Care Communities are Families: How the Staff at Riverview Terrace Establish a Community within their Community

Riverview Terrace is an assisted-living community in McMinnville, Tennessee, about 80 miles southeast of Nashville. It’s part of Americare Senior Living, a network of independent-living, assisted-living, memory-care and skilled-nursing communities across several states in the midwest including Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, and Illinois. 

Over the past few weeks, I had the pleasure to speak with several members of the staff at Riverview to learn more about what it’s like at an assisted-living community on a daily basis, for both the residents and staff. If you (or one of your loved ones) are thinking about moving to a care community, the following should be illuminating. 

Riverview, like the small town it’s in, is relatively small. There are currently fewer than 20 residents, which makes it close-knit. Becca is a Personal-Care Assistant at Riverview. Her commute to work is a whopping three minutes. That’s a pretty typical commute for most of the staff. “There are a few staff members who live farther away, but for the most part, we’re all close to the building,” Becca continued. “I know we have one that lives just right up the hill from here.” She told me that in McMinnville, “Everybody knows just about everybody.” There’s plenty of opportunity at Riverview to build lasting and impactful relationships with all the residents. 

Many staff members even have personal connections with residents. They might have known or even been friends with their children or grandchildren. Pam has worked in the kitchen at Riverview for the past three years. But she steps out of the kitchen often to interact with the residents. “There’s one lady who doesn’t remember to change her clothes all the time,” Pam told me. “I went to school with her daughter, so I help her out a bit, sit with her, and remind her to change her clothes. She can be stubborn sometimes, and won’t listen to other people on the staff. I don’t really ask her to do it. You just kind of suggest it, like a positive thing. But she trusts me because I know her daughter.”

Since most of the staff live in the town, as did most of the residents, this geographical connection not only helps the staff and residents bond, but helps Riverview remain a vibrant component of the broader community. “We’re part of the larger community,” Becca told me. “We let everybody enjoy everything that goes on in town as much as we can. Even though we’re going to be extra careful right now because of Covid.”

“They give us fun stuff to eat sometimes or activities to do,” Becca continued. “There’s a holiday celebration going on in town soon for Halloween. They’re inviting our residents to enjoy it as much as everybody else in town.”

Some of the residents this upcoming week will be creating and stuffing Halloween candy bags for the local kids. Due to Covid protocols, the residents unfortunately won’t be able to directly pass out the bags to the kids as they have done in the past. But this activity helps them stay connected to their town while having a clear purpose that helps keep them engaged and vibrant. 

This past week, Riverview invited local first responders over for a free breakfast to thank them for all their had work. Having these local heroes in the building not only brightens the day of everyone involved, but is another way that Riverview builds their own community by connecting with the broader community of McMinnville.

Since the Covid lockdown ended and the residents got vaccinated, they’ve been able to reenter the broader community, with plenty of safety precautions in place. Melissa, the Lifestyle Coordinator at Riverview, shared with me that they’ve gone on several outings this summer. “Like last Friday, we went out and ate at a restaurant at the golf course. We made sure to eat in a separate room from the other diners because of Covid. Afterward, we stopped by an Amish market on the way back, which the ladies loved.”

And when it makes more sense for the town to come to Riverview, they do. While things have changed over the last couple of years because of Covid, outside visits have resumed. Melissa told me that they have “home healthcare groups come in and sponsor some games and activities and they lead it.” This allows for the residents to interact with new people, in new ways. 

Family Cinco de Mayo party

 

Pam told me that the residents have recently been able to go back to church, which was an important part of their routine before the pandemic. And like so many things, this routine was disrupted for a year, and then adjusted moving forward. “The church comes to them on Sunday, so they can be outside on the porch. A lot of them miss going to church and they’re always excited about it on Sunday morning.”

For the staff, their work is mission-driven. They live and breathe their work, and the closeness they feel with their fellow staff and residents helps drive them on a daily basis to provide the best care possible.

“We’re a great big family, especially with the residents,” Jendee, an assistant manager in the kitchen, told me. “The residents are very on top of our lives. If the residents hear that one of our children is graduating or not feeling good, they’re always asking about them. They pretty much look at us like an extended family.” If there was one unifying theme to all the conversations I had, Jendee pretty much summed it up. 

Pam echoed that sentiment. “I have made very good friends with the staff and residents. They’re all like family to me. They’ll always ask how I am and if I’m not there one day, they’ll tell me they missed me when I was gone.”

Building close, sincere relationships between staff and residents is so important for the overall success of a community. It results in the staff deeply understanding the residents’ needs and wants. Residents are more likely to trust staff members who they actually know and respect. 

“We treat them [the residents] as our family and they treat us as their family,” Amanda, a PCA, told me. 

Linda emphasized the importance of their mission, and how it motivates her daily. “As a single mom, I have those days where I have been up all night with the kids, and I go into work and don’t have the energy to keep up with a lot of stuff, but I push through it. Because I love the job itself and know how important it is.” 

Pam feels the same way: “I don’t ever mind or dread going into work. I always look forward to it.”

“There are some jobs where you just clock in and move on when you leave,” Becca said. “But it’s different here. Residents need you and want you to be there. And that’s my favorite part of the job. Actually being needed and wanted, and that I can help. It gives me joy.”

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