The Activities Director: Enriching the Life of Every Resident

Janet Baxter connects with all residents at Kindred Nursing and Rehabilitation – Maple to pull together a varied offering of activities and make sure there’s something for everyone – from cooking and coffee clubs to books and online games – to keep Kindred residents engaged and involved.

Baxter has been in her role as Activities Director for six years. She started in Housekeeping and Dietary and was promoted first to the Assistant Activities Director and then to Activities Director. It’s easy to see why, as soon as she starts to talk about her job, the staff and especially the residents, whom she calls “amazing.”

Baxter is involved with each resident, beginning with the day they’re admitted. The initial activity assessment helps her and her team understand the resident’s likes and dislikes, as well as their interests, and incorporate them into the resident’s care plan. In her experience, some patients aren’t ready to socialize or they prefer solo activities, so the activities team will supply books to read or puzzles they can do alone. Residents can also use Linked Senior — software with a touch screen that offers access to music, images and games. For the social butterflies in the facility, there are women’s groups, men’s groups, cooking activities and even a coffee club.

Baxter notes that the activities are personalized for the residents, but their preferences may change. If they aren’t interested in activities when they first arrive, the team continues to work with them, often one-on-one, and makes sure they are introduced to other residents so they don’t become isolated. In fact, Baxter’s typical day starts out with a “meet and greet,” where she chats with residents, visitors and staff. This isn’t just a way to socialize; it’s also a way to see who may be having problems or who isn’t engaged. Her team works closely with the nurses and other staff to notify them if they see changes in a resident’s physical or mental status. And, if other staff members notice that someone is depressed or withdrawn they will bring it to the attention of the activities team.

One of the most important things that Baxter wants others to remember is that moving to a nursing home doesn’t change the person. “They are still the same people they’ve been all their lives,” she says, “and they aren’t helpless.” She says she gets as much out of talking to them and learning about their lives as they get from talking to her. “They have so much life in them,” and they feel like family, she says. She says many of the residents feel the same way and will ask about her children, and those of the other staff, by name.

Even when she’s not at work, Baxter is often still on the job. It can be a challenge to reach every resident with just her team, and one of her goals has been to ramp up the facility’s volunteer program. The volunteers spend time one-on-one with residents and Baxter says their work is invaluable in making the residents’ lives as rich as possible. After seeing a call for volunteers implemented in a nearby city, she began working with her local chamber of commerce, using the chamber’s website to help recruit volunteers. She hopes to continue to build her volunteer program and get more people involved with the residents through the site.

When asked what makes a good activities director, Baxter says that the person must be social and enjoy being with other people. They should also have a love of helping others out and the patience to work with people as they move from the hospital or their homes and adjust to life in a nursing home. There’s a lot going on, she notes, and not only with the resident. The resident’s family is making adjustments as well, and Baxter encourages those family members who are nearby to visit and join their loved ones in the activities her team plans. For those who don’t live close to the facility, she recommends calling not just the resident but also the staff to check on their loved one.