It’s a Wonderful Day at Stafford Hill
Northbridge’s “A Day in the Life” series offers a unique window into the lives of the dedicated and passionate associates ensuring residents live well and love life every day.
Walking into Stafford Hill the first thing I notice is warm lighting and colors, the grand staircase leading to the dining room, the beautiful light fixture hanging from the high ceiling and Renee ready to greet me as I approach the front desk.
Most people know her as the voice on the other end of the phone who answers, “It’s a wonderful day at Stafford Hill.” Renee Dowd, Lead Concierge at Stafford Hill, is more than the person who directs your calls and manages the Front Desk. If Stafford Hill had a voice, I think it would be hers.
Renee starts her day at 8:00 am by what she calls “waking up the building”. She unlocks the model apartment, opens the curtains and turns on all the lights. On her way back to the Front Desk, she fixes anything that might seem out of place giving the community a once over. Janet, the Sales Director, does her own walk through a little later.
Back at the Front Desk, Renee switches the phone from night to day. Once the nursing team is no longer receiving the calls, she turns the computer on ready to start her shift.
By the time I join Renee after making a stop at Stafford Hill’s sister community, Laurelwood at the Pinehills, it is about 9:30 am and the Front Desk had been buzzing for a little while.
I pull up a chair and get my first view from behind the Front Desk. It’s very organized with notes posted reminding Front Desk associates about important notices. Anything from procedures, to files with resident information ready and organized in case of an emergency. The monthly schedule is tucked next to the keyboard and a walkie talkie radio sits on one side of the computer. Binders with information on a variety of topics from procedures to transportation schedules are stacked one the other side of the computer. Situated next to the computer, is the switchboard. Having prior experience working behind a front desk, a phone with that many contacts gives me slight anxiety. When I share this with Renee she laughs and says that although it is a lot to get used to at first, it’s not that bad. I don’t truly believe her but then again, I’m not the one answering it all day.
Once my visual sweep of the Front Desk is done I can’t help but notice all the sounds that filter through.
“Can someone assist 114 to the community room for exercise” comes over the radio.
Next, I hear “give me 5 minutes I’m with 204.”
“305 is clear” says a new voice over the radio.
I knew that the voices are coming from the walkie talkie radio sitting on the desk. Looking around I can’t figure out where the beeping is coming from or what it means.
The phone starts to ring and Renee answers, “It’s a wonderful day at Stafford Hill, this is Renee”
“I can assist 114, I’m on my way now” comes a reply from the radio.
On the phone Renee says, “you’re looking to talk to Janet, let me see if she is at her desk hold on one minute.”
A new associate approaches the desk here for orientation. Renee turns around reaching for one of the orientation packets she has already set out.
She hands the packet to the new associate saying, “have a seat with everyone in the Living Room. Marlena will be right with you to start the orientation.”
I follow Renee as she pokes her head into the administration area. Noticing that Janet is not in her office, I follow her back to the Front Desk.
Picking up the phone again Renee says, “Hi Judy, Janet is not in her office at the moment can I take your information to pass it along to her?”
I hear another call over the radio, “I need assistance with 207.”
Renee, still on the phone says “great! I’ll pass this information along to her and make sure she calls you back.”
After hanging up the phone Renee sits down and continues to organize orientation packets.
Janet walks by and Renee stops her handing over the contact information. Janet takes it, thanking her and mentioning a special project she needs help with later this afternoon.
I finally ask Renee what the beeping means. I want to know where it’s coming from and why it’s not driving her crazy. She laughs saying that she hardly hears it anymore but swivels her chair around and points to a computer behind us. She tells me the computer system is connected to pendants that residents wear. If someone presses their pendent, the staff will be notified. The Front Desk doesn’t have to keep track of all the beeps because the nurses and aids get alerted as well.
Turning back around to face the community, Renee takes a brief look outside. She then turns toward the computer and pulls up the maintenance request system, entering information from earlier that morning.
While the desk is relatively slow I take some time to talk to Renee. I learn that she has worked at Stafford Hill for eight and a half years. She started as an Certified Nurse’s Aid in our Avita Memory Care neighborhood, then moved to become a CNA in Traditional Assisted Living. In those positions, she has worked all shifts. She started at the Front Desk three years ago. She enjoys working as a concierge, but misses the intimate interactions and connections she had with residents while working as a CNA. One aspect of the Front Desk that she loves is being exposed to so much of the community.
Being a concierge means assisting different directors with a variety of jobs. From assembling gift bags for the Sales Director, to organizing and printing orientation packets for the Business Office Director. Renee also works one day a week in the Business Office and has been able to learn a lot helping out there.
Before we can talk anymore a resident dressed in a yellow rain jacket approaches the desk. She says, “hi Renee, have you seen the bus I’m going to Wal-Mart today.”
Renee responds, “Hi Susan*, no bus yet but they should be pulling up any minute.”
Susan rolls her walker over toward the living room. Turning back to us she says, “do you mind if I leave this tucked over here I use a cart whenever I’m in the store.”
Renee responds, “no problem, and the bus just pulled up so enjoy your shopping trip!”
As Susan climbs up the bus steps Renee watches her closely. She then turns to me and says, “she’s 98 years old and still volunteers once a week at the library, can you believe that? – She’s amazing!”
Janet walks by the front desk with a jar and Stafford Hill sticker in hand. She starts showing Renee and I what will be going out to local businesses then remembers her cookies. Dropping off the jar, she continues to the kitchen to check the status of the cookies going in the gifts. Before she gets to far she turns around and mentions she has a visit scheduled in the afternoon.
Renee tells me that whenever possible she likes to know the names of people coming to meet with Janet. That way when they walk in she can address them by first name and make the experience more personal.
As we’re talking, a family walks in and Renee turns away from me to welcome them to the community. She greets them, “Hey, I heard it wasn’t the best night. I’m sorry to hear that, but I know seeing you will cheer Sally* up.”
The couple gives a weak smile to Renee saying thanks, and head down the hall toward their destination. Renee turns back to me with a slight frown. To her, one of the most important parts about working at the front desk is being mindful of what a family may be walking into. In the case of this family, she knew the resident they’re visiting had a rough night. She was genuinely empathetic. It amazed me that Renee not only knew the couple walking in and who they were there to visit, but also knew why, and catered her greeting to them.
As my day with Renee started winding down I could reflect on the little things I had picked up from shadowing her. Renee is an amazing, on the spot, problem solver who does so without thinking, or even noticing that she’s doing it. Renee is one of the intangible bonuses families receive when choosing Stafford Hill, the comfort knowing that your family member is taken care of. Being able to walk into a community and have the person sitting at the front desk know who you are and why you’re there isn’t a service you can train someone to do, or mark off on an orientation sheet. Yet it happens every day at Stafford Hill.
As I walked out the door I couldn’t help but wonder if Renee glanced out the window as I walked away. Whether she realized it or not she glanced out that window a few times throughout her shift. She takes a great deal of pride in her role and is the true life blood of Stafford Hill.
If you or someone you know could benefit from the wonderful way of life at Stafford Hill let us know! Please visit us at 60 Stafford Street in Plymouth, MA or call 508.830.9990.
*Names were changed for privacy.