The Voice of Hospice
The receptionist at a hospice program has to walk a fine line – never appearing too cheerful but exuding an aura of sensitivity and professionalism to people who may be having one of the worst days of their lives.
Irene Kanturek, Mission Hospice receptionist since December 2007, has made a life-long career out of answering the phone with skill and genuine caring.
“I learned years ago that the first person answering the phone is the one projecting what the company is like,” she said. “The people who call in – a lot of times they’re despondent – and if you are someone who can project a kind voice at the other end, you can brighten their day.”
Kanturek has worked the phones since she was 16 and got her first job out of high school as a long-distance operator for PacBell. Later, she worked at General Electric in San Francisco and St. Luke’s Hospital, where she was chief operator for 16 years. Kanturek credits her time at St. Luke’s for giving her training in dealing with people in distress, as well as busy professionals.
She left telephone work to have her second daughter and a son but returned later, working for the Hoover Company and APCCO, which designs cooling systems for wineries.
When she applied for the job at Mission Hospice, she admits she was drawn because it’s located near her home. She’s never driven and has always either walked or taken public transportation to work. “Then, when I got here, I saw familiar faces,” she said. That’s when she realized that Mission Hospice had helped take care of her mother before she died in 2006 at age 89.
“My mother had a long, good life,” she recalled. “It was very important to my mother to be in her own home. When her doctor at the hospital told me there was nothing else he could do for her, he suggested I take her home and call Mission Hospice. Karri Kaiser was the social worker and Jane Tobin was the nurse. They were wonderful.”
Kanturek, a self-described “homebody,” enjoys gardening and spending time with family, including her four grandchildren.
“What I really enjoy is getting up in the morning and going to work,” she said. “I love talking to people and I especially adore elderly people. That’s why I’ll never retire.”