Jolleen Palmer Receives CHS Health Care Worker of the Year Award
In her 18 years at Coffey County Hospital, Jolleen Palmer has touched countless lives and inspired her colleagues with her positive spirit and ever-present smile. The Coffey Health System staff recently elected her CHS Health Care Worker of the Year, and the award was officially presented at a luncheon in her honor on June 30.
Jolleen nourishes Coffey County Hospital, literally and figuratively. Her salad bar is a labor of love—there are no pre-packaged salads on her watch. She chops fresh ingredients and serves creations she makes from scratch. But more importantly, Jolleen nourishes the soul of each person she encounters. She is always there with a kind word; always willing to help others or get special items from the kitchen for those who ask. Jolleen is a calming influence, quick to redirect negativity and avoid gossip. She cannot help but try to cheer up someone who might be feeling down: it is her nature.
Jolleen’s colleagues throughout the hospital lovingly call her “grandma” or “granny.” The nickname is not a reflection of her age—she is a spry 73—it is a term of respect and admiration. When nominations were solicited for this recognition, staff in two different departments nominated Jolleen, both noting her positive attitude and ability to make a connection with everyone she encounters. She doesn’t see staff as mere co-workers. She makes them her family. One nomination read “Once in a blue moon there is an employee that goes that extra mile, excels in her work, and brings pure joy to everyone she meets. That employee at CCH is Jolleen Palmer.”
When serving patients, Jolleen doesn’t just set the tray down and leave; she happily helps each patient get ready to eat—treating them like royalty being served a feast. Before she leaves, she asks if there is anything else she can do; if the request is beyond her role, she can be counted on to find the appropriate staff and assure that the patient’s request is addressed. Her work ethic and compassion stand out to Vice President for Ancillary Services James Higgins, who states, “She has a talent that you don’t find everywhere. Not everyone can do what she does. She’s a hidden gem.”
Before Jolleen took over the salad bar, it was a small affair with only a few basic offerings. Staff and visitors overwhelmingly preferred the faster options of the hotline menu and less-healthy fried foods. Jolleen understood that to entice people to eat healthier, the salad bar needed to be highly visible, clean, well stocked, and appealing—it became what her supervisor calls “Jolleen’s labor of love.” Registered Dietitian Antonia Ahlgrim credits Jolleen with significantly improving the eating habits of staff and visitors. We now enjoy produce that is more nutritious, free of preservatives, and cheaper than pre-packaged products used in the past. A second cart was added, and Jolleen began bringing her nicest serving dishes from home. Salad bar usage skyrocketed. While two pineapples used to last a week, we now go through three CASES of pineapple a week—each platter carefully adorned with kiwi and cherries. Why the extra effort? Because Jolleen wouldn’t have it any other way.
Jolleen is as humble as she is caring, and receiving this honor means the world to her—a milestone she and her family cherish.
“It means so much. I went through all this, and now I know t hat people cared. They care about who I am and what I did. Being elected was just a joy. I cried all day,” Jolleen says. “It’s just perfect. I enjoy my job, and after all these years I guess I’ve done a good job. I’ve got my kids and my grandkids, and now I have this award from my family here at work.”
Jolleen was born in Oklahoma and lived for many years in Osage City and Strong City before moving to Burlington in 2000. She has four children, nine grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. She shares her home with her beloved dogs, Maxie and Teddy.
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