Retiring EveryStep Nurses Share Memories and Encouragement

Above: Jeanne Conway (L) and Annette Nelson (R) were honored at a retirement party August 31 at EveryStep Kavanagh House in Des Moines.

With a combined 50 years at EveryStep, Jeanne Conway, RN, CHPN, and Annette Nelson, RN, are retiring from full-time nursing. Their careers have been dedicated to providing comfort and care to hundreds of patients at EveryStep’s Kavanagh House hospice home in Des Moines.

Jeanne, who began her nursing career at Broadlawns Hospital in Des Moines, came to EveryStep’s Kavanagh House 27 years ago. “I was on the med surge floor and would usually get the patients that weren’t [expected to live],” says Jeanne. “I remember one patient in her 30s who was in excruciating pain and I thought ‘there’s got to be a better way than this.’” When an as-needed overnight nursing position opened at EveryStep’s Kavanagh House, she applied and was hired. “I knew right away I was at the right place doing what I needed to do.” In less than a couple of months, she was hired as a full-time overnight nurse at EveryStep’s Kavanagh House.

Annette had a similar experience, as her nursing career began at Methodist Hospital in Des Moines in 1977. “In the hospital setting, I didn’t feel I could give the physical and emotional care people deserved,” says Annette, who transitioned to EveryStep’s Kavanagh House in 1999. “I like the fact you have a little more time to spend with the patients, just holding their hand or being able to talk to the family and give them support.”

Both Jeanne and Annette say people often ask them how they can do such emotionally-charged work — knowing that the patient you are caring for is going to die. “We have a snapshot of a person’s life, but we don’t have the memories the family does,” explains Annette. “Although you do get close to people while they’re here, you don’t have that family connection.” Jeanne adds, “We are able to see a patient without judgment. We see them as are they are now and see what they need. I get more out of some of the things I do for people than they do.”

Hospice nursing is not without its bright moments. Jeanne remembers a gentleman who had no children, but several nieces. “When he passed — and it sounds crazy to say this — but all the girls were gathered around his bed. He had a ‘glow’ about him and it was almost biblical. He had passed and it was so cool to see that.” Annette says some of the patients she remembers the most are those who are homeless. “They will tell you it’s the first time they’ve felt safe in a long time. A lot say it’s the nicest place they’ve ever lived and they’re very grateful.”

Annette encourages young and mid-career nurses to consider EveryStep Hospice. “I would tell them even if it seems like you’re going to take people in sad, sad situations day after day, there is joy day after day, as well. It’s just so incredibly rewarding and I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything else for the last 23 years. You do make a difference and you have the time to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Jeanne appreciates the respect she receives from doctors. “It’s just the way doctors listen to you,” says Jeanne. “As a nurse, that’s huge. They know we take care of these patients all day and when we call and say, ‘this is what’s happening, this is what I need,’ they listen.”

Jeanne plans to remain on an as-needed basis at EveryStep’s Kavanagh House. “Because I do miss the patients and my co-workers — they’re my family! There’s a bond there when you’ve worked with another hospice nurse. You just feel like family.” Annette will also miss her work family. “You get really close. Just being able to be with someone that knows the exact same thing you’re going through makes a huge difference,” says Annette, who adds, “Hospice is the most rewarding, gratifying thing that I’ve ever done and as corny as it sounds, it’s just such a privilege to be able to take care of patients and their families in their most stressful time of life. It’s a blessing.”

EveryStep currently has many opportunities for hospice nurses and aides. EveryStep employees enjoy a supportive culture, competitive compensation and benefits, work/life balance and flexibility, and the knowledge that their employer shares their values of integrity, respect, compassion, excellence and teamwork. To see the list of open positions, click here.

To learn more about EveryStep Hospice services, visit If you or someone you know is struggling to find the support they need, please contact EveryStep at 515-558-9946 or complete the commitment-free, confidential “Find Care” form on EveryStep’s website at EveryStep staff will follow up with a phone call to answer your questions and provide assistance.