Homeland Director of Nursing Jennifer Tate-DeFreitas: A life steeped in service


If you need to find Homeland Director of Nursing Jennifer Tate-Defreitas, her desk isn’t always the place to look.

“I still work the floor, and I still work every shift,” she says. “It’s important as a director to know the work because nursing is hands-on. As nurses, we have to be flexible. Things can change in a matter of a minute. I don’t expect to come to work only doing one thing. I do what the job calls for.”

She adds that she enjoys being with the residents: “Any day I can get away from my desk, and I’m out there, it feels like home.”

Jennifer is one of Homeland’s many longtime employees who has been given and took advantage of professional growth and fulfillment opportunities. She brings her passion for nursing to the residents and the young staff she mentors.

She also brings a passion for service cultivated in an enormous family – her mother had 57 first cousins — devoted to community and “lessons taught through action and the word.”

Jennifer’s grandmother was a teacher by trade, “but she was a teacher in so many other ways that she didn’t realize.” Her grandmother took in some of her students and older siblings. She rose early every day to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the staff who worked at the funeral home founded by Jennifer’s grandfather.

“She was always caring for people,” Jennifer remembers. “She was always in a servant position.”

In high school, Jennifer attended an international, all-girls boarding school in Columbia, Lancaster County. Her classmates came from wealthy families from across the globe — Japan, China, Peru, Colombia, Panama, Mexico.

The school also had a convent and a nursing home tended to by the nuns, which stoked Jennifer’s interest in working with seniors. Nursing came naturally, after all. Her great-aunt was a nurse, and her oldest first cousin retired as a hospital administrator. She pursued a five-year BSN program at Hampton University in Virginia, finding a nurturing and fulfilling environment at one of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs.

She returned to the Harrisburg area to work in a nursing home, rising from charge nurse to staff development instructor. When that home closed, she entered school nursing while her children were still young, but she maintained her interest in geriatrics by joining Homeland Center part-time.

In 2010, she joined Homeland full-time as assistant director of nursing, taking on various responsibilities, from wound care to nursing education, before being named Director of Nursing.

She notes that long-term care is challenging, fast-paced and incredibly rewarding, especially for patients whose families may be scattered or gone.

“You’re that last piece of family,” she says. “You can give them something irreplaceable.”

Her bachelor’s degree taught her management skills that Homeland honed. Working under the tutelage of Homeland Center President & CEO Barry Ramper II has been “on-the-job training times 1,000.” She has seen his open-door policy, 24/7 access and dedication to the job, as well as his in-depth knowledge of regulations.

“When you work with someone like that and see that it works, and it equates to quality, you begin to model yourself after that,” she says.

At Homeland, her young staffers included her daughter, Malani, and former students from her school nurse days who started as CNAs and are now in nursing. She tries to mentor them all, advising them that nursing is about more than money.

“It has to be something you want to do, that you have the innate passion and compassion for caring for others,” she says. “If you don’t, you won’t be satisfied.”

She also strives to inspire through action as well as talk.

“I can walk down the hall and take care of the call when a resident puts on their bell,” she says. “I’m not a desk person. I am a nurse first. I never make anyone feel like I’m the boss. There’s no ‘I’ in team, like they stay. It’s always a team approach. If they see you working, they’re going to follow suit.”