Jason Rieger needed a job. A next-door neighbor was heading off to college and gave the Sheehan High School student the phone number for the skilled nursing facility where he had worked. Turns out, they still needed a tray line supervisor in the dining room.
“They offered $6, and McDonald’s was only paying $4,” Rieger recalls. With that, Rieger launched his 30-year career in the senior living industry.
But it wasn’t the pay that kept Rieger around. It was the people. “I fell in love with the seniors,” he says. “The job satisfaction you get when you can affect someone’s life for the better — nothing compares to that feeling.”
Over the next three decades, Rieger worked his way up through the ranks, becoming Dining Room Manager, Director of Dining and Hospitality Services, and eventually Assisted Living Administrator. Along the way, he earned an Associate Degree in Business Administration, Management, and Operations and developed his own philosophies when it came to senior care and leadership.
So when the company he was working for went through a major reorganization and serious cutbacks, Rieger started looking for a community where he could leave a legacy.
A Chance to Make a Difference
When Rieger saw construction begin for The Ivy at Watertown, only 30 miles away from where he lived in Wallingford, he got excited.
“Culture change is a big challenge, and it takes a long time,” Rieger says. “If you’re building from the ground up, you have an expedited impact on the culture you’re about to create. That’s attractive.”
“I could just tell right away by the questions they asked and what they were interested in that The Ivy is all about caring about your team and the residents,” he says. “It’s a family-run business, so The Ivy is more resident-centered and employee-centered as far as the focus. It’s not some big conglomerate corporation that can’t help but lose sight of the main reasons people show up to work in the first place, which is to care for these elders.”
So Rieger will start the new decade — his fourth in senior living — as the Executive Director of The Ivy at Watertown.
“I didn’t grow up in Watertown, but in the short time I’ve been in the chamber and doing visits up and down the turnpike, I’ve seen that it’s a small, tight-knit community,” Rieger says. “I’ll meet people and then run into them a few days later at Dunkin Donuts or Stop & Shop. I wear an Ivy fleece jacket, so everywhere I go, they say: ‘Hey, are you guys open yet? It looks beautiful!’ Everyone has been so welcoming.”
Happy Staff, Happy Residents
In his new role, Rieger is looking forward to building a nurturing environment for both the residents and staff.
“I think it’s common knowledge now that there is a direct correlation between happy staff and happy residents,” he says. “I could tell immediately that this family-owned company sincerely cares about their team members, every single person they hire. They treat them with respect. If someone has a personal issue, everyone is jumping in to help that person. It’s heartwarming.”
He knows if he hires with heart — the number one thing he’s looking for is a warm and approachable person — he’ll find team members who treat residents with respect and jump in to help at a moment’s notice, too.
Here’s how Rieger describes his philosophy of care: “It’s all about finding out what our residents need from us. There are going to be folks who need very little assistance. They just want to enjoy the amenities and appreciate having us there as a safety net. Then there are going to be others who need more hands-on care. Our job is to get to know each individual resident so well that when we see them walking down the hall, we can tell that their gait has changed or they’re not eating their full breakfast like they normally do or their apartment isn’t as tidy as it used to be. Our frontline staff will be evaluating and assessing the sweet spot of what each resident needs from us so they can continue to thrive.”
Another reason Rieger is excited about The Ivy at Watertown is because of Reflections, its signature memory care program.
“One of my passions is memory care,” says Rieger, whose mother has mid-stage Alzheimer’s. “I think it’s absolutely critical for every community to have a memory care component. Anything we can do to heighten their quality of life and bring them moments of joy — they don’t necessarily know why they feel good, but that happy emotion will carry on. That’s the goal of all memory care: Have every interaction leave that person in a positive way.”
Searching for the Right Fit?
For families who are searching for assisted living or memory care for their loved ones, Rieger offers this advice: “Seeing a family-run business is usually a great sign that it’s truly all about the people. If you see it’s privately owned, you’ll notice that it really begins to feel like a family. It’s the best place to live and work.”
When you go into the community for a tour, ask yourself how it feels. “What is the vibe?” Rieger says. “Is it warm and friendly?”
And when it comes to comparing amenities and costs, Rieger recommends asking questions unique to your situation. “Senior living is structured so differently that it’s hard to compare apples to apples. So ask detailed questions about what you and your loved one needs and see what that comes out to. It could be quite different than what it appears at first.”
Want more information about The Ivy at Watertown, its family-first philosophy — and the really important stuff, like what the food tastes like and how much it really costs? Request more information from The Ivy team or schedule a tour today!