A passionate teacher, impactful collaborator, and chess master, Brightview Commons Wellspring Village Director Jadranka Grek Cicovacki uses her varied skill set to compassionately care for residents living with dementia in Rhode Island. Her approach to resident and family care was recently recognized; Jadranka was honored with the 2022 Cox Communications’ Long Term Care Heroes Award last year.
Years of chess competitions and teaching strengthened Jadranka’s critical thinking and strategizing abilities, and she applies those skills as she works with residents living with dementia. “If a problem becomes complicated, you can’t get overwhelmed,” she said. “One wrong move can lose the game, so you have to strategize and look at your whole position. So, in work, I don’t get overwhelmed easily, and I sometimes take a step back before I step forward.”
For example, in Jadranka’s first year at Brightview Commons, she visited a new resident in his house before he moved into the community. The resident worked as an electrician, carpenter, and plumber throughout his life and “was a magician working with his hands.” Knowing a resident’s first day in a new home can be an adjustment, Jadranka adjusted her hours to spend more time with him later in the evening.
The new resident was understandably unsettled during this first night, and Jadranka shifted into problem-solving mode to help him relax. Going through the resident’s life story, she remembered she had an unassembled shelf in her office. “I told the resident I needed help putting this shelf together,” Jadranka said. “He read the instructions, and after 45 minutes, he put the shelf together. He was so proud, and I knew at that point he would be fine. He is still with us after six years.”
While the variability that comes with working with those living with dementia can be overwhelming, the unpredictability motivates Jadranka. “My inspiration comes from the everyday work,” Jadranka said. “Every person with dementia is different; there are so many unknowns. There is no one script that you can follow. That teaches me and keeps my eyes open. I’m the leader, but I’m empowering my associates to contribute and figure out how we can solve a problem.”
Jadranka grew up in former Yugoslavia and learned to play chess early on. In the 70s, she won Junior Chess Champion of Yugoslavia, and she continued to compete throughout Europe for many years. Jadranka also coached chess for 20 years. She worked in the banking industry in Yugoslavia before coming to the U.S. and decided she wanted to change careers.
“I love the elderly, so I set up an interview with an activities director,” Jadranka said. “I thought I would go to nursing school.” At the direction of the activities director, she interacted and danced with residents during her interview. “After 30 minutes, she told me that I had a gift. I thought – let me try this, and then I never left. Seniors with dementia captured me the most.”
Since 2017, Jadranka has been leading the Wellspring Village™ team at Brightview Commons. “I am just so happy and glad I found this place,” Jadranka said. “The best part of my job is getting to do everything – hire, schedule, social worker, trainer, discipline. Here, my decisions affect my work and everyone else’s work, too.”
Outside of work, you can find Jadranka and her husband outdoors biking, walking, and traveling. They visit family in Serbia often and enjoy traveling across Europe.