When Sharon Pewtress walks the halls of The Canterbury retirement community in Rancho Palos Verdes, she recognizes just about every face. The affable young executive director has been here for just 10 months, and she already knows almost all the 150 residents by name.
“It’s not easy,” she admits. “You have to practice.”
Situated along Crestridge Road with panoramic views of Los Angeles to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, The Canterbury this year celebrates 30 years on the Peninsula. It offers a wide range of living options and social programs for seniors amid a certified assisted living and skilled nursing facility owned and operated by Episcopal Communities and Services.
When Pewtress arrived in January she quickly went to work on ways to improve the living spaces and enhance the experience of its residents. Some of the ideas include turning the skilled nursing floor, which today looks much like a hospital, into more of a group residential living area.
“So when you come off the elevator there are couches and tables rather than a nursing station,” she said.
Pewtress also wants to renovate and utilize more of the beautiful rooftop balcony with views stretching across the Southland. Those renovations and more are slated for the coming year, during which time she hopes to gain more consensus among the residents, something Pewtress said is important.
It’s all part of an effort to make residents feel at home. In decades past, administrators at nursing homes in general would not let residents with wheelchairs or walkers come through the main entrance, for instance. Now residents are allowed to sit and visit wherever they want.
Pewtress said she wants residents to feel comfortable and welcomed, which is evident by her interactions as she walks the halls.
“I really enjoy getting to know the individuals and their histories,” she said. “We’re here to help them when they have the greatest needs. We want to make their golden years meaningful.”
Around here Pewtress is not only the top administrator but also lead motivator for a dedicated staff with undoubtedly one of the toughest jobs in the world. She’s also the friendly face in the hall just checking up to see how someone’s doing.
“My role is really trying to provide leadership to the team to give them some freedom to make good decisions,” she said. “We’re trying to shift the way of thinking to make it more of a concierge type service model.”
One of the residents Pewtress greeted on a recent tour was Barbara Grant. Originally from New York City, Grant came to The Canterbury five years ago because her daughter lived in Los Angeles. She said Pewtress is wonderful.
“She’s very warm to the staff and residents,” Grant said. “And the staff is superb. It really makes the whole tone of the place, because some of us can be difficult.”
Residents at The Canterbury have a whole list of activities and entertainment events they can take part in. The facility contracts out with aerobics instructions, musicians, painters, etc. And in many cases residents are leading classes for other residents. They also take day trips and shopping excursions in a private bus.
Kevin Proff, director of resident life and entertainment, coordinates the social agenda at The Canterbury. He said Pewtress has been great in overcoming challenges when they’re presented.
“The most important thing is her can-do attitude,” Proff said. “If we have something we want to accomplish, we can find some means of adapting it to complete that goal and we’ll get there.”
Along with booking entertainment, Proff’s job at The Canterbury also involves helping to foster whatever it is a resident might enjoy.
“It’s so fun hearing how much the residents appreciate something that’s truly stimulating and really gets them going and gets them excited,” Proff said. “Everybody has a story. You don’t want to let that to go by. You don’t want them to lose that. You want to find a way to take that person, learn about that person and find something that benefits them.”
One of the biggest challenges, Pewtress said, is losing a resident they’ve grown attached.
“Here’s someone you cared for everyday who’s no longer there anymore,” she said.
Before coming to The Canterbury, Pewtress worked for a similar non-profit in Medford, Oregon. Born in Tokyo and raised mostly in Idaho and Colorado, Pewtress said her personal journey into long term care might stem from the fact she never knew her own grandparents.
“Now I have 150 grandparents,” she said.