Jayne Keller headshot
Jayne Keller

Jayne Keller didn’t sugarcoat the difficulty Christian Living Communities is experiencing with employee retention.

The chief operating officer of the Englewood, CO-based senior living provider said the company was optimistic at the beginning of the year, setting a goal to improve employee retention by 7.5%. Instead, turnover in 2021 has increased by 15%. 

Further, year-to-date turnover is 30% in the six communities it owns. And the figure sits at 43% including all of the communities it owns and supports through its management services company, Capella Living Solutions.

“We’re not heading in the right direction we want to head in,” Keller said candidly during a LeadingAge membership call Wednesday. “This is a pain point for all senior living providers. It’s definitely been a challenging year.”

But Christian Living Communities is experiencing a bright spot in its direct care worker mentorship program, as well as with a special “welcome committee on steroids” aimed at improving staff and resident relations.

Mentorship

In 2010, Keller said, nursing leadership recognized high turnover rates among certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses and registered nurses. The provider created a program that still is going strong today after boasting an increase in its retention rate to 90% after the first year.

Under the program, new direct care workers are assigned to a mentor. The pairs work together for a year to ensure new team members are set up for success, working side-by-side for the first two weeks. 

Positive feedback is firm from new employees, Keller said. Among the benefits, they said: having a friend at work, knowing what to expect on the job, and having someone to turn to with questions. Mentors also report feeling valued and appreciated for their work, she said.

Retention rates steadily increased, Keller said. As a result of a successful pilot program in its skilled nursing settings, Christian Living Communities expanded the mentorship program into its assisted living, float pools and home care settings.

Keepers Committee

The success of the original mentorship program led to an informal program that includes residents who volunteer to welcome new team members, give them a tour of their homes and share what a “day in the life” looks like for them.

“It’s a committee of residents who want to make a difference. They are reaching out to new team members to welcome them on their first day or have a cup of coffee with them,” Keller said. “A lot of residents are natural mentors for some of our younger team members. It easily expanded into a welcome committee on steroids.”

The resident program, which began as a pilot at one community in 2016, took on the Keepers Committee moniker to help communities retain employees and create a culture where they feel valued. The blended committee of residents and staff members met every month for approximately three years to share workforce statistics and common feedback from employee surveys. It also solved problems and worked on projects “to create a culture where residents understood that good team members are really hard to find and really hard to keep,” Keller said.

“We needed to work together to create a culture where residents would have more grace, more understanding and allow more mistakes, if that’s what was happening,” she said, adding that it took approximately three years before residents truly engaged in helping to retain workers.

The Keeper Committee concept has worked better in some communities than others, Keller conceded. The most successful groups, she said, are the ones that don’t sugarcoat the problems and really explain the issues to residents and families “to get to the meat of the work that needs to be done.” 

“The most successful groups are the ones that really know what the issues are,” she said.

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