Daniel Straus

In 2012, when Hurricane Sandy tore through the Northeast coast of the United States, it delivered more than a blow to the New Jersey coastline — it also delivered a wake-up call to healthcare providers in the Northeast that emergency preparedness and management forever will be a priority to ensure the safety and well-being of our communities.

In New Jersey, and throughout much of the Northeast, many people suffered tremendous personal loss and damage. Several of our company’s facilities are close to the New Jersey shoreline, and more than 30 of our employees needed temporary housing, as well as future repair and replacement of their homes.

The day after the storm, my daughter, Elizabeth, who is third generation in the elder care business, took the lead, along with our executive team, in establishing a “company store” in the dining room of our Middletown facility near the Jersey Shore. We stocked the store with flashlights, blankets, water, toiletries and the like, purchased from nearby department stores so that our employees and their families had the essentials for their daily living.

We realized after the hurricane hit that we needed to do more for the employees who suffered property loss. In a period of about two months, between the time Sandy hit and late December of that year, we spearheaded a fundraiser throughout our company and were able to raise more than $1 million in charitable donations to directly benefit the employees affected by Hurricane Sandy. We established the CareOne Disaster Relief Fund to get them through the holidays and to further assist them in rebuilding their homes and their lives.

That was our first foray into fundraising as an entire company — born purely out of a desire to help our caregivers, those that so many others relied on to provide their care. It still is overwhelming and very heartwarming for me to think about the generosity of our employees and the donors who helped us raise those dollars. We decided that due to the success of our fundraising for Sandy relief, we would embark on an annual fundraising campaign, each year choosing a different community charity to support.

Since 2012, CareOne has raised more than $11 million to benefit charities such as the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Make-A-Wish, the Valerie Fund and the CareOne Cancer Fund, a second charitable trust that we created to honor an employee with an end-stage cancer diagnosis in the prime of his life. Further, in the wake of Hurricane Maria, our team raised more than $4 million to benefit the people of Puerto Rico during an October charity fundraiser held in New York City. In the following months, the funds raised have benefited those affected by the devastating storm, and our team has made several trips to the island to bring much-needed medical resources and supplies to physicians and residents.

As we are dedicated to caring for others, nothing can be as rewarding as extending that caring philosophy to worthwhile charities in our community. As the president and CEO, I believe that harnessing the energy and commitment of our teams has helped elevate our culture in so many ways. We have found that coming together to help others in need has helped magnify the caring spirit and mission that we strive for everyday as a healthcare provider.

And although our company specializes in caring for older adults, we have been able to touch a broad spectrum of individuals in need of financial support across many age ranges, including breast cancer patients and children living with chronic illnesses and life-threatening diseases.

When I hear our employees speak of our company today, rarely do I not hear them mention the power of our philanthropy and the pride and excitement they feel about what we have accomplished to help those less fortunate. Many of our employees have told me that it has been life-altering to do so much good for so many others.

Many employees choose to work for us now because of our commitment to helping our communities. Our retention rates across the board have increased dramatically as well since embarking on this journey. There is a special bond that people develop when they come together to help others, one that I have found is difficult to match through other initiatives. Organic team-building and culture development through philanthropy is extremely powerful and has been a unique and meaningful way of illustrating the high caliber of service and care that we provide, as well as the employees we are fortunate enough to have working for us.

As I reflect on our achievements in fundraising, what is most striking about our efforts is not only what we have done for others, but how it has enhanced our identity and culture within the company. I encourage all readers of this guest column to start to think about ways your elder care organization can give back to your communities. I guarantee that your organization will receive as much in employee satisfaction and pride in return. Your facility also will reap the benefits of increased employee retention and enhanced resident care, which, in the end, is what we all strive for in each of our businesses and in our industry as a whole.

Daniel E. Straus is president and CEO of CareOne, a family-owned healthcare company that operates more than 31 skilled nursing and assisted living facilities throughout New Jersey.

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