Have you hugged your chaplain today?

Jack York, It's Never 2 Late
Jack York, It's Never 2 Late

On the road again, our never-ending quest to find innovative ways senior living providers are engaging residents takes us this month to the steps of Signature HealthCare. I've seen Signature from the outside for several years. I'm always impressed with their creativity and willingness to look at things differently.  

It's a culture that clearly comes from the top and their CEO (Joe Steier) and I've personally seen that culture personified by their energizer bunny of creativity (Angie McAllister). Angie routinely takes residents to professional baseball games and Disney World. She makes events and experiences that we take for granted come alive for Signature residents, and changes the perspective that the outside world has of nursing homes along the way.  Here's an example of her creativity from another McKnight's blog.  

Earlier this year, Angie choreographed having our engagement technology put into over 20 Signature communities in Tennessee. As our training team planned for the project, we were struck with the physical locations of these communities, which were almost exclusively rural parts of Tennessee.  It's not always easy to set up technology in settings like these. Often connectivity can be an issue, and in some cases technology in and of itself is new to the staff. Scott Smith, our director of training, and his team, therefore went out to each site, and one by one starting successfully training Signature's staff on the power of person-centered technology.  

As he started the training, there was a unique scenario that popped up. It was not an aberration, but part of Signature's culture. Wherever training occurred at a Signature site, a chaplain was in attendance.  Most for-profit organizations that we work with don't have a chaplain to begin with, and if they do they have never been a part of our training.  

The chaplains were not only in attendance for the training, but were engaged, enthused and fascinated with ways to use 21st century technology to keep residents in touch with their faith and spirituality.

How did that happen? I virtually visited Signature's headquarters, and set up a time to talk with Dianne H. Timmering, the VP of Spirituality and Legislative Affairs. (Just the fact Signature has that title tells you something!) Here, in Dianne's words, is how Signature incorporates chaplains, and spirituality in general, to the nursing home experience.

The power of individualized spirituality is truly an innovation in itself and underrated as a true integrated partner with the therapy and clinical teams. We have seen that over and over spirituality's power to heal, impact and change lives if the right systems and protocols are in place. It's unusual that we are a for-profit healthcare provider with full-time and part-time chaplains. When we were first building the model, I needed a “process owner” in each center to really give the full capacity of spiritual care. It is individualized but not watered-down, interfaith, and uniquely tailored to the culture, religious and faith traditions of each human being. It was a bit controversial in a business world, but even part-time pilots began to see employment enhancement, customer satisfaction and better outcomes.

The spirituality tool is an innovative shift in the delivery of long-term care. Its individualized essence is integrated with our clinical and therapy partners. It is more than a service of prayer, but an intervention of hope and healing. From that framework we see enhanced ROI both in clinical outcomes and stakeholder betterment.

The world says you have to leave your spiritual skin at the door. We don't believe that. It is the freedom to be. It is the right to worship or not to worship but the freedom to choose. It is a powerful model, non-proselyting but again, richly specific to the person, and one that has been tested for the last decade. All in all, it is probably the power of love and the sanctity of respect which has deepened the mountain of this movement into the depth and breadth of our culture.

We see iN2L's innovation as spiritual in that it edifies, teaches, and gives its own hope of restored cognition and confidence in a technological world!

Dianne's words, obviously breaking new ground in long-term care, are exemplified in this link, an example of the power of the chaplains she described.

Innovation needs to be woven into the fabric of an organization and into their culture.  It doesn't happen by accident. Sometimes innovation can emerge from embracing the past, not just the future.  

Our culture can sometimes be disdainful of faith or of spirituality in general. The Signature model embraces the culture of innovation with what can be perceived as  an “old fashioned” prioritization of faith and spirituality.  All I can say is that we're glad to be along for the ride.

Jack York is the president and co-founder of It's Never 2 Late.

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