Director of Community Relations at Deupree House in Hyde Park.
Karen Immell was named director of community relations at Episcopal Retirement Services’ (ERS) Deupree House continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Cincinnati’s Hyde Park neighborhood. At Deupree House, people come to live independently, and additional levels of health care assistance are provided to them as needed.
Digging deeper into a familiar position
We recently spoke with her about the recent job transition she made in becoming the community relations director at Deupree House. Before that, she served in that capacity at both Deupree House and ERS’ Marjorie P. Lee CCRC.
Here’s our Q&A with Immell:
Connecting with residents
What does your job as director of community relations at Deupree House entail?
I reach out to the community, build our waitlist, and bring people in to look at our apartments. I have marketing events. I make a connection with people to get them to move in.
What facet do you enjoy most about the job?
Hands down, connecting with Deupree House residents and prospective residents.
What is it about our residents that you like?
They’re brilliant. They’re kind. We’ve become family. And all their rich history. All of it.
What makes Deupree House a prominent Cincinnati CCRC?
I take pride in ERS being a not-for-profit. I know when we bring new residents in, we will take care of them indefinitely.
How long have you worked here?
I started about 15 years ago, part-time, and I have been full-time for 11 or 12.
How has your career at ERS evolved?
I started out as a PRN (a ‘pro re nata employee,’ which is a Latin phrase that translates to ‘as needed.’ A PRN employee works when called to fill in for an absent employee or to cover a special situation). I was helping at the Marjorie P. Lee retirement community. Ginny Uehlin (who retired as ERS vice president of residential healthcare) was my neighbor. My youngest went to school, and they needed help. I was the director of transportation until they hired someone; I was a social worker until they hired someone; and admissions until they hired Annie Novak. And then (ERS President and CEO) Laura Lamb came to me – and I didn’t want any of those jobs – and asked, ‘What do you want to do?’
Then they developed the event-coordinator position. So I was the event coordinator for both Deupree and Marjorie P. Lee. And that was a 30-hour week. And it was flexible. I had kids at home. Then they had the Master Plan. We weren’t going to do events at Marjorie for an extended period of time. So they dropped me into Marjorie to help transition everybody off of the fourth- and half of the fifth floor because we were going to put memory support there. So I did that for at least a couple of years.
Everything I did, I was really resistant. I was thinking, ‘I’m not sure I’d be good at that; I’m not sure I’d like that.’ And I’ve just loved every next step.
Completely immersed in Deupree House
In a way, you’re coming back home.
Absolutely. Well, I never really left Deupree. I was still doing the events and things. It’s a new challenge, a new opportunity more than a challenge. I never got to know the residents when I did the marketing events. So now I’m really diving in, and they are making me feel very welcome.
What’s your recommendation to people who are considering moving into a campus like Deupree House?
They should consider it because if you wait too long, you won’t be able to get in if you have digressed physically. After all, we don’t take people into Deupree House with assisted living. Now, if you get here, and everything’s good, and you’re acclimated, we have assisted living services that we can provide to you, but you have to come when you are pretty healthy, and then you can get acclimated and adapt in that apartment, and you stay longer. And 9 out of 10 residents will tell you they wish they had done it sooner.
Residents enjoy all types of social activities in the Deupree House Club Room.
Why do you think that is? Because of the fun social aspects?
I don’t think they realize, really, what a relief it is to have someone around all the time. You can be as private as you want, independent as you want, and have the services. You don’t have to cook anymore. But I think that decision is so daunting. That’s the hardest part of the whole process, is saying, ‘I’m going to do it,’ emptying their house, and selling their house. So then I refer services to them that can help them do all that. And I do happy hours for independent living and the waitlist people so they can mingle. The residents see we have fabulous people on the waitlist, and the wait-list people see that we have fabulous residents.
And they can come and get acclimated, work out in the pool, all that kind of stuff. The unknown is scary for everyone.
Making the big decision to move in
What advice do you have for the adult children of an older adult who’s on the fence about moving to a CCRC?
It’s all case-by-case. I can give them some of our blogs about how to do that. But I try to get them to bring their parents in for dinner. They may be thinking of an old-school nursing home. I’ve had people at Marjorie P. Lee who have come through, come in the front door with tears in their eyes, with their young-adult children, and leave smiling once they see it. Memory support, too. They should try to get them to see it, get acclimated, and experience it.
A couple who recently moved into Deupree House recommended a service that helped them downsize and move in, leaving them only to help decide where the artwork should hang.
Yes. Oh my gosh. They are fabulous. I’m sure they used Moving Matters.
One person said, ‘If I could have someone just come, empty out my house, and take care of all that, I’d be here tomorrow.’ That is the biggest hurdle.
Do you have moving experts you suggest?
Yes. Queen City Transitions and Moving Matters. Queen City Transitions, she was actually my Bible-study leader 15 years ago, or 20 years ago. I would recommend her to absolutely anybody. She has worked with a couple of people here, and they couldn’t speak more highly of her.
Immell's career serving older adults
Who mentored you?
And how did she help you?
She threw me in and said, ‘Swim.’ All joking aside, we had a team doing the Master Plan so that we would meet every week. I learned a lot from that team and could touch base with them and ask, ‘Is this appropriate? What can I do here?’ All that kind of stuff. So it was a lot of teamwork, thankfully.
What’s your advice to a young professional who may need a mentor or wish they had one?
Ask. But definitely find one. It doesn’t have to be your boss. It probably is better if it isn’t. Don’t be afraid to ask because you’ll feel that connection. And go in knowing what you want them to mentor. But I think the biggest issue is asking.
What did you study in school?
Art, at the University of Kentucky. I actually double-majored in communications and art, but art kept me in school.
Were you an art creator, as opposed to an art therapist or an art historian?
Correct. I thought about going into art therapy. Actually, my favorite was sculpture.
What’s the best thing about your week?
The best thing about my week is when I give lots of tours. I have met many new people this week and gotten many wait-list applications and people wanting to move in. It’s been a very good week.