Friday, June 27, 2008

Wings on the Web

It's a fun experience seeing how far this electronic age reaches. It is truly a new age of information technology, as individuals all over the world can communicate - or listen in - to our electronic conversations.

Yesterday, one of our key staff members picked up the phone at our office, answering with her name, as we always do. The caller said, "Is this THE Wendy Finch?"

Wendy says, "Wow, did I feel like a rock star right at that moment!"

The caller went on to say that she reads Wendy's e-newsletter called Friday Funnies every week (subscribe) and feels like she knows Wendy. Wendy frequently shares stories that end up being the "joke was on me" type of stories, and readers love her.

I had a similar experience a few years ago, walking into a senior living community in northern California. The community representative handed me a packet of information. Included in that packet was an essay, printed on bright pink paper, that I had written some months ago. This community was distributing my essay to every visitor. It was exciting and humbling at the same time.

The essay is one that I think back on often, because I believe so strongly in this concept. I'll reprint it below, but, in essence, the message is this: we need to stop thinking of moving into a care community - or even a senior living community - as a step down. It's not "losing our home" - it's just changing our home address. It can be a positive, meaningful experience for so many people. It would certainly help if our society didn't label it so negatively.

Finally, this week I was invited to participate as a featured blogger for a site called Wellsphere. Once again, the power of the internet is demonstrated, as well as the power of community. As a community of resources, we can join together to make a profound difference in the lives of people all over the world.

It is truly a new age for communication, for support, and for community.

Here's a reprint of my essay titled Changing Home:

A few weeks ago I shared with you our family's story of helping BOTH sets of parents choose to move into a retirement community.

We spent weeks scheduling the first retirement community visit - weeks during which the negotiation went like this, "Mom, Dad, I know YOU aren't ready for a retirement center, but you know how much it would help the other set of parents."

And the reply invariably went like this, "You're right, we're not ready yet, but the other set of parents sure is!"

Finally, we got to the retirement center and spend hours - literally - getting through both sets of parents' anxieties and resistances.

When we left, all four parents were talking about how nice this would be - "4 or 5 years in the future" (that's a 92- year-old speaking)!

Now, two months later, MY parents have their name on two waiting lists, and are actively cleaning out their very formidable collection of stuff; my husband's parents are still talking about the "where" and the "when."

My mother-in-law keeps bringing up this refrain, "I never thought I'd have to give up my home."

And I've been thinking, we've been missing the mark here, both in our conversations with the folks, and in the marketing within our profession.

We're not asking people to "give up their home" - we're simply asking them to change their address.

Because ANYWHERE can be home - whether you own, rent, or stay free.

HOME is that place where you feel comfortable being just "you."

Where, if you're lucky (Mom, Dad, are you listening?) you're surrounded by people who make you laugh, who give you something to talk about, and who share meals, good times and bad times with you - and who are there to help you when you need help.

Because a house is just a house...but a home is absolutely wherever your heart happens to land.

Just a footnote: my parents were in a severe auto accident a little over a year ago, leaving my father dead at the scene. My mother, injured severely and, of course, devastated with her loss, never returned to their home. She went straight from the path from hospital-rehab-assisted living into her new home in the retirement community she and my father had already selected. She absolutely loves it there. The only shadow is a frequent feeling we both have that my dad would have loved living there, too - only he missed the opportunity.

My in-laws are still not budging from their house...stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

New Doors Opening Through e-learning

Our company is on the verge of the formal launch of our online nursing assistant course, in partnership with Oregon Health Care Association. The nursing assistant course is required to become a CNA in Oregon - and, for the first time ever in this state, the OHCA/aQuire course allows the classroom portion of it to be done online. Following the online portion of the course the student completes lab and clinical training at one of 45 participating nursing facilities state-wide. This is by far the largest, most comprehensive nursing assistant course in the state.

We're excited about the potential to train many individuals for this incredibly important work. Already, without any publicity at all, we've gotten dozens of interested individuals who are ready to start today.

Many of them are people who haven't been able to go to a classroom based program because of time or other restrictions. With this new online course, avenues open for them to advance, personally and professionally.

Offering this course online may be one small way we can help with the current nursing shortage. Listen to the comments of some of the individuals who worked hard to find out about this course:

"I am working towards becoming a RN and becoming a CNA is required for most nursing schools."

"I am committed to helping people and also committed to finding a career in the health care field."

"I enjoy working in the medical field. Working hands on offers new experiences daily and a great opportunity to learn. I also get a great personal satisfaction from helping others."

"I am interested in becoming a CNA because I would like to work as an Emergency Room Technician. I believe that the position would give me valuable experience in working as a team with doctors. Eventually, I intend to go to medical school and become a physician."

What an impressive group of individuals, all looking to take the first step in their careers in this field.

What a privilege and an honor to help them achieve their goals, in any way we can.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

aQuire Training Prepares to Launch Online CNA course

After a lot of hard work on the part of all the aQuire Training Solutions' team, along with many of the folks at the Oregon Health Care Association, we are finally preparing to launch the first ever online nursing assistant course in the state of Oregon.

Might not sound like a big deal to you, but it IS a big deal to people in this state. Last year the state legislature passed a new law increasing the ratio of CNAs to residents in nursing facilities here; that ratio increases yet again two more times. The bottom line for residents is better care. For facility managers, however, it could present a nightmare scenario when they can't find enough CNAs to fill the jobs they must fund to meet the new staffing ratio.

At the same time, the number of individuals being certified as nursing assistants in the state has been in a steady decline.

At the intersection of increased demand and reduced supply is a crisis.

With this course, we not only utilized every tool at our disposal to create a course that showcases what online learning can be, but we also, in our partnership with OHCA and over 40 member facilities (where students will complete the lab and clinical aspects of training), are breaking some exciting new ground in creating the ideal blended learning environment.

We've got people clamoring to begin the course as quickly as possible - people who simply couldn't access training without the online portion of this course.

It's pretty exciting for us. We'll keep you posted on the results in the weeks and months to come.

Read the whole press release.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Does Staff Training REALLY Matter? Ask the Sheraton.

We just returned from the annual ALFA conference in Orlando, full of great contacts and new ideas.

One of the themes that carried through the entire session was the customer service theme - providing consist, "four-star" customer service. The "how-to" was essential: all three key note speakers presented something on this topic, ranging from the Starbucks Way of "Creating the Total Customer Experience" (Joseph Michelli) to Chip Bell's southern humor sharing how to get your customers so excited about your product or service that it consistently impacts your bottom line in a positive way.

The site for the conference, the Gaylord Palms, presented their customer service approach during one of the sessions. For them, it's all about their tag line: Consider it Done. In fact, when you call for assistance with just about anything, that's what you hear: "Consider it done." And it gets done.

During the session that the Gaylord Palms staff presented they emphasized one thing in making this happen: training. They train their "stars" consistently and thoroughly. They consider training, in fact, to be the most important step in everything they do. Trained staff make sure that the service is delivered consistently to every guest, every day.

Industry standards in hospitality run somewhat similar to those in senior care: about a 73% annual overall staff turnover.

Because of the Gaylord Palms' emphasis on training, which trickles down to everything else they do, they've completely reversed the turnover. Their experience is over 70% RETENTION - not turnover.

That's a powerful, bottom-line testimony to the benefits that come when you commit to training. Committing to training is, after all, just one way that you show your ultimate commitment - to the people who labor hard, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to deliver your product or service to your clients.

Still a skeptic? Let me tell you a story: my husband, who attended the Palms' presentation, decided to test it. The microscopic screw that holds the arm onto his prescription sunglasses had fallen out that morning. He saved the screw, but had no tiny screwdriver to put it back together. After the presentation, he cornered the speaker to ask her if they had any tool that could help him. The answer? "Consider it done." Within a matter of minutes, the speaker returned to the room with a small travel toolkit, complete with a miniature screwdriver and magnifying glass. (Roger's favorite part of the story is that while the speaker was gone she left her associate there to keep him engaged in conversation, making the wait time seem to vanish.)

Of course, no story is complete without the other perspective. In the hotel where we stayed, the neighboring Sheraton Vistana Resort, our king size bed was made up with a bottom sheet that tucked in only on one side. This just happens to be one of my travel pet peeves - sheets that don't adequately cover the mattress, and stay there, the entire night.

We contacted the customer service staff who said they'd take care of it. I thought, "Well that was simple - it'll be taken care of when we return for the night."

Unfortunately, that night we returned to an undisturbed room - the bed was identical to how we'd left it.

So I picked up the phone. I didn't really think this was a big thing - it should be fixed quickly. Not too worried about it. Three phone calls later I was thinking differently. No one was willing to address the problem. Each person - going three levels up the employee ladder - said the same thing: "We don't have fitted sheets here, I'm sorry. What is on your bed is the best we have."

No one offered to come see the problem, or to fix it in any way. At each stage I patiently explained that I was sure that the hotel had king size sheets; we simply needed one put on our bed.

After doing this three times, I decided that there was only one solution. I asked if someone could simply deliver to our room one flat king size sheet.

Within minutes, I had THREE sheets delivered (they really went the full mile there). I stripped the sheet off my bed, and remade it with the correct size sheet. (The one on the bed was, in fact, marked "Queen.")

This is the first time I've had to make my own bed in a big name hotel - and guess how many people I've already shared this experience with?

My husband has told just as many people about his Gaylord Palms experience, too - and frankly, for my money, I'd rather people were telling the Palms' story if it were my business!

So does training matter? You tell me...but let me tell you another story, if you're still not convinced!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Is Wal-Mart gonna care for YOUR mom?

Maybe caring for our parents won't be so difficult, but when the time comes that we need help - even a small amount of assistance with cleaning or keeping track of our meds, who will be able to help us?

It's not just the numbers game, either, although that's significant. That's the problem where so many more of us in the baby boomer age group need a little help that there are not enough younger people in the "helper" age group to go around - not by a long, long way.

The other problem is a simple one - it's a matter of money. Last week I heard more than one senior care professional remark about their own communities, "Our buildings are really high-end - I could never afford to live there!"

People all over the US drive cars and live in houses that I couldn't afford, but when it comes to care, will I be able to afford it? Will it be like gasoline and basic health insurance now...rapidly approaching the point of pain? Or will it be even worse - completely out of the financial reach of many of us?

About 47 million Americans now lack health insurance. Health care costs are
rising far faster than general inflation. And health care is on track to consume
25% of U.S. gross domestic product by 2025. That would be up from 16% today and
5% in 1960. Jim Jubak, Health Leaders Media.

Jubak proceeds, a little tongue in cheek perhaps, to suggest that we leave it to Wal-Mart to come up with a solution. Our politicians haven't done such a good job so far, and, sadly, even the current candidates have few genuine solutions in mind. Wal-Mart has not only stepped directly into sales of generic medication, often undercutting a person's co-pay (why pay more in co-pay than you can directly to Wal-Mart?) but Wal-Mart has also led the way in store-based urgent care clinics, charging, again, less than many insured individual's co-pay amount. Read more...

Do you think that when the time comes that senior care is the #1 health care crisis in America, companies like Wal-Mart will be standing around waiting to see what the government proposes to do?

I doubt it. I wonder if we'll start seeing Wal-Mart (or Costco or Target) branded senior living communities - no frills, but basic, good affordable services on a national scale?

They might not be around in time to care for your mom or mine, but who knows what will happen by the time the tail end of the baby-boomers start needing help. Without many strong, persistant voices advocating for affordable care, it will be interesting, indeed.