[Marshall, MI] January 17 marked the first anniversary of Oaklawn’s valet parking service, and it’s been a hit with virtually everyone right from the start. Whether they park your car or not, the valets are the first faces that people see as they approach the entrance, and these gentleman always provide a warm, friendly greeting. Derek (Maddox), Al (Long), and James (Dixon) have been crewmembers since Day 1, and I enjoyed spending a few minutes with them recently to hear some stories and perspectives on the roles they fill.
The first thing you notice when you step into their glass office is the number of baked goods on the counter. They admitted the holidays had brought an onslaught of snacks from grateful customers, but that it’s not unusual to receive cakes, cookies, and even pizzas throughout the year.
“Our service is totally free,” says Derek, “and we have signs that say no tipping, but some of the patients that we see regularly have expressed their appreciation with tasty treats. Many have said they used to rely on family or friends to drive them because it took too long to find parking or it was difficult to walk that far, but now they can drive themselves right up to the entrance and let us take care of their parking.”
“There are a lot of patients who come here two, three times a week,” said James, “and we not only get to know them on a first name basis, but many of their family members too. Our goal is to help them in any way we can, and it’s a good feeling to see how grateful they are. If a patient needs a wheel chair and they’re alone, we’ll wheel them up to their appointment or call someone to do it if we’re real busy.”
“The ones who come quite regularly sometimes get different nurses or lab techs, but they see our faces everyday,” says Al, “and I think they like the familiarity. We’ve had some people swing through the driveway just to say hello, even when they don’t have an appointment. We consider them our friends and feel a real loss when, on occasion, we learn one of them has passed away.”
“We get to interact with patients during good times, too,” Derek added, “like when they’re leaving with a newborn. I’ve got two kids, including one under a year. It’s fun to see the excitement of a new dad and give him a hand with the car seat as he uses it for the first time.”
To date they’ve parked over 18,500 cars without a ding. “That’s more than 39,000 when you count retrieving them,” said a smiling James.
“We obviously aren’t here to give medical advice,” said Derek, “but if we can make their hospital experience just a little simpler, and see them off with a smile and some warm conversation, then we feel we’ve made a positive impact.”
As I sat and watched these three men attend to patients and visitors that afternoon – seeing one help an elderly patient out of her car and into a wheelchair; seeing another greet and joke with a “frequent patient” and his spouse; seeing another high-five a hospital employee returning from lunch; and watching all of them literally run across the street every time they retrieve a car from the parking ramp - it is very clear and obvious that the Oaklawn valets most definitely are having a positive impact on virtually everyone they come in contact with. Happy anniversary gentlemen.