RIVERVIEW — The concrete was still drying when Donna Steiermann first set foot in the Bridges, an assisted living community on Bloomingdale Avenue.
A registered dietitian and licensed nursing home administrator with more than 20 years of experience in management, Steiermann knew the Bridges' success would depend on much more than new furniture and wallpaper.
Success would depend on the staff and their commitment to caring for its senior residents. And that's what the Bridges' executive director said she looked for when hiring.
"(When hiring) I am looking for a person that not only has the skills the job requires — those can be taught — but I am really looking for a person that is kind and compassionate, who understands what it means to care for another person and this not an everyday characteristic. We want the staff we bring in to understand that we provide care and compassion."
The Tampa Bay Times and Workplace Dynamics validated Steiermann's approach when it recently named the Bridges one of Tampa Bay's Top 75 Workplaces. It was one of only two SouthShore & Brandon area workplaces, Progressive being the other, that made the list.
"It says to me the employees are making a difference," Steiermann said. "What's most important, regardless of what the name tag says, is that we are here to care for the residents and I think the staff welcome the fact that they are part of bigger picture."
Now fully occupied with 91 residents and 60 employees, the Bridges is a community for seniors who require daily assistance.
The top workplace award was no surprise to Anne McFee. Her parents reside at the Bridges.
"From transportation to dining, to administration to medical, they really do provide exemplary care," McFee said.
McFee toured several area assisted living centers before settling on the Bridges.
"There are some good ones out there but they stand out above anyone else," she said of the Bridges. "I've been a manager myself so I know what it takes to manage people and a facility; that's why I have the utmost respect for them. They deserve everything they get and more."
Karen Crenna's mother, a vibrant and independent 89-year-old, broke her wrist early this year.
"I was so nervous about changing mom's lifestyle but it's been wonderful at the Bridges," Crenna said. "The employees all know my mom by name and she just loves them. They have actually gotten to be her friends.
"My mom was completely independent before the accident and she didn't want to give any of that up but the Bridges balances her needs with that desire for independence."
For Janet Noah the award is recognition of employees and the atmosphere they help create.
"The employees here feel like they make a difference and they are appreciated and valued for what they do," said Noah, the Bridges' community liaison.
Beyond the expressions of gratitude, residents and managers show appreciation through an incentive program known as Bridges Bucks. Whenever they see employees going above and beyond, they can issue a Bridges Buck for the act.
At the end of each quarter, the employees get to use their Bridges Bucks at an auction, bidding on prizes that range from gift cards to wireless printers.
"It's such a positive atmosphere here," Noah said. "We do a lot of pot luck lunches and dinners. We order pizza in for employees. We just try to make it a fun, happy place to work.
"The leadership sets that tone."
The Bridges is one of several senior health care centers operated by Senior Care Group, which has its corporate headquarters on Falkenburg Road.
The list of the Top 75 places to work in the Tampa Bay area (tampabay.topworkplaces.com ) was developed in partnership with Workplace Dynamics. The project involved surveying 132 bay area companies and 33,838 employees.
Kevin Brady can be reached at [email protected]