Staying home Featured

8:39am EDT March 28, 2003
The nursing home industry conjures images of institutional ideals and regimented schedules. These uninspiring environments create unhappy residents and a high employee turnover rate.

"To give quality care, you have to retain your work force," says Cynthia Dunn, CEO of Judson Retirement Community, which has two Cleveland facilities and 500 employees.

To accomplish this, Dunn committed the company to the Eden Alternative concept.

"What attracted us to Eden was the concept of engaging the staff and helping them become problem-solvers," says Dunn. "It helps them connect with their job and look at ways to make it more interesting and the environment for the residents more interesting. It teaches them how to give excellent care and deal with problems."

Judson began the Eden process about three-and-a-half years ago by training its supervisors to play the role of coach rather than boss and involving everyone in the transition to the new philosophy.

"To make it happen, you can't just present to the staff what you are going to do," says Dunn. "You really have to bring them along and change people's expectations. It takes us full circle to the concept of being engaged rather than employed."

So far, the commitment has paid off. The turnover rate has improved 12 percent in the last two-and-a-half years, and employee and resident satisfaction surveys show positive results.

"We've made some pretty exciting progress, but it's not a quick fix," says Dunn. "It requires a lot of staff development. I think it begins with acknowledgment and appreciation of your staff."

Teams of employees are involved in decision-making processes. Quality of life indicators are increasing, and the number of volunteers has doubled.

"Is 100 percent of our success due to Eden? I'm not sure, but it feels like we're headed in the right direction," says Dunn. "Happy residents make happy employees. To have happy employees engaged in their work team really is the No. 1 thing we can do to ensure we have high-quality programs." How to reach: Judson Retirement Community, (216) 721-1234


Staying the course

Embracing a new corporate philosophy is one thing. Actually staying committed to it is another.

To avoid the management-fad-of-the-month, Judson CEO Cynthia Dunn hired a full-time coordinator to keep everyone on task toward the Eden Alternative philosophy.

"The Eden coordinator reports to me," says Dunn. "It elevates the position and is a way to get direct feedback on our progress. The coordinator is a senior person who is devoted to meeting with the teams and keeping the steering committee focused. The person pulls all the pieces together so they don't get lost."

Having a full-time person keeping everyone focused on the long-term goals of the organization has helped the changes get implemented before they get lost in the shuffle of day-to-day operations.

"When you look back at three-and-a-half years, it's remarkable to see how far we've moved," says Dunn. "Day-to-day, it's a matter of staying the course and keeping focused. Over time, more and more people have seen the changes."

One of those who had to accept the changes in philosophy was Dunn herself.

"I had to believe and buy into it," says Dunn. "I need to demonstrate the same concepts and philosophies we are asking the other supervisors to do. It's something I can't delegate.

"I have to be engaged to make it happen. I have to walk the walk."