A Conversation with the Executive Director
Laura Ritthamel Looks Back at 2019 & Previews 2020
Assisted Living & Memory Care Executive Director Laura Ritthamel recently sat down with us to look back at 2019 and preview 2020. Ritthamel has been with The Gatesworth Communities since 2014 and was promoted to her current position in August.
Q: You have been promoted multiple times since joining The Gatesworth Communities in 2014. Tell us about your history with the company, and why has this been such a good fit for you?
A: I started with The Gatesworth Communities as an intern when I was finishing up college. During that experience, I discovered my continued passion for senior living and set a goal to become an administrator. I was anxious to return to the communities after college and was fortunate enough to be hired as an activity assistant at Parc Provence. Shortly after, I was promoted to activity team leader, then assistant activity director. When the opportunity arose to be an administrator-in-training, it was something I pursued. That was a great experience and it prepared me for my role today as executive director. This career has been a great fit for me because of my personal experiences with senior living. My grandma actually lived in two of The Gatesworth Communities. I enjoy using my personal experiences to bridge gaps between our team and resident families.
Q: You seem to have great rapport with the residents and their loved ones. Where does that come from?
A: I genuinely love and care for our residents and their loved ones. I consider them an extension of my family. It is the best part of my day to visit with residents and see them happy.
Q: What are some of the factors that continue to set McKnight Place apart from other senior-living communities in the St. Louis region?
A: Residents are at the heart of every decision we make, and our staff truly cares for residents. It is our staff and the resident-centered attitude that sets us apart.
Q: Can you highlight some memories from 2019 that will stick with you for years to come?
A: I have so many amazing memories. Off the top of my head, events like our Carols & Cookies with Santa, Resident & Family Holiday Party, Thanksgiving Luncheon, Happy Hour Karaoke and Walk to End Alzheimer’s all come to mind. It’s also been fun to see our residents cheering for the Blues on their way to a Stanley Cup championship and Cardinals during the Major League Baseball playoffs. Some impromptu moments include encouraging words from so many people when my promotion was announced and singing, dancing and visiting with our residents.
Q: What kinds of new-and-exciting things will be coming to McKnight Place in 2020?
A: We have many events planned for 2020, including new programs, entertainers, lecturers and more. We pride ourselves in taking the seeming impossible ideas and making them possible.
Q: Tell us about your talented and hard-working staff. What would you like everyone to know about this terrific group? And how do they make the residents feel like family?
A: Our staff is the best. They really get to know and care for our residents. We had an activity during a recent all-staff meeting, where everyone added a post-it note to our “why?” board. We discussed how anyone can do a job, but it takes a special group to care for others. The reasons why people do what they do is incredible and inspirational — anything from honoring the memory of parents or grandparents to loving our residents to wanting to help others. Our staff makes our residents feel like family by visiting with them and really getting to know them. One of our CNAs (certified nursing assistants) recently brought her son to one of our family-friendly events, and the residents loved meeting the little boy. He became the subject of so many stories.
Q: How important is it for residents to have a wide variety of activity and event options to choose from? And what kinds of unique programming do you offer at McKnight Place?
A: This is very important, and I’m happy to say we offer many unique programs. Residents need a wide variety of activities and events. Our activities department meets with all new residents to ensure we are offering activities and events that appeal to each individual. Our schedule is set up so someone could spend 11 hours each day (9 a.m. to 8 p.m.) involved in activities. Our programming varies from entertainment to lecturers to luncheons to out trips to art classes to choir practices. The opportunities here are endless.
Q: The McKnight Place dining experience continues to get high praise. How great is it to have an award-winning chef and staff that is committed to excellence at every meal?
A: Chef Anthony Lyons is wonderful, both in the kitchen and dining room. The residents love visiting with chef and the kitchen employees who prepare their daily meals, as well as sharing old favorite recipes. It is awesome having such a talented and dedicated dining staff.
Q: When it comes to assisted living and memory care, what are some common misunderstandings or questions prospects and their loved ones have? And how do you answer those?
A: Often times, people feel that their lives must change when moving to assisted living or memory care. We feel that we should adapt to our residents, not the other way around. If you like going out to lunch, seeing movies at the theater or shopping at the mall, why should that routine have to change? We do whatever we can to make things seem normal for our residents.
Q: If you only had 60 seconds to speak to a prospective resident and/or their loved ones, what would you tell them about McKnight Place? Why should they consider living here?
A: The environment is welcoming and beautiful, the food is great and the activities are wonderful. As terrific as these features are, it’s the people who work here that truly set us apart. From the smiling server to the caring nursing assistant, we truly have the best employees. It is always my goal to hire individuals who value and love our residents as much as I do. Living here means more that becoming a resident, it is becoming part of our family. I would, without a doubt, move my loved one to McKnight Place. In fact, I did. The Gatesworth Communities are truly one of a kind, and I’m so happy to work here.