John Wakefield: Advocating Equal Health Care for Everyone

A son of the Iron Range of Northern Minnesota, John grew up in Buhl, the fifth of six children, proud of his half-Finnish ancestry acquired through his mother. The family identified itself as Lutheran, but didn’t attend services. John joined Peace Church three years ago, after searching for a worship community that accepted everyone. He confirms that Peace lives up to its ideal of “extravagant hospitality,” and recounts how welcoming and non-judgmental people were during those first few visits. The diversity of the Peace Church family speaks to John’s desire for equality everywhere, and the number of activities open to everyone impresses him. He joined the Health Team and responded to the need at Peace for help in completing Health Care Advanced Directives by volunteering as the instructor in a scheduled class. People are grateful to have a completed and legal health care directive in their hands after attending the class. John has become a caring member of the community, reaching out to people at Peace who he senses need a friend or have had many life challenges.

Following high school, John completed a degree in Social Work at the College of St. Scholastica, and began working as a social worker with older adults in a long-term care facility. His interest in the medical needs of older adults led him to enroll in the Nursing Associate degree program at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College. He then completed a Bachelors degree in Nursing from the College of St. Scholastica. He is now licensed as a Registered Nurse as well as a Public Health Nurse. John also keeps his social work license active in Minnesota.

John’s passion in life is to help people. His education, previous professional jobs, and practice as a Carlton County Public Health Nurse have enabled him to be a very competent nurse and social worker “all rolled up in one.” John talks with deep commitment about serving the needs of older adults with dementia and their families. He is sensitive to the special needs of people with dementia. As he observes the challenges in their daily activities and family relationships, he works with families and other health care professionals to develop a care plan. Goals are doable and the emphasis is on keeping people in their own homes as long as they are safe. John talks slowly and softly, with authenticity and a matter of fact approach, and exudes warmth and kindness. He is non-judgmental and accepts people where they are in their lives.

Fellow nurses and social workers at Carlton County and in the community inspire John “as we are all trying to make people’s lives better.” Daily reading of Days of Healing, Days of Joy: Daily Meditations by Hazelden and The Language of Letting Go: Meditations and Co-Dependency by Melody Beattie inspire and give John perspective, focus and sometimes direct application to a problem he is facing during the day. I asked John how his faith impacts his work, and he replied, “faith matches who I am.”

John explains that he is always trying to advocate health care for all, to make all lives better, to keep people as healthy as possible, both physically and mentally, and to ensure a safe environment. This can be very difficult, especially with inadequately housed, low income, non-insured people who face shortages of food and transportation. John states that we need to be very creative and resourceful in addressing the challenges these people face. We need to team up with other agencies and communities, and advocate for providing the services they need. Equality means that physical and mental health services be equally available to everyone, and that mental illness not be stigmatized, in contrast to physical illness that is not stigmatized. John advocates that Medicare for all would improve or solve many of the inequities in our present health care system. The words of Martin Luther King, Jr. are at the heart of John’s work: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”

Interviewed by Bill Hardesty