Joette Gillett first came to HCO in July of 1998, the year she graduated from Winona State University with her second degree in nursing. Before she began working at HCO, she had worked in Pediatrics at a hospital in Eau Claire, at the VA hospital and Catholic Charities (as a nurse at a large childcare center) in Minneapolis, and at a few nursing homes over the years.

Born in Blue Earth, Minnesota, Joette has lived in many places since – including Lake City, Minnesota, Maryland, Virginia, and even Tennessee. However, she and her family have called Buffalo City, Wisconsin, home for the last 25 years. She and her husband, Ron, have been married for almost 40 years (they met in 8th grade!), and they have 4 children and 11 grandchildren.

Joette explained how she came to work at HCO. “I had just graduated from WSU and was waiting to hear back from another interview when I saw the ad for need of a nurse at a place called Home and Community Options. I had never heard of it before, so I called and had an interview with Helen Onnen and Donna Crane.” When she was offered the job, she thought it sounded like a good place and something different from her past nursing jobs, so she accepted.

“I never even really knew about nursing devoted to people with disabilities,” she shared. “In nursing school, the focus was primarily on hospital or clinic nursing. Our curriculum didn’t include any education on people with disabilities.”

“When I started working for HCO, I was a 30-hours a week Coordinator for the Personal Care Assistant (PCA) program, but before too long I was asked to develop and teach the Medication Administration class for the agency, and it has morphed greatly since then.” Her areas of responsibility continued to evolve into offering health information and guidance for staff as they provide support to the individuals, monitoring changing health conditions of residential consumers, and keeping up to date on health services related to individuals’ needs, diagnoses, and plans of care. She has worked on improvements in training for staff that covers many aspects of the services and support that we offer to those we serve. During the pandemic, her role has also expanded to monitoring the health of HCO’s staff.

She has worked closely with Executive Directors, Dennis Theede and Suzanne Horstman, all of the Program Directors and Coordinators, and fellow nurse, Sue Gardner. Over the years, they have worked together in developing countless new practices and policies to align with changing DHS licensing and Minnesota Health Department requirements. Alongside Joette, these teams have offered support, ideas, and created new ways of providing much-needed services and support to the individuals and to staff of HCO.

She found the most rewarding aspects of the job are the friendships that have grown with individuals and employees throughout the agency, many of whom she has worked with for the almost 24 years she has been with HCO. “The agency has always been a very special and caring place to work!” she said.

Joette has encountered many challenges that have come and gone over the years; probably too numerous to mention! “With the help and dedication of my coworkers, there has never been a time that we haven’t worked through challenges and come out better on the other side.”

“The pandemic changed my work in stressful ways, as it has for us all. The learning curve was steep and ever-changing, never knowing from day to day what might be the next sharp turn we would need to act on for the safety and health of individuals and staff. Many new practices, policies, and ways for doing things needed to be constructed and laid out for staff, consumers, families, guardians, and the community. These were ever evolving as we continued to provide services, support for individuals, and employment for so many staff.”

Joette is proud of the work she has done at HCO and of the legacy that others can build on going forward. Joette said, “I will greatly miss the camaraderie with all my coworkers and seeing and visiting with many of the individuals. This job has had its tough moments, but I would not have changed my life at HCO for anything!”

In retirement, Joette is planning to be able to spend more time with her husband, Ron, their children, grandchildren, and friends. She and Ron have a trip planned with her 5 siblings and their spouses to Costa Rica at the end of this year. Also, she said, she’ll enjoy just being home and going through all the “treasures” they have accumulated over many years! And, she added, she will be reading many, many books!

Happy retirement, Joette! We will miss you!