Wellness Director Donna Surdam, R.N.: Enhancing Independence and Health

For Donna Surdam, nursing is part of who she is. A 42-year veteran of the profession she forthrightly admits with a chuckle, “I’ve been around the block a few times.”

The past seven of those years have been at Noble Horizons, where she began as an evening supervisor. Two years ago, she transitioned into the position of Wellness Director. In that role, she is responsible for overseeing all aspects of health and wellness for residents in the Cobble and the Cottages, Noble’s independent living options. She staffs the Wellness Clinic and oversees the Fitness Center as well as the Cafe, which is a popular gathering spot for Noble and community residents (although both venues are closed now). She also supervises home meal delivery from the Noble kitchen to these residents.

The Wellness program, established with a bequest from a cottager who wished to help cottagers remain in their homes, offers extensive resources to keep Noble cottage residents independent and healthy.

“I’m their nurse. I keep track of resident medical records and medicines. I listen to their symptoms and figure out what needs to be done and who they need to see. I help them piece together information about their healthcare and staying healthy. My goal is to keep residents feeling their best and staying independent,” Donna informs.

Part of that role involves precise coordination and logistics. “If someone needs medical assistance or treatment, I would be the one to arrange those appointments and the transportation to get them there.” This includes medical professionals in New Haven, Waterbury, and Hartford, as well as locally.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, she and her team offer even more; they do errands and food shopping; they provide mail delivery, handle pharmacy pickups and many other assorted tasks to ensure the health and well-being of all in their care.

Donna reflects, “This is different from anything I’ve ever done in my nursing career and I love it. I get to know the residents so much better. I learn about everyone and develop deeper relationships. Every day is different.” Normally plainspoken and direct, Donna gushes about her affection for the residents. “I love them! I’d go to the ends of the earth for them and they’re so appreciative of everything we do.”

Donna’s goal, along with her colleagues is to answer a key question when it comes to the residents in her care: How can we help them age safely in place? With this as their guide, Donna and the Noble team observe, assess, and reassess. Do they need help with housekeeping? A small introduction of some nursing care? “There’s a fine line between staying independent and letting people live their lives and introducing some measures to keep them safe. I don’t want to interject myself. I want to be supportive,” says Donna.

This seamless teamwork applies at all levels. Her support team includes drivers who are her “eyes and ears into what residents need” and what small fixes can keep them enjoying their lives. This is where Noble’s “phenomenal teamwork” as Donna calls it comes in. “Every morning at 9 a.m. all the directors meet and hash out issues, bounce ideas, talk about residents’ needs. We are all here for each other. And this approach benefits our residents.”

This approach has also been a key component in Noble’s COVID-19 approach, which has led to Donna’s belief that “we need to do the same things in a different way. We have to be creative in our approaches to resident care and think outside the box. The best part is you feel that the Noble team is behind you.”  

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