Decades in the Driver’s Seat: Meet Clifton Grigsby, Medical Transportation Driver

Clifton Grigsby, a San Francisco native, has a humorous story about the day he interviewed for a job as a medical transportation driver at SFCJL, then known as the Jewish Home of San Francisco. “During my interview, the hiring manager said it would be preferable if I could commit to staying for one full year. 38 years later, I think I fulfilled that request!” he laughs. Since that exchange more than three decades ago, no one day has been quite the same. These days, what does a typical week look like?

“In the afternoons, I am in charge of the employee shuttle service. This involves driving to the Glen Park BART station to pick up staff members and bringing them back to campus. I also schedule the morning on-call shuttle drivers. It’s helped me get to know my fellow staff members and I’ve met some wonderful people that way.” Although Clifton is responsible for the employee shuttle service–a popular benefit that SFCJL introduced 10 years ago–his main job is to take residents and patients to medical appointments.

“When I come in, I go to the clinic and pick up my schedule from the medical staff. Depending on the number of patients who have appointments that day, it could be back-to-back drop-offs. I’ll go over the schedule with the staff and determine how best to make it work. Then, I go and prepare the shuttle for the patients. It’s outfitted specifically for those who use wheelchairs and walkers,” explains Clifton. “Sometimes CNAs will bring the patients to the shuttle, but other times I go to their floors and escort them downstairs myself. I gather their medical paperwork, confirm the address of their appointments, and we’re off.”

Driving around the city offers plenty of time for conversation, and Clifton has found that it can be a good way for patients to focus on something other than their upcoming appointments, which can often be anxiety-inducing. “Some days they’ll be nervous because they’re going to the doctor’s office, which is not always pleasant. But I get them talking so I can take their minds off of that. We talk about our families especially, and that’s been really nice for me too,” he shares.

If a patient is alone, Clifton escorts them to the doctor’s office or hospital to get them situated. “I give them my phone number and they call me when they are ready to be picked up. Sometimes they do come with a companion (often a CNA or a family member) but sometimes they don’t.”

Clifton’s journey to working in elder care began with his own family. When he was young, his aunt ran a board and care facility for San Francisco seniors, and his mother helped out. He was often there too. “Whenever I wanted to borrow her car, I had to help out at the facility. So I got to know the older adults there very well! During that time, my mom brought my grandpa out west as well, and he lived to be 103,” says Clifton, who went on to work at the VA hospital and made friends with several elderly veterans.

Over the years, Clifton has gleaned several significant kernels of wisdom from the older adults in his life. “They’ve reminded me to enjoy life while I’m still young. They encourage me to travel because there comes a day when you just won’t be able to anymore. And for those who are married or in a relationship, don’t go to bed angry.” But as much as he’s enjoyed nurturing close relationships with residents, Clifton also recognizes the other side of this closeness: the inevitable reality of saying goodbye.

“I leave on a Friday, and I come back on Monday and someone I just saw isn’t there anymore. That’s the sad part of the job. Because for me I get to know our residents and patients really well. Unfortunately, it’s an unavoidable part of life,” he says.

Reflecting on his career over the years, Clifton remembers a conversation he had with the job placement specialist who first told him about SFCJL. “She told me, ‘Clifton, people who work there tend to stay for a very long time!’ I didn’t think much of it then, but now I can say that she was absolutely right.”