I had the great joy of seeing Eddie Izzard perform on what could be his last comedy tour before going into politics. If you don’t know this brilliant human being, comedian, actor and activist, I recommend watching Dressed to Kill. It’s intellectual humor at its finest. But back to the subject at hand — senior living. Unfortunately, Eddie Izzard is not opening a senior living community like Jimmy Buffet. Although I would have a place at BOTH of those!
Instead, the key message in Eddie’s recent tour is relevant to today’s senior living. His message was about being good to each other. Overcoming the negative that is so prevalent today in our world and politics, with double positive.
The show had us laughing so hard we cried, and yet his message was ever present. It got me thinking. We frequently hear horror stories about assisted living facilities in the news. In fact, I heard an inexcusable story just today from someone I recently met that ended in death due to negligence. It made my stomach turn.
When you hear stories like this, it’s easy to start wondering.
Are all facilities like this to some degree?
How do we outweigh this negative with double positive?
Can we teach compassion or is it something innate in the people we hire as caregivers?
To start, I suggest three key areas on which to focus: culture, compassion and caregivers.
Dr. Mitchell started my first business course in college with one sentence: “Business is just a series of problems to solve, but culture is the most sustainable source of competitive advantage.” (My other professors usually started with something like, “Here’s your syllabus and all the homework you will have during the next semester.” Those classes weren’t as fun.)
My first work experience matched what Dr. Mitchell said. I joined Hewlett-Packard in 1989, back when “The HP Way” was a powerful and empowering culture. It was a privilege to work there, and the culture was strong, even with more than 30,000 employees around the globe. At the time I thought all companies were like this. And I still wonder why more companies are not like this. But that’s another story.
Culture comes from the top down. It determines how well staff cares for residents, what their attitude is when something goes wrong, and how they handle themselves with family members.
I like to periodically look around and ask myself, What culture am I creating? If I don’t like what I see, it’s up to me to change it. Thank you, Bill and Dave, for being exceptional role models.
Let’s talk compassion. It’s not sympathy and pity. It’s empathy and caring. Is compassion something we can teach? As the stepmom of a child on the Autism spectrum, I can give you a resounding yes! And it begins with creating a connection to the other person. Learning about that person and considering how they might be thinking or feeling about their situation.
How do we do this in our senior communities? Most senior communities have the family fill out a detailed profile form about the senior’s life when the senior enters the community. The truth is that, far too often, this information ends up in a database and is rarely looked at again.
I believe this needs to be a living document, kept up by the family. But that’s not enough. Imagine if tidbits about the senior’s life were provided to caregivers on a regular basis? I wonder if that would help busy caregivers sustain a connection and keep the humanity alive? This living document could be readily available to caregivers when they need more information, helping create empathy and compassion.
And it keeps the positivity alive. Learning causes a dopamine release. Having someone authentically connect with you causes a dopamine release. So in the words of Eddie Izzard, this small interaction can help us double down on the positive. And in the words of Jimmy Buffett, it can help us navigate these Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes.
Caregivers have a lot to do, but this approach could make it easier. (This is something Serenity does really well, by the way.)
We strive to hire the best of the best, right? No one sets out to hire a lazy, rude, uncompassionate person! And yet in our current state of affairs we have a caregiver crisis that is about to grow to epidemic proportions. So who will get the best of the best?
Here’s an idea. What if we make family part of the care team? Not all families or family members want to be involved, but when you have someone who does, embrace it. Encourage it. Promote it.
Families have hired communities to become an extension of the family. It can be a very synergistic relationship if we let it. In my over 300 interviews with staff members, I can tell you that caregivers are communicating with family members whether management knows it or not. So why not give them a secure, easy channel to do so? It helps everyone.
Create a collaborative network by embracing those family members who want to stay involved. You will have happier families, happier caregivers, and ultimately residents with improved quality of life.
(And for my Jimmy Buffett fans, maybe we find that lost shaker of salt, too!)
In summary, I would like to repeat how fun it would be to live at a Jimmy Buffet or Eddie Izzard themed senior community. But that aside, keep in mind that:
- Culture is your best competitive advantage.
- It is possible to continually improve compassion and empathy to your care team.
- Families and caregivers can work together to improve the quality of life for the senior.
When care teams and family work together, our seniors have reduced isolation and depression, and increased quality of life. After all, isn’t that the goal? Let’s enjoy our loved ones and appreciate the care teams who help.
Tell us what you think in the comments. Let’s chat!