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Monday, December 15, 2014

Don't Lose Heart

I once had a conversation with the President of a senior living organization for whom I worked in which he related that he believed that the Executive Director role is by far one of the toughest in the industry. You’re ultimately responsible for driving occupancy, meeting financial targets, cultivation an engaged workplace, over seeing compliance issues, functioning as the community HR representative, and overall quality assurance. Finally, we are expected to have a resident focus and create a setting that will allow each individual to have a quality of life that is vital and relevant. Piece of cake, right?
Sisyphus in Training
Anyone who has been or is currently an Executive Director wholeheartedly resonates with the laundry list of expectations. We’ve put in the longs days, lain awake at night remembering things not completed that day and thinking ahead to the next day’s challenges. And to be honest, sometimes it’s just exhausting. There are days we could very accurately compare our jobs to Greek tales of Sisyphus—always pushing the rock up that hill only to watch it roll back down and being faced with doing it all over again. Ever. Single. Day. So what do we do when we fell as though we cannot push that boulder up the mountain one more time? When we hit the proverbial wall?
And the answer is…
I got the answer last week when I was talking to a dear friend and fellow senior living warrior. We hadn’t spoken in a while, and as we were catching up she told me about a coworker who recently took her to his office, put some headphones on her to listen to some smooth, mellow music, and told her ” Do not lose heart—what you do has meaning, and even though tit is hard it’s worth it in the end.”
An AHA! Moment
I knew as soon as she spoke those precious words that their impact would be far-reaching and a source of strength I could pull out in some of my most difficult moments. It would be a source of reassurance to me that there is purpose, value, and hope in my role in senior living. In the last week as I’ve had to deal with staff changes, a belligerent resident, an unfortunate communtiy event, licensing complications, and numerous other challenges, that phrase has been my mantra.
Here is what I learned:
Do not lose heart—for every resident who is difficult there are other who are quick to tell you that you are special to them and that you’ve changed their lives.
Do not lose heart—for every staffing change that happens, you’ve got the unique opportunity to bring in someone fresh, new perspective and they’ll see things in ways you’ll need for that advancement of you community.
Do not lose heart—for every emergency situation you have to deal with you have the opportunity to prove to your residents that they can indeed trust you and you wil do all you can to ensure that they are safe and secure.
Do not lose heart—when you are exhausted and think that you cannot hear one more problem, you find that one resident who shars with you just how happy they are and how you and your staff have made it possible. I’m sure you are seeing a theme here; as leaders in this industry, we often come home emotionallyu spent, physically tired, and mentally drained.
Yet, ask most of us in this business and you’ll find that we cannot imagine doing anything else. Nothing compars to laying your head on you pilow each night and knowing you’ve helped alleviate a families fears, delivered on promised to create a community that exceed their expectiations, and wholeheartedly poured yourself into the lives of those entrust to you care and oversight. So, if you’ve had a tough week, take a few moments to balance the good with the bad, see the blessings in the challenges, and don’t forget to give yourself this piece of advice. Do not lose heart. Leslie

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Organizational Culture and 7-Minute Phone Call.

The other day I was surprised to listen to a voice mail on my cell phone from the owner of our company. It’s not every day that the owner calls to inquire about who is working over the weekend as he could be bringing some folks for lunch.
After listening to the message, I called him back as requested. He was pleasant and friendly, asked me about the community, challenges, updates on occupancy, and even complimented me that though I expressed there is a lot to the job, he has heard that I am up to the task. It was a nice conversation.
He let me know he’d confirm the lunch and tour with me the next day. Saturday evening I got another VM from him saying they wouldn't be coming the following day after all as their plans had changed. He also passed along that he hoped I was feeling better (I mentioned the previous day that I had a cold).

Mission and Values

I share this personal illustration because it’s a great example of company culture in action. I've worked for a few other senior living companies and other organizations that serve the senior populace, and they all have a mission and core values. I’m happy to report that in most of my experiences, those companies were, by and large, seeking to exemplify that mission and put those values into practice.
But in at least one of my experiences, that couldn't have been further from the truth. Senior management would espouse core values at every opportunity, but in practice, especially the further down the management chain things went, it was virtually unrecognizable.

The Ripple Effect

What do a couple of voice mails and short conversation have to do with all this? A lot. As the owner of the company, he could have very easily given a directive and had someone else handle the task. He could have sent an email or called the office, but instead he took the time to call my cell phone and personally connect with me. This from a man who presides over a company with more than 50 senior living properties and nearly as many hotels. The fact that he took time out of his day to do so speaks volumes.
It was encouraging to me, but it also left me with a renewed appreciation for what Jen Shirkani refers to as a leaders downstream impact. In her book “Ego vs. EQ,” she explores the fact that as leaders we often lose sight of just how much our behavior is being watched by others and also how our actions have a ripple effect. My owner’s call was a perfect example of that to me. It was a very ordinary call, but the fact that it was made by the owner of our company made it extraordinary.

A Little Introspection

That same surprise call from the owner of our company got me thinking about my own leadership. If I was so impacted by a simple phone call, how am I impacting those I lead? Am I using my influence for good, or is it lacking?
I asked myself the following questions:
  • Am I making an effort to connect with my employees? Not just business   conversation, but to really get to know them?
  • Am I striving to be consistent with our companies mission and core values?
  • Am I seeking to be consistent in my daily practices and subsequent interactions?
  • Am I alert to potential blind spots and seeking to grow in those areas?
By asking those questions I’m seeking to ferret out areas where I am not as effective as I could be at leading others. In turn, this gives me the ability to have a greater impact within my sphere of influence. The greater my impact, the greater my opportunity at multiplication: that is, grooming and mentoring new leaders to take up the challenge of leading a successful community. This ultimately has the greatest impact upon the most important people of all; our residents.

Passion Isn’t Enough

Many of us got into senior living because we have a passion for the older population. However, most of us probably figured out just as quickly that simply being passionate about seniors isn't enough. You have to know how to lead people and effectively work through others. If you don’t, the results can be disastrous.
That’s why it’s refreshing and inspiring to have a very easily delegated task of a phone call reveal that a leader recognizes the power of a personal connection with his employees. It made me want to follow suit and examine my own leadership practices to find areas where I can continue to mature.
I encourage you to take a few minutes to mull over the questions above and be really honest with yourself. If you find yourself answering unfavorably to even one of them, take it as an opportunity to grow.
Seek ways to improve your emotional intelligence, which will arm you with the tools to be a more effective leader. And who knows, you just may impact one of your employees with a 7-minute phone call along the way.
Executive Director of The Meridian at Lake San Marcos

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Make a Difference

by Rebekah Martin

How many of you have seen the challenge on the Alz Assn’s website “Do a little BIG thing”?

I took care of my Mother for an entire year and after she passed away, I called our local hospital to provide a change of address as I was still paying down her medical bills.  The account manager in their billing dept stated she remembered me from when she set up the payment plan and asked how my Mother was…  She wanted to know if everything ended as well as it could or if it was rough.

When I hung up the phone that day, I thought to myself “What a huge difference you can make in a small place”

Do a little BIG thing made me think…

The Walk to END Alzheimer’s is a small part of life that gives more back to you than you invest.  For example, when you walk, run, cycle or do other activities, you receive the gift of discovering courage, tenacity and the inner strength you possess

It isn’t what you do that makes you an athlete.  It isn’t how fast or how far you go or haw many personal bests you have.  Its waking up every day knowing that you will take on whatever life has for you that day.  You embrace the challenges – physical, emotional and spiritual – because you know it’s the challenges that make you stronger.

Through your journey you realize you have gained the strength to face it all – the best days and the worst – for what they are: Days, Moments, Experiences

As you set out to walk this morning, remember, Every finish line is a gift.

And because of what you’re doing today, you can expect BIG things!

Walk on, friends.

Contributing Author Rebekah Martin is the Community Relations Director at Pacifica Senior Living in Modesto, CA.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Memory Loss - Like a Stealth Bomber?

Memory loss is such a strange thing. You can’t see it. You can’t touch it. You can’t hear it. You can’t smell it. You can’t taste it.

Staring into the eyes, ears, nose or throat with the naked eye cannot give you a clue. Palpation and percussion of the head or neck will reveal nothing. Listening to the chest or smelling of the breath won’t work either. The usual tools that Mom used to diagnose our childhood illnesses or that the family doctor or office nurse could employ are worthless.

Memory loss is like a brewing storm- you just don’t know it’s coming if you’re not paying attention. Or, it is like a stealth bomber- you never even saw it coming until the bomb hits. Unfortunately, the disease that will ravage the brain and steal the memory is a pretty sneaky entity.

Those of us who are already touched by this illness have an inside track on new medications, diagnostics, and approaches to diagnosing and treating the memory disorder. Yet still, we are where we are- probably not ever having guessed that we would be here.

Those who have not yet been touched may have a niggling worry in the back of their mind. They may have a family history or a predisposing gene. They may know someone who has dealt with this illness. For the most part, though, these folks walk through their daily routines not suspecting that their lives may change at any moment.

When memory loss begins to become apparent, we can deny, we can rationalize and we can make excuses. But as the loss becomes more pronounced, the disease has already snuck in the back door and has probably been living with us for some time already. The ravaging of the brain cells has already begun- slowly but surely robbing us of the one we knew.

Standing before us is the loved one who looks all the word like the person we have known. Their hair is the same color, their smile the same, their walk and gestures so familiar. Yet, all the while we are looking at that same corporeal body, the essence… the mind… the thoughts… habits… behavior… are slipping away.

By the time we can deal with the early losses, another progression of the disease process has snuck in. We see a subtle, or sometimes, marked change. More and more, the losses take their toll and soon the corporeal body begins to fail as well. Only now can we see it, touch it, hear it so clearly. 

Memory loss is indeed a strange thing, an insidious thing, a terrible thing. And still, we are where we are- never having guessed that we would be here. Would that we could change it. Would that we could make it go away. Would that a “cure” can be found.

In the meantime, we support one another with an understanding that no one, no one who has not been touched will know. We hug each other and say, “I know”. We face the inevitable together.

And we understand that we have been blessed- blessed with our friends and family support, blessed for having the chance to remember even though they have forgotten- blessed to have had them in our lives and our love. 

Christine Varner
Executive Director at Pacifica Senior Living Belleair, FL
Memory Care Community 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Let Them Eat Cake!

I read an article in McKnight's Long Term Care News in regards to the effectiveness of dietary restrictions in people over the age of 75 and I'd like to share some thoughts on it. Based on a study conducted by Penn State & Geisinger Healthcare, the conclusion was that after a person reaches 75 years old, changes to diet are not likely to be effective. The damage has already been done and trying to eat "healthy" is not going to change the likelihood of acquiring Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, and Hypertension. Eating healthy throughout your early lifetime is the first line of defense, keeping yourself happy, in my opinion, is the second. 

Our residents health and nutrition is very important to us, that is why we spend quite a bit of time with families at our round table meetings when a new resident is joining us asking about preferences, allergies & special dietary needs. Hearing what our new resident has been eating since diagnosis of dementia is just as important as hearing about what they grew up eating and allowing our residents to have a choice in what they eat. I am in no way suggesting cotton candy as a steady diet for a diabetic, I am simply re-applying the age old saying "you are what you eat." By allowing our residents to be happy with the quality and presentation of the food they are served, we are giving them additional moments of happiness. 

While some foods may have a higher value than others, nutritional value can be found in almost all foods. We strive to encourage the foods that do the most good, however, as taste buds change and diminish the list of those foods will also change. A resident who once ate only bland oatmeal throughout most of his life for breakfast now prefers brown sugar and cinnamon added in or will now only eat french toast with strawberries and bananas on top. It is not our intention to over-sugar or super saturate foods with salt, but if that simple addition keeps your loved one consistently taking in some nutrition that in itself is far better than not receiving any nutrition at all. At the end of the day what it all comes down to is a variation of the age old saying "Let them eat cake" which in our setting means that when bread is refused, it may be better to let your loved one eat cake rather than eat nothing at all. 

About the Author:

Stephanie Muhlbach is the Activity Director at Pacifica Senior Living Paradise Valley in Phoenix, AZ.

Monday, April 8, 2013

World Health Day 2013 - Take Control of Your Blood Pressure

Yesterday was World Health Day. World Health Day is celebrated every year on April 7th to mark the anniversary of the establishment of the World Health Organization. Each year a new theme is chosen to raise awareness of the world’s major health issues. This year’s theme is focused on addressing the problem of Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. High blood pressure and other related conditions (such as obesity, poor nutrition, and lack of physical activity) are risk factors for chronic diseases, including cancer.

It is important on this World Health Day to raise awareness of the growing burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) on the world population. NCDs kill more than 36 million people each year, and almost 80% of these deaths occur in low and middle-income countries. In 2012, the World Health Assembly decided to adopt the target to reduce premature deaths from non-communicable diseases by 25 percent by 2025. The Member States are finalizing global targets for 2025.

“Early detection of high blood pressure and lowering heart attack and stroke risk is clearly far less expensive for individuals and governments than heart surgery, stroke care, dialysis, and other interventions that may be needed later if high blood pressure is left unchecked and uncontrolled,” says Dr Shanthi Mendis, Acting Director of the World Health Organization Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases.

Cut the risks of high blood now pressure by:

-Eating a balanced diet incl. consuming less salt
 (This following link provides some great tips on Lowering your Salt Intake )

-Engaging in regular physical activity

-Avoiding tobacco use

-Avoiding or minimizing harmful use of alcohol

According to the WHO, the prevalence of hypertension is highest in Africa with 46% of adults being affected, while the lowest prevalence it found in the Americas with 35% of adults affected. Overall, high-income countries have a lower prevalence of hypertension (35% of adults) than low -and -middle income groups (40% of adults) – thanks to successful multi-sectoral public policies, and better access to health care.

 Source: World Health Organization

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Nutrition for a Healthy Brain

You are what you eat. Who hasn’t heard this old saying? Our diet affects every bodily function including brain function and health. Certain foods such as refined sugars, increase inflammation and reduce blood flow to the brain. World renowned neurologist Dr. Majid Fotuhi said “Food can affect the brain in minutes”, during interviews with CNN and the Dr. Oz show. The “Superfoods” and supplements listed below do the opposite, reducing inflammation and increasing blood flow to the brain helping keeping it strong:

Brain Superfood  1: Elderberries
Elderberries are packed with quercetin, a flavonoid that’s critical to your brain’s health. Like blueberries and strawberries, the flavonoids found in elderberries help reduce harmful inflammation at a cellular level. Additionally, quercetin increases the activity of your cells’ mitochondria, which you can think of as the “powerhouses” within each of your cells. By boosting your mitochondrial activity, you’ll boost your overall energy level, too.

Brain Superfood 2: Pecans
Pecans are high in omega-3s, which are vital for a healthy brain. In fact, pecans are the most antioxidant-rich tree nut, and are ranked by the USDA among the top 15 foods with the highest antioxidant capacity. A brand new study shows consumption of omega-3 rich foods like pecans can dramatically reduce the risk of neural degeneration.

 Brain Superfood 3: Chicken Giblets or Clams
Most of us make the mistake of throwing chicken giblets (the neck, kidneys, gizzard, heart and liver that come bundled inside a whole chicken) directly into the trash. Even though they may not look appealing at first, fight the urge to toss them! Not only can the giblets be delicious as an addition to a chicken stock or prepared on their own (you’ll find plenty of recipes online), but they’re a great sources of vitamin B12, which is crucial for brain health. In fact, just a cup of giblets provides 228% of your recommended daily dose of B12. If you can’t bring yourself to eat them, however, clams are another terrific source. They also contain zinc and iron, which have been associated with the brain’s ability to stay focused and recall information.

Brain Superfood 4: Vegetable Juice
Vegetables are like heath gold mines, providing all the vitamins and antioxidants our hearts and brains need. Juiced vegetables are a convenient and delicious way to get all those vital nutrients. If you’re buying vegetable juice at the market, look for bottles labeled all-natural with no added sugar. Of course, the best way to enjoy vegetable juice is freshly juiced at home, with no added sugar or preservatives. Whether store-bought or homemade, be sure to limit your intake to 8 ounces a day to avoid excess sugars.

Brain Superfood 5: Beets
Nosh on this root vegetable to boost your brainpower. As we age, poor blood flow contributes to cognitive decline. Research has determined, however, that the natural nitrates found in beets (as well as cabbages and radishes) can actually increase blood flow to the brain, thereby improving mental performance. Be sure to make beets and all the superfoods listed above a part of your diet. You’ll send your brain capacity through the roof, and tip the scales in the battle against Alzheimer’s.

Brain Booster Supplement: DHA
If you’re only going to take one supplement, DHA is the one you need. DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is an omega-3 fatty acid that makes up a significant portion of your brain tissue. Lower DHA levels are associated with a smaller brain size, so it’s important to supplement your natural DHA intake (which comes primarily from cold-water seafood). Taking a DHA supplement reduces inflammation, combats the plaque buildup associated with Alzheimer’s, and increases blood flow to your brain. In fact, studies have shown that taking 600mg of DHA supplement daily for 6 months boosts your brain so much that it functions as though it were 3 years younger!