Photo courtesy of: the Good Samaritan Society – Lakota

“When people walk into that common space, the first thing that they do is look up,” said Anna Halvorson, administrator at the Good Samaritan Society – Lakota. 

It’s easy to see why the staff, residents and families of the Lakota, ND, nursing home share that reaction. Large, hand-painted murals decorate the facility’s walls — adding splashes of bright blue, gold and silver and bringing themes of the natural beauty of North Dakota inside the walls of the nursing home.

They are the handiwork of certified medication aide Maria Danil. 

Danil and her husband immigrated from Moldova shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic. When the health emergency hit the long-term care sector hard, she felt compelled to step in and become a certified nursing assistant. Once she put her roots down with the nonprofit nursing home, she never looked back.

“It’s a small community and everybody knows each other,” she said. “I really like it.” 

Before immigrating, Danil had achieved a masters degree in art and been a professor. She continues to exhibit her paintings in her North Dakota community. 

When the managers at her work wanted to add a special touch to the building’ decor, Danil stepped up to the challenge with her unique set of skills once again.

Completed murals in the facility’s common room. Photo courtesy of: the Good Samaritan Society – Lakota

The process was not without challenges, but the team at Good Samaritan found solutions. Halvorson rented out a scissor lift — shipped in from an hour away — for Danil to reach the highest points of the common area. For her part, Danil came in to work on the murals on weekends. 

Residents got involved in the process — frequently coming out to watch the painting in progress and even giving input on what creatures and plants they’d like to see incorporated into the final designs.

“They like it,” Danil said. “I can tell you because when family members come to visit residents, pretty much all of them have them come to that area and show them: ‘Look what we have — the beautiful art we have in this place.’ I meet with them to explain and tell them about it… I saw a light in their eyes. A happiness.”

Halvorson told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News how helpful it’s been to have a dedicated care worker like Danil and how special it has been to see her personal skills enrich lives in the facility.

“We need to be harvesting all of the talents that we have, especially in this workforce economy. Not only because it gives life to our facilities, but also because it really engages our staff and residents,” she said. “It reminds our residents that this isn’t all that we do. We also have well-rounded lives and things outside of work that we love to do… I think other facilities could benefit from also tapping into some of their staff members’ unique talents and having them demonstrated throughout their building.”

Danil has now painted five murals throughout the facility. She can also be found doing other art-related activities with the residents, such as face-painting. 

She told McKnight’s she hopes to eventually become a nurse and get a teaching license so she can help kids learn the skills she’s been putting to such good use in the Lakota nursing home.