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A DAY IN THE LIFE — Assisted living director

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ Since 2011, Pamela Wells has served as director of Glenwood Place Retirement Community and Assisted Living, 2907 S. Sixth St.

Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series spotlighting various professionals in our community, highlighting the impact of their work. Have an idea for the series? Email sjordan@timesrepublican.com

For Pamela Wells, most of the clients she serves are in the final years of their life. Old age, degenerative diseases and memory issues all require receiving some level of care. Death is merely an aspect of life. Since 2011, Wells has served as director of Glenwood Place Retirement Community and Assisted Living, 2907 S. Sixth St.

She gets emotional when she speaks about her residents and staff, noting the place operates more like a home among family rather than an impersonal care facility.

A native of Minneapolis, she always knew she wanted a career in a helping profession, but her dream took on many forms. Armed with an associate’s degree, she originally planned to study accounting.

“I taught preschool for 10 years at MACS (Marshalltown Area Catholic School). After that, I went to McFarland Clinic working in the business office, then went to Center Associates,” she said. “I felt like (helping others) was a strength early on and what I enjoy. I like to be up and around with people.”

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ Wells, right, gets emotional when she speaks about her residents and staff, noting the place operates more like a home. She’s pictured here with resident Clare Mattox, and Clare’s son David, and his wife Leah.

After finding an online job listing for her current position, she decided to pursue the new career opportunity. She noted how some of the folks at Glenwood have resided there as long as she’s worked there. Because Wells is a familiar face to those residents, she sometimes has better luck getting them up in the morning or getting them interested in going to the dining hall, compared to newer hirers.

Residents’ ages range from 65 to 102 — which requires a spectrum of care — with some needing minimal assistance while others require around the clock treatment. Thirty staff members care for the approximately 90 residents.

“It’s a 24/7 job,” she said. “We always have a manager and nurses on duty and I take calls. I want to know what’s happening in my building everyday.”

Wells arrives at Glenwood at 7 a.m. weekday mornings, often not leaving until 12 hours later.

While the variety of the job is what attracted her to this line of work, it can also be the most challenging aspect. Residents’ health can take a turn for the worst; family dramas may unfold; staff sometimes become overwhelmed; but the buck stops at Wells’ desk.

In 2013, she received the Administrator of the Year award at the Iowa Assisted Living Association annual conference. There have been countless thank you notes and compliments of her work.

“People in this stage of their life, it’s a privilege to take care of them. Some went from not having indoor plumbing to the age of social media. Several of them have cell phones and text me,” she said.

Wells said many of her residents enjoy religious devotional time. Meal time, too, is sacred. Various in-house activities and field trips also prove to be life enriching.

“You have them 24/7 so you see them at their highs and their lows. That’s what is so wonderful — you really get to know them. They open up to you,” she said.”

She said Glenwood’s Dare to Dream program works to fulfill lifelong wishes of her residents — with Wells often able to accompany them on a trip or a ride.

“Betty, a resident, had a brother who passed away when he was four, and the family never could afford to provide a headstone, so we did. She and her sister and family went down to Missouri for the dedication of the headstone,” Wells said.

As with any helping profession, burn out rate is high. Wells likes to unwind with her grandchildren and in her garden, calling it “dirty therapy.”

She advises those interested in this field to possess a depth of empathy.

“You’re enriching someone’s life everyday — paying it forward everyday,” she said.

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com