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Lisa Leahy named social worker of the year

Lisa Leahy, director of social services at the St. Croix County Health Center Nursing Home, poses beside a bulletin board in her office filled with photos, notes and cards from residents she has saved during her 33 years at the facility. (Photo by Micheal Foley)

One look inside Lisa Leahy’s office at the St. Croix County Health Center’s nursing home, and it’s obvious that she cares deeply about her job.

Walls and bulletin boards overflow with pictures, cards, notes and mementos she has held onto as reminders of residents she has worked with at the nursing home over the past 33 years.

This year, she is being honored for her commitment and compassion.

Leahy, director of social services at the nursing home, was named the 2013 Social Worker of the Year by the Wisconsin Nursing Home Social Workers Association, Inc.

“It’s very humbling to me,” Leahy said. “I was totally surprised. I think all the social workers that I know of they all work hard in their building and they all deserve it. So for me to get this recognition, it does mean a lot, and I’m appreciative of it.”

Director of Nursing Sandy Hackenmueller nominated Leahy for the award, and had nothing but good things to say about her.

“The great thing about Lisa is that no matter what you’re doing, Lisa will just stop and take the time to make you her focus and listen to whatever your needs are,” Hackenmueller said. “Whether it’s a staff person, whether it’s a family, whether it’s a resident, Lisa cares. I’ve seen Lisa walk by a resident who seems to be upset, and she’ll take their hand and spend some time with them. But she doesn’t just touch their hand, she touches their heart.”

Leahy grew up in Algoma, Wis., went to college in Oshkosh and began her social work career in the late ‘70s in Green Bay. From there she moved to New Richmond after marrying Bill Leahy, longtime New Richmond music teacher. The couple has since divorced.

Once in New Richmond in 1981, Leahy credits her attorney friend Scott Needham with the connection that got her hired.

“Scott Needham recommended my name here,” Leahy said. “I was interviewed and got the job. So thanks to Scott, I’ve been here for 33 years.”

Needham is now Circuit Court Chief Judge for St. Croix County.

Leahy said the best part about her job is the residents and the families.

“It’s what keeps me going every day,” Leahy said. “It’s different every single day. I learn from the residents just as much as they probably learn from me. Really, they are a true blessing, and I am blessed for working with those residents and their families. It’s a joy to be with them.”

She said one resident who has an electric wheelchair says it makes his day when he can roll into her office to spend time with her, and the feeling is mutual, according to Leahy.

“Residents share stories, and sometimes what they say to you just makes your day and brings a smile,” Leahy said.

But working in a nursing home has its share of sorrow as well.

“When we have a resident who is really sick, they become so much of our family that being with them and going through the dying process with the family is always difficult. It’s never the same, and how close you become makes it difficult at the end. But that’s what we’re here for.”

The nursing home is holding a celebration reception for Leahy in the facility’s Social Room at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 3. The public is invited to attend.

Micheal Foley
Micheal Foley worked at RiverTown Multimedia from July 2013 to June 2015 as editor at the New Richmond News. 
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