Just like Family
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.
I find that everyone’s first experience with senior living is different. For some it’s fond memories of good care provided to loved ones. Possibly the first job you have in the medical field. For me, it was a Summer waitress job with flexible hours during my first year of college. For Courtney Freeman, Senior Executive Director at Stroudwater Lodge, it’s a little more personal.
It’s 8:45 in the morning when I arrive at Stroudwater Lodge in Westbrook, Maine. Walking down the sidewalk and through the sliding glass doors, I feel like I’ve stepped out of coastal Maine and into a cozy ski lodge. Taking in the grand staircase to my left and the grand stone fireplace straight ahead I almost walk past the reception desk.
Before I can make it all the way to the fireplace I’m greeted by the concierge, Lindee. I let her know who I am and that I’m here to see Courtney. As I finish introducing myself, Courtney comes rushing down the staircase to give me a hug and leads me to her office. She apologizes for being late, explaining that she was on a call with Tracey, the Resident Care Director, and the new pharmacy they are working with.
I won’t lie; I was extremely excited to spend the day with Courtney.
I had heard only good things about Courtney from a variety of people, most recently Angela Mastrella at Avita of Wells. I spent the day with Angela about a month before my day with Courtney. Angela told me that Courtney is one of the best bosses she’s ever had. Courtney is understanding and easy to relate to, but will always let you know when something should have been done yesterday. Courtney is not easily rattled, so when she is you know you’ve done something wrong.
During the Lodge’s daily meeting with department heads, I could see Angela’s words in action. Going around the table, Courtney jokes with everyone and is receptive to their ideas and opinions, but if she has a deadline for something, she’s firm with it.
After standup meeting I find my first opportunity to ask Courtney some questions. Talking to her, even for a short amount of time, I learn this is her community. With the title Senior Executive Director, the fact that she tells me, “I want to know everything that’s going on in my building” is not a surprise. For Courtney, it’s more than making sure all the numbers add up. It’s knowing that residents and families can come to her with any questions or concerns. Even if that means giving out her personal cellphone number to a family member.
Knowing all that is going on within Stroudwater Lodge is not a job she can do alone. Courtney is grateful for her amazing team of Directors. Taking advice from her mom to, “always surround yourself with people different than you” the team at Stroudwater Lodge is amazing at what they do. Courtney may know all the guidelines and regulations of each department, but when it comes to the day-to-day operations, they are usually thinking twenty steps ahead of her.
Having talked a little about the basics of her job we head out into the community to walk around. Our first stop is to ask a couple if they would be ok taking part in the Stroudwater Lodge promotional video. Heading to the couple’s apartment, Courtney tells me how nice and sweet they are. Knocking on the door, the daughter answers saying, “Oh, hi Courtney, I hear my parents are going to be famous.” Courtney laughs saying, “Yes, I was just coming up to see if they were still interested in being interviewed for our video.” The husband *Bill, a short man with a full head of white hair hiding under a baseball hat, approaches us saying “Yeah, yeah we’ll do it. Now why don’t you walk with me to get my hearing aid battery changed.”
Following Bill down the hall I watch as he jokes with Courtney. As we approach the first doorway Bill allows Courtney to go before him. He looks to me and says, “she’s small but I don’t think the both of us can fit through at the same time.” I look at the hallway size opening, then to his hand graciously gesturing for me to go first. I thank him, only slightly offended he didn’t think we would both fit, and count my blessings he didn’t assume I was pregnant.
As Bill heads to the Resident Care office for a hearing aid battery, Courtney and I head down the stairs. Courtney starts to tell me she feels like royalty whenever she walks down the staircase. Demonstrating by waiving at the concierge until her eyes shift to the sliding glass doors as they open and her arm drops to the railing as she turns toward me and says, “I wonder why she is stopping by today?” I look toward the entry way and see a woman in her mid-twenties carrying a clipboard, wearing cargo work pants and a uniform polo with a logo I can’t see from where we are.
I follow behind Courtney as she greets our guest, “Hi Jessica, I didn’t know you’d be stopping by today, I just sent in our renewal applications a few days ago.”
Jessica takes some sheets out of her clipboard saying, “I was in the area so I figured I would stop by.”
Courtney turns to introduce us, “Shannon this is Jessica, she’s a Fire Marshall. Jessica, this is Shannon visiting with us from our Home Office. If you want to wait out here I’ll go find Dave and he can take you around.”
I follow Courtney back to the administration offices as she takes out her phone and starts quickly texting the Maintenance Director Dave, who she learns is out on a supply run. Grabbing her keys Courtney says, “nothing like a surprise fire inspection to liven up the day.”
We make it through the kitchen and to the sprinkler room before Dave shows up to lead Jessica through the rest of the inspection. Courtney and I follow along – Courtney relieved to have Dave around to answer some of the more specific questions, and me secretly a little excited to have something like this happen on a day that I’m visiting.
Ending the inspection at the Front Desk and saying goodbye to Jessica, Courtney is stopped by four residents waiting to head into the dining room for lunch. The residents, all ladies, compliment Courtney on how cute she looks. One of the ladies, *Betty, expresses her approval of Courtney’s choice of footwear. She praises Courtney for not wearing sky high heels at a job where she walks around all day. We make it through the crowd of complimentary ladies and back to Courtney’s office where we are able to talk a little more.
For the next hour or so I have the pleasure of learning a little more about Courtney’s family, mostly about her grandmother who she lovingly calls Nan.
If I only had one word to describe why Courtney is so successful in what she does, it would be Nan. Her desire to always do better and promote advocacy for her residents and family members comes from experiences she had caring for Nan. During the days that Courtney spent as a guest in her grandmother’s nursing home she surmised, in her words, “these people deserve better.”
Courtney received her certificate in Healthcare Administration, set out to be the difference she wanted to see in the senior living industry and hasn’t looked back since. You can see it in her patience and sincerity with residents. In the admiration her residents and staff have for her and everything she does. That day I saw it in the way Bill asked how she was feeling as we walked down the hall, when Dave rushed back to meet us for the surprise fire inspection, and when Betty praised her for her choice of footwear only after chastising her for regularly wearing heels.
Courtney will tell you there is no formula for how to make a community successful, and in part she’s right. There is no course you can take that will tell you what to do when in the middle of your day the Fire Marshall shows up for an inspection. Or a guide book that tells you what to say to a resident who is upset with you about an issue you have no control over. Listening to Courtney talk about Nan and finding her reason to get involved in this industry, I think she is a big part of the formula and the driving force behind Courtney’s desire to continually strive to do better for her residents.
As I head out the door, watching Courtney on her way to speak to a resident who has started to slightly bend the rules, I can’t help but smile in admiration. Courtney has a “no excuses” mindset when it comes to care for her residents. The confidence she shows while handling situations comes from a variety of sources: her certificate in healthcare administration, her years of experience working in the industry, and the little voice in her head that reminds her “would I want this for Nan?”