, I tended to gravitate toward older adults and be attentive to their needs. My aunt and I discussed the profession of nursing and the rewards one could experience in caring for others. So, that is when the decision was made to continue my education after high school and join the ranks of women and men already practicing as nurses.

How did your career as a nurse start? My career as a nurse began as a Candy Striper at the local hospital. I was under the guidance of a Nun. My responsibilities were passing trays; feeding patients; cleaning beds and remaking them post-discharge of a patient; responding to requests to aid the nurse on-duty; passing ice water; and general companionship of a patient upon their request. After high school, I went to the local junior college and became a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). I practiced as an LPN for 13 years. I enrolled at the same junior college and graduated three years later with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing.

What do you find most satisfying about nursing?

This year, I celebrated my 40th year as a nurse. Nursing has been a very noble and respected profession. The profession has allowed me to practice in many environments over the years. It has allowed me the chance to see people at their worst and at their best. It has allowed me to help them in some very challenging ways, such as end-of-life care. Thus, gratifying would be another term used to describe my feelings over the years. I have had the opportunity to work with families to provide education and emotional support, as well as educate the patient and support them emotionally. To know that I may have made a difference, no matter how large in someone’s life is so important. I have been proud to call myself a Nurse over the entire time of my career!

What motivated you to work in assisted living/memory care?

I have always gravitated toward older adults. I find their life experiences and stories to be very interesting and informative. With that being said, I have been enriched, as I have learned so much about the “old days” and general life experiences that others could only read about.

What do you like best about working in an assisted living/memory care community?

I enjoy the residents most of all. It is gratifying to become like family to some residents when they have no family. The residents are so appreciative for all that is done for them. They are entertaining and quite witty at times. I see them at their worst and their best. To touch their life in a simple way, to dry a tear, or give a hug, to let them know they are not alone is so important. The simple things in life mean the most. If I can do that every day and put a smile on their face, then I have done my job and done it well.

When you are not working, what might we find you doing?

I enjoy spending time with my husband and my son and his family. I enjoy my dog and taking walks with her. I enjoy cooking and baking when I have the time. I enjoy my flower garden and yard work. I also enjoy short trips on a weekend.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

My career choice has served me well and has taught me many of life’s lessons. Nursing has made me a better person.


Mychelle Benton, Director of Memory Care White Oaks at Heritage Woods of South Elgin

Mychelle Benton

At what age did you decide to go into nursing? 31

What sparked your desire to become a nurse?

In high school I was a Candy Striper/volunteer at a hospital as part of a career class that I was in.  The nurse I was assigned to was an LPN; her compassion and method of talking to patients was influential to me wanting to be a nurse.

How did your career as a nurse start?

After my third child, I enrolled in a class to be a medical secretary.  I began working at a mental health facility as the unit secretary and developed a great relationship with the nurses and doctors that were there.  My immediate supervisor told me that I should enroll in nursing school because I was able to understand the terminology and talk to the patients very well.   He pushed this idea for about four months and then finally told me that the company was looking to phase out the unit secretary position.  He allowed me to cross train as a mental health worker (not counselor since I did not have a bachelor’s degree).  Eventually, I signed up for nursing school. Since school was full-time during the week and I wanted to keep my full-time work status and benefits for my children at work, I changed my work schedule.  I worked PMs on Thursdays and then 16 hours on the weekends. It was a very challenging 16 months, but that experience was a very motivating time in my life. 

 What do you find most satisfying about nursing?

The most satisfying factor of nursing to me is the relationships you build with your patients, residents, families, and coworkers.

What motivated you to work in assisted living/memory care?

In 1998, I began taking care of my mother-in-law. I could not understand some of the changes she was going through; we eventually had her tested for everything and learned she had Alzheimer’s disease.  It was scary at the time with a variety of emotions, like a roller coaster.

My experience working in a mental health facility since 1991 helped me with establishing boundaries and communicating with her.  I wanted to know more about the disease, so I began working as a nurse in a long-term care facility in 2009 along with still working at the mental health facility.  In 2010, I became the memory care manager when the company I was working for opened a small 23-bed area for those with dementia.

In 2013, I decided to quit the mental health facility and dedicate more time to learning about dementia. I wanted to be able to educate staff and families about the process.  It was also in this year that we learned my grandmother also had the disease. 

My experience helped me to provide education to my aunts and uncles, and we were able to keep her home until her death on Dec. 1, 2019.

In 2014, I transferred to a different facility with the same company and inherited the whole 3rd floor (75 residents).  It was challenging, and exciting.  However, I wanted to do more and having 75 residents prevents you from being able to do more. 

I became responsible for Dementia Training for all new hires despite the department they would work in as dementia was on all floors of the facility. 

In 2017, I began visiting AL communities for in-services and lectures on memory care and was curious about the environment. 

I applied to some communities and was hired to start in November 2017; however, my grandmother had serious health issues, and I wanted to help with caring for her at home so I stayed at my current job with the flexibility I needed to help out with her.  In late 2018, I again began to apply to AL communities again and was hired at White Oaks in January 2019.

What do you like best about working in an assisted living/memory care community?

I like the environment, the home-like setting, because we truly work where they live.  The community is colorful and inviting. It is safe and open for the residents to walk around in.  They have their own space and are not sharing a room with another individual.  The number of residents in the community makes it very effective to provide engagement and socialization to each individual daily.  I can have a talk with each resident (32) daily.  I enjoy being able to hear their stories and sit down during an activity or meal and interact with them. 

When you are not working, what might we find you doing?

Reading a book or watching old movies.  I would say spending time with my family, but COVID has limited socialization outside my home.

Is there anything else you would like to share? 

My goal is to one day have a very small home/community that provides services for those with dementia in memory of my mother-in-law and grandmother.

“Nursing has made me a better person.” 

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