Jenny Messell has worked and lived alongside the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residents at Juninga Centre aged care facility, in the peaceful Darwin suburb of Coconut Grove, for 23 years.

Her dedication to the work has not lessened in that time, and she says her personal rewards have only deepened – love and respect for her clients, the love she receives from the clients, and the intimate connection built up with them through listening to their unique stories.

Her work has been acknowledged with the Nurse of the Year Award in Darwin’s Department of Health Nursing and Midwifery Awards 2019.

“Jenny role-models the values of respect and diversity; creates an accepting workplace culture and delivers the highest quality clinical care,” the judges said – comments Jenny says could apply equally to many ARRCS service managers and staff across the Northern Territory.

Raised in Melbourne, Jenny did her nursing training at Manly Hospital in Sydney and worked there and at Liverpool Hospital. She came to Darwin in 1981 and stayed, partly because of the Territory’s laidback lifestyle and climate – especially when she was raising three sons, because they could play outside for most of the year.

Having ARRCS as an employer has also helped to keep her in the role.

“They’ve been great,” she says.

“They give a lot of support to service managers, and all the staff. And if you want more training, you’re supported.

“And they are big on continuous improvements in the lifestyles of the service’s consumers. We’ve had a lot of upgrades. When we’ve needed new furniture or equipment, it’s never been a problem.”

She started as a casual Registered Nurse at Juninga and is still happy to step into a nursing role when needed, even sometimes sleeping overnight at the home, along with the two care-givers on duty. On top of the residents’ clinical requirements, she seeks to meet their emotional, cultural and spiritual needs.

It’s a diverse community, who come mainly from the Top End but also as far away as the Tiwi Islands, Ti Tree and Elcho Island (Galiwin'ku Nullamboi).

Jenny is personally familiar with everyone in the 26-bed residential unit, including their families and backgrounds, as well as their medical challenges.

Aged care is in her blood, she says. Her mother was an aged care nurse in Sydney and even as a schoolgirl Jenny was doing voluntary work at weekends, in the kitchen, laundry, or in personal care. 

The people who make Juninga their home may have multiple medical problems, such as kidney disease, diabetes or dementia, yet there is a happy family atmosphere.

“It just has that good feel – you often hear people laughing,” Jenny says.

Despite winning the award, she says she doesn’t feel like she is anyone special. 

“I just try to bring as much happiness to the residents each day as I can.”

Gaining a better understanding of their culture has been major reward, she says, “but I still have a lot to learn”.

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