Long-term care workers are like firefighters

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Anthony Cirillo
Anthony Cirillo
In attending the recent Assisted Living Federation of America conference in Orlando, I was impressed with its Hero Awards Program. Five extraordinary senior living professionals were selected from a pool of nearly 650 nominations received by residents, family members, supervisors, and colleagues and were honored as heroes.

“They embrace the core principles of resident-centered senior living by encouraging independence, preserving dignity, offering choice and advancing quality of life for the seniors they serve,” said Richard P. Grimes, president and CEO of the Assisted Living Federation of America.

Consider the terminology. Heroes.

A while back, my colleagues and I came up with this analogy. Consider that healthcare workers are like firefighters. Both experience tremendous joy and sorrow as part of the job. Yet the healthcare family suffers from burnout while people actually volunteer to be part of the firefighter culture. The firefighting culture includes the camaraderie and community of the firehouse where firemen share, vent, cry and laugh. They are considered heroes.

Yet, healthcare workers suffer burnout. The stress they carry has nowhere to go so they take it home. Stress leads to poor quality and missed steps, and can endanger lives. Other than in some advertising campaigns, rarely are they labeled heroes.

Cleveland Clinic has helped address the stress by instituting what they call Code Lavender. If anyone in the organization is suffering emotionally and mentally (maybe a close patient died), a team of social workers, pastoral care workers and others will come in like a SWAT team and help that person or unit.

We talk so much about patient-centered care and resident experiences. We try to map the experience, script people. We try to layer experience management on to someone's existing responsibilities. It is all too much.

What if we first started by really looking at the employee experience? Is your staff treated like heroes? I can tell you from a recent experience with my mom in a rehabilitation center that the CNA on the night shift was my hero. The things he needed to do to bring comfort and reduce pain for mom were nothing short of heroic. Yet I know about what he earns and shake my head.

For him, it is a calling and a passion. You simply could not treat seniors with that much respect if it were not. Not all long-term care workers are like that. Perhaps if they were treated like heroes, they would be passionate enough about the job to make it a calling despite the demands and the low pay and many times low respect.

So let's revisit resident experience. Because if it starts with the employee experience then we need to treat them like heroes. One way to start is to give them the respect they deserve by empowering them to do the right thing for the resident. Not mapping the experience. Not scripting people.

Set the context — what we call with our clients setting the emotional target. Your employees will figure it out.

Of course, this starts with leadership. The latest quote about leadership I latched on to is actually very old, from a man named Napoleon Hill who said, “Leaders are people who provide hope.” This hope for a better day, a better life for staff, for residents, for yourself might start with knowing as the song says, “the hero lies in you.” Let's recognize more heroes in healthcare.

Anthony Cirillo, FACHE, ABC, president of Fast Forward Consulting, is a sought-after speaker, healthcare expert, elder advocate and blogger. He works with long-term care facilities in the area of strategic marketing and resident experience. Anthony is an expert guide for assisted living for about.com. He is the author of "Who Moved My Dentures?" In his spare time, he entertains residents in assisted living and nursing facilities. For more, go to www.4wardfast.com and www.anthonycirillo.com. He will be speaking at the Cleveland Clinic Patient Experience and Innovation Summit this month.

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