Assisted living facilities and nursing homes across the nation are experiencing a shortage of caregivers, which is a major concern as the country’s senior population continues to grow. By 2020, it’s predicted that senior living communities will require an additional 1.2 million workers, but meeting that demand is proving challenging. According to Leading Age, the average annual turnover rate at senior living communities is just under 44 percent. At the heart of the high turnover rate is a lack of employee satisfaction. Though serving our nation’s seniors may seem like a fulfilling career, it can be a difficult job, and for all the daily challenges caregivers face, they often don’t get recognition for all they do, leaving many of these professionals feeling dissatisfied.
Despite the staffing challenges senior living communities face, a shortage of caregivers and a high turnover rate is not what you’ll find at Wingate Residences at Brewster Place in Massachusetts. Thirty-two of the assisted living facility’s 49 staff members have been with this independent and assisted living facility on the Cape for at least five years — and some upwards of 25 years.
There are no grand strategies to retain employees at Brewster Place. Instead, the assisted living facility practices what its family-owned parent company Wingate Healthcare preaches: maintain a family-like atmosphere so employees feel like their work is more than just a job. To cement this feeling within the community, Maureen Gardner, Brewster Place’s executive director since 1997, goes above and beyond when it comes to recognizing employees’ contributions.
“Maureen Gardner is top shelf for appreciating what we do and how hard it is sometimes,” said Brenda Oliver, a certified nursing assistant who’s worked at Brewster Place for the past 28 years. “She knows how hard it is to go through the day sometimes and knows that the happier we are, the better we do.”
To show her team the appreciation she knows they deserve, Maureen hosts an annual holiday dinner for them. Employees are invited to the dinner once they’ve been with Brewster Place for five years, and every year thereafter. Maureen said the goal of the dinner is to promote longevity, teamwork and, most importantly, camaraderie
“It’s not so much the meal, but having a chance to get together outside of the facility and getting to know who we are as people on our own,” said Brenda of the dinner. “We all enjoy it very, very much.”
“It shows that she really appreciates us,” said Erika Lomba, a senior wellness aid who’s been with Brewster Place for 13 years.
“This is my first five-year dinner, and, yes, it means a lot to me,” said senior wellness aid Shannon Lynch. “It amazes me how many people have been here for more than five years because to me, this is not just a job — this is our family.”
In addition to the dinner, Maureen hosts an annual service award ceremony for her team. She models it after the Emmy Awards, and it’s an event that even the residents, who serve as audience members, look forward to every year. “The residents love attending, and many of them give cards to the staff members who’ve been here a long time and have a made a difference in their lives,” Maureen said.
Though the dinner and award ceremony take a fair amount of planning every year, Maureen knows that it’s more than worthwhile. “I value who the staff are as people and how they do their jobs,” Maureen said.
That value certainly shows, as Maureen’s team is quick to talk about the family-like atmosphere at the community when asked why they’ve remained there for so long.
“I have stayed for so long because this is the first job I have ever had that made me feel like I was part of something,” said Shannon.
“Yes, I love interacting with the residents, but the people I work with have become my family; they are there for me through my ups and downs, more so sometimes than my own flesh and blood.”
Brenda echoed Shannon’s sentiments: “It’s sort of my family away from home.”
“Brewster Place has a sense of community where the simple pleasures are still celebrated,” said 10-year veteran and wellness nurse Susan Fitzgerald. “That sense of community is also visible in the longevity of the staff.”
Erika also considers the team to be her second family; she said that she and Maureen have been through many major life changes together, including divorce and parenthood.
The family-like atmosphere, and the dinner and award ceremony, aren’t benefits the staff at Brewster Place take for granted. This year, Maureen — who her team now affectionately refers to as “Mother Superior” or “Mother of the House” — celebrated her 20-year anniversary at the community. It was not a milestone the staff let go unacknowledged.
Maureen was honored at her own award-like ceremony for her service to the community and commitment to her team. She was also presented with 20 roses, one for every year. Though the roses will eventually wilt and die, it’s clear that Maureen’s appreciation for the staff, and the reciprocal appreciation they have for her, will not.