At her recent retirement party, Candy Schainker was described by a co-worker as being a "can do" person.
Schainker, 56, who is leaving her position as director of activities for Senior Care after 34 years with Story Medical Center in Nevada, said Julia Armato paid her one of the biggest compliments she could have received, and in talking with Schainker, you realize that Armato hit the nail on the head.
"I never looked at why we could not do something," Schainker said. "I always worked on finding a way to get it done."
Among the things she helped "get done" for those residing at Story Medical’s Senior Care were getting a transportation vehicle to take them on more outings; acquiring pets, like the facility’s five cats, along with birds and fish; and making sure to have several garden areas that encourage residents to enjoy the outdoors. She also lobbied for a budget to allow many groups of entertainers to provide hours of wonderful music for residents, and supported intergenerational programming by partnering with the Nevada Schools. She mentions Nevada teacher Patrick Sullivan as being a big help in developing a program that is still working today to pair senior residents with students.
All the things she fought to have at Senior Care came from Schainker learning that she needed to be an advocate for the residents. "They deserve to have not only the expert medical care to meet their needs, but the things needed to meet their social, emotional, educational and spiritual needs," she said.
Schainker received her bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation, with an emphasis in therapeutic recreation, from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and following her college graduation, she was hired as a play therapist at the Kansas University Medical Center in Kansas City. She worked – 180 degrees in opposition to the latter part of her career – on a pediatric oncology unit. "This was a challenging yet rewarding job," she said.
When she and her husband Steve moved to Ames, she was hired at Story County Hospital (now Story Medical) and Long Term Care (now Senior Care) as activity director, and she said she has grown with the job, becoming involved with the hospital’s addition of an Eating Disorders Unit and leading an exercise class to promote better breathing for patients of cardiopulmonary disease.
Through all of it, Schainker said her first love has been the residents. She notes that she’s seen a lot of changes with residents and their care over the years.
"In 1979, Long Term Care had 80 residents in semi-private rooms. We had a waiting list for residents wanting to move in. Over the years, the culture and climate in the long term care industry has changed." Schainker said the addition of assisted living and more independent living choices for seniors has changed the demand for senior care.
"Story Medical continues to provide great quality care for a more fragile and medically needy population," she said. "The healthier seniors are staying in their homes longer and seeking out a continuum of care. At Senior Care, there has been a demand for more private rooms. It has been a positive change, and it is good that Story Medical can provide this option."
The most enjoyable thing about her job, Schainker said, has been developing relationships. "I have benefitted from the warm, caring residents, who impart their years of acquired knowledge and skills to those taking the time to listen. This privilege has been one of the unseen benefits of my job."
Schainker has also enjoyed the relationships she’s developed with co-workers. "As with most people who work full time, I have spent more waking hours with the staff than my own family. My co-workers, past and present, have had a big impact on me and I cherish my time with them.
The longevity of her career at Story Medical, Schainker said, has allowed her to maintain longterm friendships with people and with families, friendships that sometimes span generations.
Schainker said she is looking forward to retirement because it will provide her three weeks to visit and enjoy family. "Steve and I have parents in St. Louis, and children and grandchildren in Indiana and Ohio."
Then Schainker is going to do something many retirees don’t do, at least not right away - she’s heading back to work.
Calling it the next chapter in her life, Schainker plans to provide leadership for the activity program at Bethany Manor in Story City.
Her parting thoughts for those at Story Medical involve reflecting on what she has appreciated most about her time there. "My life has been enriched by the people I have met while working and playing at Story Medical. I have learned so much from the wisdom of the residents, from the families who gave love and dedication and from the volunteers who gave something very precious, their time."
As for those volunteers involved with the activities program, Schainker said, "it takes a village to make it successful and to thrive. You all have my gratitude for the hours, donations, gifts and support you have dedicated to those of us at Senior Care." Schainker also expresses appreciation for the wonderful staff at Senior Care, for how they care for the residents and support their participation in the activites that are provided.
And the future is exciting for those in the activities line of work, Schainker said. "Activity professionals are changing their ‘game plan’ to meet the needs of the pending baby boomers, whose activity needs and desires are much different from previous generations. Baby Boomers will demand technology, more ways to stay engaged in the community, ways to volunteer and provide continued leadership and to maintain purposeful activity and continued education." Schainker said these are just a few of the changes she foresees.
"We are all blessed with a finite number of days to live," she said. "I challenge all of you to embrace life’s journey and to make the most of every day."