Beacon Hill at Eastgate Expert Series
How do you create a new type of community for older adults — leaving behind the monotonous food; the single, large dining room for all meals; and activities and events that lacked imagination for those who live there? Admittedly no easy task, but a challenge that Jeff Huegli took on when he became President and CEO of Michigan Christian Home and began imagining what a retirement community could be and then planning for what Beacon Hill at Eastgate would be.
Beacon Hill would be a new model for retirement living, one that emphasized delicious, expertly prepared food and marked by warm hospitality. It would be a community where residents were paramount and the entire staff would be focused on building a wonderful, engaging, community for them. But Jeff needed a team to help him accomplish this and a key person in that effort was April Schaab, Operations Director/Administrator.
April has a passion for food. She is a trained chef who came to Beacon Hill as the dining room manager for the 1845 Building. That was in 2006. Jeff recognized April’s potential and spurred by his encouragement and confidence in her, she enrolled in Michigan State University to become a nursing home administrator. Her concentration was in hospital management and culinary arts, of course!
Prior to Beacon Hill, April was the assistant dining director at Holland Home Raybrook Estates and before that a weekend manager at Pilgrim Manor. While it is somewhat unusual for an administrator of a retirement community not to have a clinical background, it is right in line with the hospitality model that inspired Beacon Hill. April works hand-in-glove with Amanda Daggett, Director of Nursing, and together they make the perfect team with Amanda concentrating on all clinical aspects of caring for Beacon Hill residents and April ensuring that the entire staff understand and fully embrace the hospitality model.
In her previous positions, April felt like she was working for a large corporation, not an entity that provided a home and community for older adults. She did not feel connected to the mission nor to the leadership of the organization. What she found at Beacon Hill, “was vastly different.” She describes working with Jeff and the entire staff at Beacon Hill as mission-infused and resident-focused. “The culture at Beacon Hill starts right at the top, with Jeff. He speaks to everyone, knows all the residents, walks into the kitchen, and banters with the line chefs. He really cares about the residents and the staff and it provides a very strong example for everyone else. It’s just so very different from any place I’ve ever worked.”
When asked how COVID-19 has affected her job as Operations Director/Administrator, April said “The mission is exactly the same, we have just changed how we go about accomplishing it. We’ve had to be more creative in bringing services directly to our residents in their apartments.” In describing her day-to-day responsibilities, April said that “it’s been a moving and constantly changing target.” Rules and regulations change frequently and that requires April and her managers to change policies and then communicate changes to the staff. “It’s absolutely critical,” April explained, “that everyone understands what needs to be changed and how new procedures must be implemented.”
She is enthusiastic about her staff: “I just cannot say enough about our managers – they’re doing a fantastic job and always brainstorming new ways to improve our care of residents. I am so honored to serve alongside them.” She said while most people dread Mondays, she loves them because she loves her job and the people she works with. “We are supported, encouraged and taken care of. I’m pushed to grow and to make a difference.”
When asked what she is most looking forward to post-COVID, she said: “I’m looking forward to residents having more control of their lives – and being less isolated. I’m also eager to resume those projects we had to put on hold because of the pandemic. But most of all I want all of us – residents and staff – to begin to feel normal and hopeful again, with less stress.”
April finished the interview by saying how grateful and blessed she is to be at Beacon Hill and part of this team. “Seeing the whole team come together and work to make sure that not only are our residents safe but that they also experience joy, was phenomenal.”