ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Mark Woelk, director of facilities management at Bethesda Home in Goessel, can count on family members to help with maintenance duties.
That’s because father Charlie and brother Rick are on staff with him.
“Dad and my brother Rick are very mechanical,” Woelk said. “Sometimes, we can actually, without words, sense how something can be fixed.”
Ron Soller, a non-family member, is the fourth man on Woelk’s crew. And Rod Ediger works double duty with housekeeping and maintenance crews.
Woelk first joined the staff at Bethesda as a Goessel teenager.
He worked part time as a nurse’s aide and also helped in maintenance-washing floors and doing other odd jobs-during his junior and senior years at Goessel High School.
After graduating in 1975, he worked full time in maintenance for about two years. He left Bethesda to work at a manufacturing plant and later an auto-parts store.
His next career move was to enroll in Central Kansas Vo-Tech School in Newton.
“I enjoyed the work I did in high school, and I wanted to get more training in the air conditioning, heating, electrical, carpentry and plumbing (fields).
The program he chose was designed to prepare him to work in a health-care facility. He was employed part time at Bethesda while he completed his course work.
In 1982, he was back as full-time staff and worked part time as a nurse’s aide and part time in maintenance.
But soon, the administrator at Bethesda asked Woelk to shift to all-maintenance work.
“I really enjoyed that,” he said. “I had some interest at one time in physical-therapy work, but I decided maybe the more hands-on mechanical work was what I was interested in.
“I like the pace of it and the unknowns-coming to work, and you’re not sure what you’re going to face and the challenges presented.”
When the director of facilities management position opened in about 1985, Woelk was promoted to head of maintenance.
He oversees maintenance, housekeeping and laundry in a facility that boasts 52,822 square feet of buildings. Those buildings include a business office, main facility, annex, assisted-living units and a special-care unit.
And he is also responsible for keeping tabs on the groundskeeping and taking care of a new maintenance building.
“It can be high stress at times,” Woelk said.
“During September and October, we need to do all the things inside, like getting ready for winter and routine breakdowns as well as four five-hour days of mowing a week.”
Woelk said he counts heavily on his staff to work as a team to keep the complex operating smoothly and safely.
A combination of nine part-time and full-time staff work in housekeeping and laundry under Woelk and Kathy Miller, environmental-services assistant supervisor.
Miller is responsible for scheduling housekeeping and laundry, and Woelk schedules the maintenance crew.
“My main responsibility is to maintain the facilities and keep things progressing,” Woelk said.
“We really try to make this the best environment we can for our residents here.”
Woelk lives in Goessel with wife Harriet, who works at Emprise Bank in Hillsboro.
His day starts at 8 a.m., and he leaves work about 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. In his maintenance department, the crew takes turns working every fourth Saturday for three hours, and then they’re on call for the remainder of the weekend.
“We’re on call 24 hours a day, and we do get called in at night,” Woelk said. “That may happen once a month-not too often.”
And what is his daily routine like?
“A typical day is untypical,” Woelk said with a chuckle.
His crew comes in around 7 a.m., and they bring him up-to-date when he arrives an hour later.
“They’ll let me know of any major things going on so I can get a feel for the day,” Woelk said.
“Then we’ll visit about things we need to get done-it’s an informal meeting each day.”
Any housekeeping, laundry, dietary or nursing-department staff, who encounter maintenance problems or need help, can fill out a work-order form and drop it in a box.
“And then we go through and try to take the priorities,” Woelk said.
His day can include about five or six projects.
“We might work on electrical motors, circulating pumps and such, to keeping the water circulating throughout the building-keeping it uniform,” he said.
Or he may tackle a problem with a chair lift or hang pictures on a wall for new residents.
“We really try to do the majority of the work in-house-we’re pretty good about that,” Woelk said.
And he also does the purchasing to obtain parts needed for repair work.
“For instance, we have some emergency-call alarms, where the independent-living people can call over here by pulling the pull station, and we’re having problems with that,” Woelk said. “So I’m making arrangements to have a new transmitter and receiver put in to make that repair.”
As well as routine repair work, his duties encompass preventative maintenance.
“That’s like oiling motors and checking water temperatures,” he said. “We check emergency lighting weekly and exit lights daily.”
Making sure certain areas, such as exit lights, are working properly fall under state regulations, and it’s Woelk’s responsibility to document that type of work.
“What I think about is somebody driving down Main Street-they don’t have any idea of how much it takes to keep a facility like this going,” he said. “It’s not just changing light bulbs.”
Woelk said he has many stories to tell of his maintenance experiences at the care home over the years.
One time, a toilet in a resident’s room wasn’t flushing properly. He ran a router-a snake-into the line to try to unclog it.
“But that didn’t seem to take care of the problem, and I couldn’t figure out what was going on,” Woelk said.
So he called in a plumber.
“And he was a little bewildered with it, too,” Woelk said. “He got up on the roof and ran his snake down the vent pipe.”
Woelk proceeded to run water down the problem drain, and it seemed to be better.
“I went outside, and he said, ‘I think I got it,'” Woelk said. “I looked up on the roof, and he was standing there with a pair of undergarments. It was a windy day, and they were flying around-it reminded me of (the flag waving at) Iwo Jima.”
Woelk said the hardest part of his job is fitting all the work to be done in an eight-hour day.
“It’s a big place,” he said.
“There’s close to 100 toilets and 100 sinks just in the bathrooms alone. Basically, it’s like multiplying your own problems in your home many times over.”
Reflecting on his two consecutive decades at Bethesda, Woelk said the resident population and dynamics has changed over the years. “People used to come in earlier and stay longer,” Woelk said.
“Now, I see more residents come in toward the end of their lives, so I don’t get to know them quite as well. But I try to get to know them the best I can.”
Most of his on-the-job experiences have been positive, Woelk said.
And he enjoys working with residents and being around them.
“I feel like I can relate to them well. I think they become so wise and have so many stories.
“And I feel like if we can make their environment better-fix something in their room or fix their TV-the reaction you get from them makes you feel good. I get a lot of satisfaction from helping them.”