Holding onto hope: My day shadowing a Parkview Cancer Institute concierge

Last Modified: 12/06/2021

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This post was written by Emma Hetrick, digital copywriter, Parkview Health.

The Parkview Cancer Institute prides itself on creating an atmosphere of hope and support for everyone who enters the building. The concierge team members help create that environment. They personify the culture and set the tone for each patient visit. They are the front line, reinforcing that patients and their families have made the right choice. It’s the concierge team that makes a lasting impression on people as they arrive for their appointment or depart following a treatment. I was fortunate enough to witness these exceptional human beings and their service-centered hearts when I spent the day shadowing Shannon Olwin, a concierge support team member at the Parkview Cancer Institute.

First impressions

As I drove to the Parkview Regional Medical Center campus that morning, I couldn’t help but feel excited and a bit nervous. I had a vague idea of what the concierges did, but I was eager to see if my perception was accurate. When I stepped into the building, I immediately felt the warmth of the carefully-crafted environment, taking note of the soothing tones and natural light. I felt cloaked in comfort. As I looked to my right, I saw three women, visions in lilac, evoking a sense of calm for anyone walking through the beautiful yet intimidating double doors of the Parkview Cancer Institute. Although they didn’t know me yet, they welcomed me like an old friend. Their attitudes were infectious and as a bubbly person myself, I instantly felt accepted into the fold.

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Fayth Haines, concierge service manager, introduced me to two integral individuals from her team of eight, Vickie Loving and Shannon Olwin, both concierge support team members. Shannon, my shadowing subject, immediately pulled me in as she greeted me, so warm and welcoming. She spoke to me as if she’d known me for years, taking a genuine interest in me and everything I had to say. These characteristics weren’t difficult for Shannon, though, because that’s how she treats all patients and guests. She meets them where they are in that moment, physically and emotionally.

The routine

As the day started to pick up, I decided to stand back and observe Shannon and the rest of the concierge team. They began by greeting every single person who entered the Cancer Institute with a smile, evident even under their masks, and a “Good morning!” followed by, “Do you know where you are going today?” Many patients already knew the drill as Shannon, and the other concierges, asked COVID-19 screening questions while placing blue bands on their wrists, indicating they were symptom-free and allowed to move throughout the building.

That might have seemed strange two years ago, but the pandemic has changed so many processes and procedures within hospitals and medical communities. The Parkview Cancer Institute is no different. Due to the sheer number of immunocompromised patients that come and go, COVID-19 precautions are vital, requiring these women to be the first line of defense when it comes to COVID safety. Currently, they’re only allowing one person to accompany patients to their appointments or treatments. It’s a necessary yet heartbreaking precaution for patients and families. But, despite having to enforce this crucial preventative measure, Fayth, Shannon and Vickie remain just as friendly and as bright as the yellow masks they hand out.


The warm greetings were just the tip of the iceberg. The team members personally escorted patients who were new or unsure of where to go and what to do. They answered phones, received deliveries, frequently checked the day’s schedule (while anticipating the arrival of patients they’ve cultivated relationships with), coordinated drop-offs and pick-ups for those unable to drive themselves. They assisted everyone who drove up, walking or wheeling guests in from the circle drive or parking lot, and made endless trips to deliver water, coffee, tea or warm blankets to visitors and patients. I watched one woman melt as Shannon wrapped two warm blankets around her while she sat in a wheelchair waiting for her daughter to park the car. And, if all that wasn’t enough, the concierge team will lend a hand by making rounds in the patient lounges throughout the day to ensure all guests have what they need. At one point, I even joked with Shannon, “Your fitness watch must be tired!” She laughed and said, “You have no idea! We can average anywhere from 6-12,000 steps a day!”

Regardless of the constant flow of activity and the continual hustle and bustle, Shannon and the other concierges remain genuine, personable and warm. No one is a stranger, and similar to the popular television show, they virtually knew everybody’s name. I couldn’t help but be impressed by this heart-warming dynamic.

The journey to Parkview

Later that morning, Fayth relieved Shannon and I so we could go to lunch. We decided to take full advantage of the second-floor café. That’s when I realized that time moves very differently as a concierge. While it was only 11:30 a.m., it felt like we had already worked through an 8-hour shift. They accomplish so much in such a short amount of time!

So, in the spirit of the team I was observing, I decided to multi-task and ask Shannon a few questions as we shuffled through the café line. After choosing a vegetable cup, I turned to Shannon and said, “Okay, Spill the beans. How did you become a concierge?” She chuckled. “Well, that’s an interesting story.”

Shannon thoughtfully took a sip of water before continuing. “You see, I’m originally from Indianapolis, but when I married my husband, we moved up here. I’ve worked in various administrative and business positions within the medical field, including emergency room registration, scheduling and financial counseling, but once we had children, I decided to stop working full-time.”

Over the years, Shannon worked in several part-time positions but eventually landed an administrative assistant role for a company owner. “I was there for 10 years, and I loved every one, but it just felt like something was missing. I realized I longed to interact with people again. I was tired of sitting in an office by myself. It’s not who I am. So, I applied to Parkview.”

After several interviews, they hired Shannon as the administrative assistant for inpatient pharmacy at Parkview Regional Medical Center. “It was wonderful! I loved it! However, after about four months, my mother became very ill. It was a tough decision, but I had to resign so that I could take care of my parents,” she recalled. Shannon ended up relocating her mom and dad closer to her home. For a year and a half, she put all her energy into moving her parents, getting them settled, making appointments with doctors and tending to their daily care and needs. Finally, once Shannon felt her parents were in a good place, she decided to go back to work with the stipulation that she had to be accessible to her mom and dad.

Shannon and mom

With this in mind, she interviewed with Fayth for the concierge position. “After my interview, I remember talking to my mom and telling her that I loved everybody at the table and that I knew this was what I was supposed to do,” Shannon grinned. A few days later, Fayth called Shannon and broke the news to her. “I remember it so clearly. She told me that I didn’t get the position, and instantly my heart sank. I knew why I didn’t get it, and I understood they needed more than what I could give at that moment. But because we hit it off so well, I decided I wasn’t going to give up,” Shannon said slyly. “Over two years, I randomly checked in with Fayth to see how they were doing, especially during the pandemic. Then one day, this past April, I decided to give her a call. We didn’t even talk about positions; we just chatted.” A few days later, Shannon emailed Fayth, letting her know that she was still very interested in any part-time positions, shortly after, Fayth reached back out to Shannon, offering her a spot on the team. A couple of weeks later, Shannon began her new role as a Parkview Cancer Institute concierge.

Six months after Shannon’s concierge debut, I asked her what she thought of the job thus far. “Honestly, it doesn’t feel like work to me,” she said. “Yes, sometimes I get tired because we’re on our feet all day, and it can be stressful and emotionally draining, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Embracing the heartache

While we sat in the sun-filled indoor garden finishing lunch together, I asked Shannon another question, “What’s the hardest part of what you do?” She paused and reflected. I could see this seemingly simple question held a lot for her. Then, after a brief moment, she quietly said, “I think one of the most difficult parts of what we do as concierges is not knowing what happens to patients when they leave.”

Shannon went on to describe the relationship she had fostered over the summer with a patient who received a severe brain tumor diagnosis and had to go through an intense 30-day radiation regimen. Knowing her treatment was over, Shannon wondered how her friend was doing. Sadly, she discovered via social media that she was in hospice and had passed away just weeks before.  

“We see people for a matter of minutes, so we try to make those minutes count. Whether it’s a kind word, a smile, holding their hand or just sitting with them as they cry. We try to give them whatever they need and hope it makes a difference and gets them through their day. That’s why we celebrate the wins. If someone’s results come back negative, we cheer! If a patient finishes their last treatment, we dance it out in the lobby.” (Shannon swears Fayth has the most dance partners.) “Those are the best parts of what we do. We embrace the heartache, but we hold onto the hope.”

Making a difference

Walking back down to the lobby, Shannon shared that she often leaves inspirational notes and small trinkets for patients she connects with in hopes of encouraging them on their cancer journey. “We get such a brief window into someone’s world. I can only hope that my small gesture makes at least a little bit of a difference.”

A perfect example of Shannon’s impact on people is Eliana (Ellie) and her mother, Patty. At the end of her senior year, Ellie was diagnosed with cancer. Shannon noticed that Ellie was often sad, avoided eye contact, and rarely said a word as she ventured to her appointments. Determined to crack Ellie’s tough exterior, Shannon decided to take matters into her own hands.

Each time Ellie came for an appointment or treatment, Shannon would walk with her. She chatted with Ellie and her mother about everything, asking them how they were doing and what they’d been up to since their last visit. Slowly, Shannon built a rapport and eventually developed a relationship with them both. Now, Ellie is nearing the end of her treatment, and Patty couldn’t thank Shannon enough for the role she played in Ellie’s care. “Shannon is our biggest fan!” Patty said. “She is the friendliest person, and we just love her! Shannon is like a member of our family. We are so grateful that God placed her on our path and in our lives.”

Judy and bob

In her short time as a concierge, Shannon also became friends with husband and wife, Bob and Judy. They frequented the Parkview Cancer Institute for Judy’s cancer care and treatments. And, like so many times before, Shannon’s compassionate heart shined through. She took it upon herself to make a beautiful winter wreath for Judy for no reason other than to say, “I’m thinking of you.” As the friendship between the three of them blossomed, they not only shared Judy’s cancer journey successes but celebrated each other’s personal milestones as well. When Shannon’s 13th grandchild was born, Judy and Bob returned Shannon’s kindness by purchasing a celebratory gift for the newest addition to her family. Shannon gushed over the thoughtfulness and gratefully stated, “This is the best part of my job! I love being able to connect with such amazing people.”    

Reflecting on the time

With our time coming to a close, I posed one final question to Shannon. “What motivates you to keep going in this position?” She smiled and said, “Getting up each day and knowing that what I’m doing makes a difference in people’s lives – showing that simple acts of kindness and generosity can change someone’s day. And to be completely transparent, this is the first time, in a long time, that I feel like what I’m doing truly matters.”

Then, as winter’s early sunset lingered on the other side of the glass, and I began to collect my things from behind the grand marble-topped front desk I couldn’t help but notice Fayth’s simple cream-colored coffee mug with the word “hope” scrolled in golden letters on the side. It made me pause, and it dawned on me. That’s what the concierge team brings to the men and women who come and go from the Cancer Institute each day. They help people make the best of what life throws at them. What they do is an integral part of patient care. So, as you deal with everything life throws at you, remember to take a page from the concierge team playbook. Hold on to hope.


Want more of our Day in the Life articles?
Read about Labor and Delivery, Nurse Navigators and the Heart Station

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