The granddaughter of a career Air Force airman, St. Luke’s certified nursing assistant Katie Skarpnes has always had an affinity for military veterans.
Prior to joining St. Luke’s in September 2022, she worked at Meridian’s Keystone Hospice, which employs and has taken care of many former military members.
That passion and experience recently had a big effect on a special patient, a 97-year-old World War II veteran whom Skarpnes helped at St. Luke’s Nampa.
“He was transferred from our clinic in Fruitland and had his World War II veteran hat, and it just came naturally, asking him about his service, about his life,” Skarpnes said. “I was amazed, he still lives on his own, drives and shops for himself, but he didn’t have any family and seemed to just want to talk.”
Skarpnes called Zach Salazar, a veterans’ service coordinator for Keystone, who was more than happy to visit a fellow veteran — Salazar served in the Marine Corps from 2011-16.
“My goal was to try and find him some help with veterans’ organizations, just wanted to be any support to him at all that I could,” Salazar said. “He was very kind and gentle — you could tell for a 97-year-old, he was very with it. Still very independent, just needed a little help.”
Salazar spent about a half-hour talking with the patient and got his contact information to keep in touch. He brought a few small, but meaningful gifts, too, including a few “thank you, veterans” cards from schools. He also brought an American flag.
“He started tearing up, said, ‘I’ve never been given a flag for my service or had anything done like this for me,’ so of course I started tearing up,” Skarpnes said.Trying to make a patient she just met feel cared for is why Skarpnes does what she does. While at Keystone, she helped get in contact with a pilot who took another World War II veteran up for one last flight.
“She has such a big heart for the people she cares for,” Salazar said. “That’s evident in anyone that’s around her while she’s working and when she’s not working. I remember three times she drove into work in the middle of the night after patients passed to be there as we honored them.”
Skarpnes is currently pursuing her nursing degree through the College of Western Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College.
“She has consistently demonstrated an upbeat attitude, follow through with assigned tasks and an overall willingness to step in and help; she is a great member of the CSU team,” said Naomi Christner, St. Luke’s assistant nurse manager.
“She went above and beyond in her work … (showing) compassion by taking the time to get to know her patient, recognize a need and take the effort to coordinate this special experience.”
But that is just why Skarpnes loves her job. One future goal she has is to open a certified family home, defined by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare as “a safe, family-style living environment for adults who need some assistance with the activities of daily living, but do not require a more restrictive institutional setting.”
She said her recent experience taking care of a World War II veteran “will always stick with me.”“I just love to meet people,” she said. “It’s almost hard for me to work a 12-hour shift and then maybe never see a patient again. I love building connections. I’m not just there to give them water or clean them up; I love to give them the best care they can have.”
Dave Southorn works in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.