Inside Athena: Leading the Dining Department with Passion at Northwood Rehab

Inside Athena: Leading the Dining Department with Passion at Northwood Rehab

LOWELL, M.A. — For 26 years, Jaylene Ashdown has led the dining department at Northwood Rehabilitation & Health Care Center with a passion for her work and love for her team and residents.

“Being a director, you have to have many hats for your staff and for your residents,” she said. “You have to be a people person out on the floor engaging with the residents, family members.”

She was hired as assistant director and promoted to director six months later. It’s her staff that has kept her since. In many ways, her leadership has kept other staff as well. The current assistant director has been in the role for 17 years and worked with Ashdown in a prior job. She’s had dining services assistants for more than 15 years at Northwood. Ashdown likes to build those relationships so people want to stay at Northwood.

“They’re my family,” she said.

Ashdown enjoys building a family at the center and wants residents to feel at home.

“I hold a food committee meeting and that allows me to really customize my menu and the selections for the residents,” she said. “You’re trying to create a home-like environment.”

The director explains that what residents eat can have a big impact on their happiness at the center. Her team takes the time to customize menu options to fit what residents would like to see and will meet with new residents to learn about their likes and dislikes.

“When a resident comes in, we include a menu and a preference sheet in their admissions packet,” she said. “It creates a better day for everybody.”

Family members also play a big role in sharing preferences for their loved ones. She’s happy they’re able to tailor meals to what residents prefer to make their stay comfortable. Part of that includes creating an experience when they gather to eat. The center has a restaurant-like dining room with tableside service that makes mealtime memorable.

Not only do Ashdown and her team go above and beyond for the residents, but they put a lot of effort into staff recognition events. They have done chip and dip bars, fruit displays, and all sorts of different events for staff to enjoy because they are the “backbone” of the center and deserve it, she adds. On top of that, she likes to show off what the dining team is capable of.

“I love being creative and showing my creative side. I like to make things look pretty and decorate.”

In addition to serving as the director at Northwood, Ashdown also serves in a regional role to support teams across other Athena-managed centers. She can support their departments and learn from their teams.

“I always find something in the other buildings that I’ll implement here or somewhere else,” she said.

Administrator Jim Dillon had worked with Ashdown for four years at the center previously and, since returning in 2022, added the kitchen has kept a high standard of quality.

“She runs a great show, has an exceptional team in the kitchen, and always has great ideas for events for the residents and the staff,” he said.

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April 18, 2024 A Healthier Approach To Caring, Inside Athena