Guest Columns

Longevity cultivates community

Neil Warnygora
Neil Warnygora

Few people today stay at one company for long. In the United States, the average time spent at a single organization is 4.6 years. This year, though, I'm marking a special, and somewhat rare, milestone in the senior living industry – 30 years of service with one organization, Covenant Retirement Communities.

CRC is one of the nation's largest non-profit senior services providers. It's a ministry of the Evangelical Covenant Church, which is important to me since it allows me to combine my Christian faith with my work on a daily basis.

I am fortunate to work with an organization that provides safe, caring, quality healthcare options for seniors; one that cultivates leaders, encourages personal, professional and spiritual growth, and values the work we do. Starting from the top and weaving its way through every level of the organization is a commitment to making CRC the best place to live and work.

It's no wonder that I've chosen to stay with an organization where the culture matches my personal beliefs and provides opportunities for growth.

Every day, 10,000 Americans turn 65, and with this new generation of seniors comes different needs and expectations. This presents long-term care administrators with unique challenges. During my years as an administrator and as an executive director, I've experienced these changes and how they have affected the way we do business. I've learned a few things along the way and encourage other long-term care professionals to keep these key lessons in mind when making decisions about their communities:

Believe in your organization's purpose

Senior living communities provide more than a product or service; they provide an experience specific to your organization. The staff needs to be on board with the community's mission; they need to believe in it and apply it in everything they do. Our purpose at CRC is to create joy and peace of mind for residents and their families by providing a better way of life. I'm on board with it and so is my staff. It's reflected in everything we do.

Cultivate your team's strengths

Each person within your organization brings something to the table that benefits the community as a whole. Take time to find out what that is and cultivate it. Develop a team you can trust, and be the leader they can trust.

Embrace the talent around you

Every decision we make, big and small, matters to the people who live and work in our communities. Be thoughtful and enlist the expertise of those around you, including the residents. Our LifeConnect® partnership ensures we're listening to what residents want in their senior living community. We listen to them and work to create opportunities that allow them to learn, grow and engage the world around them.

I also believe that a successful organization pairs wise and experienced talent with fresh perspectives, new ideas and bursts of energy that only new additions to your team can bring.

Plan for the future; appreciate the past

CRC is building, expanding and renovating across all of its campuses to better serve seniors. Our residents embrace this growth, and yet there are those who value familiarity over progress. Acknowledging the value of the past and what it represents to residents and staff is just as important as embracing and planning for a new generation of senior adults who may have different needs and expectations.

Plant roots in your local community

For 52 years, Covenant Village of Northbrook has been an extension of a tightly-knit community called Northbrook. A local church and the YMCA are located on our 55-acre campus. I serve on the chamber's board of directors. Every year we open our doors so first responders can conduct training and the public can benefit from our LifeConnect programming. We're more than an employer for the 250-plus people who live locally; we are contributing members of the community. Long-term, this is good for the community we live in and improves our bottom line.

The advantage of time

My professional longevity gives me the advantage of time. I've known some residents for 15 or 20 years, and I've watched them move from residential living through the continuum of care. I can look at them and say, “I know you're not the guy you were when you moved in, but I knew you from the start, and I still know you.” That's powerful and gratifying for me, and it provides stability and peace of mind for our residents and their families.

Communicate and actively listen

Listen to and communicate with your residents, staff, vendors, prospects, and your local media. The more you initiate conversation, the more you maintain control of your message and how others perceive your senior living community. Expect your marketing and public relations teams to work in tandem so they can complement each other's efforts.

Final thought: It's best when your job is your calling, and I believe God has called me to be a part of CRC for 30 years. This is an exciting time to be a leader in senior living.

Neil Warnygora recently celebrated 30 years with Covenant Retirement Communities, one of the nation's largest not-for-profit senior services providers with 15 communities nationwide. He is the Covenant Village of Northbrook Executive Director.

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Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.

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