On The Job: Audrey Iltis
Judy F. Minkove
Date: March 2, 2010
Whether she's bringing patients a newspaper or helping their family members to find lodging, the Hopkins Hospital concierge radiates compassion.
Every time Audrey Iltis passes the benches at the Wolfe Street entrance to The Johns Hopkins Hospital, she smiles, pleased by the sight. A decade ago, when Iltis began working as the hospital’s concierge/guest services representative, she was troubled by the absence of a place for patients to sit as they waited for rides home.
Then, one day Iltis watched as a patient just released from the hospital and escorted outside refused a wheelchair and nearly fainted. “I went straight to Karen Haller [vice president of nursing and patient care services],” she recalls, “and expressed my concern.” She approached the Women’s Board, the hospital’s 80-year-old volunteer organization that raises funds for patient care. The benches arrived shortly afterwards.”
Such doggedness comes naturally to Iltis. “I’ve always been service oriented,” she says. “I’m on a mission to try to make the hospital experience as easy as possible on families.” The affable concierge estimates that she assists about 50 people a day, either from her desk at the Wolfe Street entrance or in patients’ rooms, with the myriad details of daily life.
Her tasks run the gamut, from giving directions to various parts of the hospital, to helping patients’ families find lodging, to notarizing documents. “I’ll do just about anything for patients and their families,” says Iltis, “within reason.” Once she found a pair of slippers for a man whose feet had swelled so much that he couldn’t fit into his own. Another time she tracked down a needed part for a frantic patient’s computer.
If Iltis’ job sounds a lot like that of a hotel concierge, it is—but with one underlying difference: an extra dose of empathy. Because when it comes to being in a hospital, says Iltis, “compassion is the most important thing. If I can make Hopkins a tiny bit better for patients, I feel satisfied that I’m doing my job well.”
Iltis knows from whence she speaks. In October 1994, Iltis, her husband, Jeffrey, and their two children were packed up and ready to move to Connecticut, where he had accepted a new job. But two weeks before the move, he became uncharacteristically depressed. Then he started limping. Alarmed, Iltis took him to the Hopkins emergency department. Jeffrey was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and admitted to Hopkins Hospital for surgery and chemotherapy. “I was devastated,” says Iltis, “and I wasn’t thinking rationally.”
Expecting the number-one hospital in the nation to be attentive to her family’s needs, Iltis, then a real estate agent, was dismayed by how noisy the unit was, some short tempers she encountered, and the “scary” walk—even with an escort— through the then dimly lit Nelson subbasement for scans.
Jeffrey died three months after his diagnosis, at age 46. His wife took five years off from work to raise her children and decided to make a career change. She walked into Hopkins Hospital one day and met with Mary Margaret Jacobs, director of patient relations. “I want to use my hospital experience to help others,” Iltis told her.
Jacobs spotted something rare in Iltis. “Audrey radiated the desire to help others,” she says. “We were initially going to offer the position to someone with concierge experience, but Audrey’s mission and life experience brought her to the top of the list. We chose well. Audrey has been a gift to our patients and staff.”
Ten years later, Iltis says she finds her “people work” fulfilling. She’s been called an angel, “but the real angels,” she says, “are the families, nurses, doctors and staff, who show compassion every day.” Iltis’ work has not gone unnoticed; she’s received many commendations and won the hospital’s Edward A. Halle Award for Service Excellence in 2008.
Her biggest challenge? “More people in need of assistance,” she says. “I wish I had more help for them other than an occasional meal ticket.” Still, resources are available, but “people don’t know they exist.”
Things are much better, she says, since her husband was a patient. Noise levels are down, lighting is better and employees are always helping visitors find their way. But, says Iltis, “sometimes we forget to be more sensitive when we speak to patients.”
Iltis looks forward to more hospital room privacy, better technology access and more parking for families when the new clinical buildings open. Meanwhile, she will continue scouring her dog-eared binder of resources and draw from her personal experience to help weary patients and their families through their ordeals. She observes, “I can do the smallest thing—like bring them a newspaper—and it’s like I’ve given them a thousand dollars.”