Outlook 2021: Mid-career shift to eldercare proved to be right move for new Ingersoll Place director in Niskayuna

Ingersoll Place Assisted Living Executive Director Caroline Thompson
Ingersoll Place Assisted Living Executive Director Caroline Thompson

Published Feb. 25, 2021 in Outlook

NISKAYUNA — The commute is short but the days can be long for Caroline Thompson, executive director since November of Ingersoll Place, an assisted-living facility on Consaul Road.

Thompson and her family live right in Niskayuna, and she began working as Ingersoll’s finance manager in 2014.

It was her first job in the adult-care industry and there was a learning curve. But Ingersoll is small enough and the leadership ranks small enough, she said, that there can be significant overlap between the managers as they do their work, helping one another out as needed.

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“I feel the biggest thing that prepared me for this role is we’re small, we’re a nonprofit. I was not confined to the finance office, I really jumped into everything,” Thompson said. “We really see the entire aspect of the business.”

She describes her job now in similar terms.

“I guess my main role as the executive director is to steer the ship. I never envision myself as the person dictating what happens,” she said. Instead, she coordinates. When decisions are made, she spreads the word and, if necessary, the explanation.

Thompson, 55, grew up in central New Jersey and earned an accounting degree in college. After a variety of accounting jobs, mainly in the pharmaceutical industry, she took a decade to be a stay-at-home mother for her three children, then eased back into the workforce with part-time jobs in the Schenectady area.

Her sister-in-law, who works in the assisted-living field, suggested she look at that as a career option when she was ready to return to full-time work.

“When I saw the position open up at Ingersoll I applied right away,” Thompson said. “This was my first job in the eldercare field.”

She and her husband share their home with a 13-year-old Shih Tzu named Bella, who has become part of the Ingersoll family.

“They pop their head in my door and ask if she’s here today,” Thompson said of residents and staff.

“She loves it. She gets very upset if I leave for [work] without her.”

Thompson knows most of the residents and has enjoyed being a presence in their lives, which is a common aspect of working in a nursing home or assisted-living facility.

“Almost everyone here knows the names of the residents, their families, their grandchildren,” she said.

When not at Ingersoll, “We enjoy lots of outdoor activities,” Thompson said, “hiking, camping, anything out on the water.”

Back at home, “we’re a big board-game family.”

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She doesn’t have a hobby she’s devoted to, but she is heavily involved in her community as a member of the Niska Day committee for 20 years, as a Niskayuna Co-op board member and as a volunteer with the Niskayuna Community Action Program.

“That’s a close-to-my-heart group that I’ve been involved with forever,” she said.

Crisis management

Everyone in the eldercare industry has been profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted the infirm elderly so severely. Nursing homes were hit hardest, but assisted-living facilities, while typically home to less vulnerable seniors, have also seen illness and death.

Ingersoll lost several residents, all during the early stages of the pandemic in the early spring of 2020.

“We were hit very hard back in April,” said Thompson, recalling periods of great worry not just at Ingersoll Place but in her own residence.

“I had to go through two periods of quarantine in my own home because of close contact here,” she said.

“It’s one of those insidious infections that before you even know it’s present, it’s spread.”

The pandemic has been hard on the staff but harder on the residents, who’ve had to isolate in their rooms at times. The memory care unit, whose residents tend to wander, was particularly vulnerable to the virus.

“I feel like we tried to keep the residents as calm as we could,” Thompson said. “A lot of them were worried. We were able to reassure them.”

Last year was marked by many one-on-one staff visits in residents’ rooms and many electronic visits with family, but little face-to-face interaction. The isolation was hard on the residents.

Post-crisis management

A half-dozen new residents moved in during the pandemic, most of them because a health crisis or family circumstances left no alternative. Their families have never even seen the inside of the building.

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“Our immediate goals are to come through this pandemic soon, reunite our residents with their loved ones, open the facility,” Thompson said.

The late-2020 COVID surge affected Ingersoll much less than the early 2020 surge. Vaccination clinics on Jan. 15 and Feb. 5 may have set the stage for beginning to return to some sort of normalcy.

“We have to knock on wood for two more weeks and hopefully we’ll have the 95 percent protection,” Thompson said.

What normalcy will look like is hard to predict, but she expects certain fundamentals — such as Ingersoll’s mission as a nonprofit to make assisted living affordable to all — to not change.

Before 2020, there had been discussion of expanding the memory care unit or adding a short-term rehabilitation unit, but strategic or long-term planning is on hold.

“Now is not the time,” Thompson said.

The imperatives now are to get the building open to visitors, reunite residents with their families and bring in some new residents.

When she spoke to The Daily Gazette in early February, the memory care unit had 16 residents in its 17 beds, but the rest of Ingersoll had only 37 residents in 61 beds.

Ingersoll had been 95 percent occupied before COVID, and Thompson would like to build the ranks back up.

How soon residents can interact with each other and family remains to be seen.

“I’m looking forward to the new guidance from the [state Department of Health] on how we’re going to be able to handle things once everyone’s vaccinated,” Thompson said.

“Our goal is really to get these families back into [residents’] lives.”

Caroline Thompson at a glance

Age: 55

Born in: Holmdel, New Jersey

Lives in: Niskayuna

Education: Bachelor of science, accounting, Lehigh University

Role: Executive director, Ingersoll Place assisted-living facility, Niskayuna

Companion animal: Dog named Bella

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Categories: Business, News, Outlook 2021, Schenectady County, Your Niskayuna

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