Parkville, Maryland--On Friday, March 13, 2020, Laurie Bender was scheduled to catch a plane to Orlando, Florida, for a long-anticipated vacation to Disney World. But the coronavirus had other plans. As COVID-19 quickly spread and schools throughout Maryland were closed, amusement parks like Disney also shuttered their doors for the unforeseeable future.
Instead of embarking on her dream vacation, Bender, senior sales associate at Oak Crest, a senior living community managed by Erickson Living, became part of a dream team working to take care of all of those who call Oak Crest home.
"When the pandemic hit, sales and marketing events were canceled. Because of the restrictions on who could visit the campus, we knew that our roles would be changing. We would need to help out in the community wherever we were asked," says Bender.
Keep calm and carry on
While Oak Crest residents were asked to shelter in their apartments, hundreds of staff members like Bender assumed roles outside of their typical scope of work to ensure the safety, health, and well-being of the more than 2,000 people who live there.
Concierge service was put in place to deliver groceries, prescriptions, newspapers, mail, packages, and other items to resident's doorsteps. Two teams—totaling 26 staff members from sales, resident life, finance, and dining—worked in 12-hour shifts. Bender was the co-leader for one of the teams.
"We would deliver newspapers in the morning and incoming packages from residents' families to any of the 1,500 independent living apartments, as well as every package," says Bender. "My first 12-hour shift I thought to myself, 'I don't know how nurses do this.' But then after a while I got used to it and it became really fun," says Bender.
"One of the best parts was getting to meet staff members from other departments. I had two people from the fitness center, someone from philanthropy, and a couple of dining members on my team. It was really a bonding experience to work together as a team." Oak Crest Sales Counselor Kelly Friend was the other co-leader of that team.
"Every morning, I would grab my coffee and then I would come in and hit the ground running," says Friend. "I was going a minimum of 20,000 steps a day. I felt like I delivered more pizzas than a pizza place. I even checked one resident's tire pressure. I was so impressed with how smoothly everything operated."
Armed with her 'Social Distancing Expert' T-shirt and fanny pack stocked with keys, a sharpie, bottle of sanitizer, gloves, and her phone, Oak Crest Sales Counselor Melisa Batac says working on the concierge team was probably one of the most physically challenging things she's ever done.
"The most I logged in one day was 13 miles. I was averaging 10 to 13 miles each shift. We delivered pizza, prescriptions, anything you can think of," says Batac.
Oak Crest Concierge Manager Dana Huntington Smith, who is normally Oak Crest's volunteer program coordinator, was responsible for all resident requests, scheduling of team members, and overseeing the essential items pantry, which was stocked with toiletries and other complimentary items at resident's request.
"The staff is the greatest. They jumped right in to do whatever needed to be done. We took turns at different jobs, so no one would get stuck doing the same role for hours on end," says Huntington-Smith.
"None of us ever thought we'd be cleaning packages and pulling flatbeds through miles of hallways. The highest concierge step count to date is 47,322 steps. It's been such an amazing experience pulling together with staff I didn't really know before, but who I now consider to be good friends. It's been a three-month long team-building experience!" says Huntington-Smith.
Harmony in the workplace is not new to Oak Crest. In 2018, the community made Baltimore Business Journal's 2018 "Top Ten Best Places to Work" list. Oak Crest's culture and values are part of a companywide philosophy known as The Erickson Way, which ascribes to seven key components: respect and caring, diversity, friendliness and enthusiasm, integrity, responsibility, excellence, and teamwork.
"The residents were so appreciative. They had signs up in the hallways, on their doors, and on their outside windows thanking us for our service to them. It was uplifting to see those sentiments; it's what kept us going," says Huntington-Smith.
Friend says one thing she has learned throughout the experience is to look for the silver lining.
"No matter how bad the situation is, there are always going to be positives and that's what really shines through," says Friend. "For example, we had residents who volunteered making masks and baking treats for the staff. It really is a community of people sharing their gifts."
About Oak Crest: Oak Crest, one of 20 continuing care retirement communities developed and managed by Erickson Living®, is situated on a scenic 87-acre campus in Parkville, Maryland. The not-for-profit community of more than 2,100 residents and 1,250 employees is governed by its own board of directors, affiliated with National Senior Campuses, who provide independent financial and operational oversight of Oak Crest. Additional information can be found at OakCrestCommunity.com.
Written by Danielle Rexrode