LeadingAge Magazine · November-December 2016 • Volume 06 • Number 06

Love of Learning Spurs Innovation for Lasell Village Nurse Leader

November 12, 2016 | by Geralyn Magan

Meet the recipient of this year's Joan Anne McHugh Award for Leadership in Long-Term Services and Supports Nursing. 

Before moving to Lasell Village in Newton, MA, each new resident makes a formal pledge to complete 450 hours of learning and fitness activities during each year they live in the life plan community.

None of the community’s 225 residents have reneged on that promise, which can be fulfilled by attending classes, volunteering, holding down a job, mentoring college students, pursuing a love of the arts, or engaging in other activities that keep their brains active.

The learning requirement may seem a bit unusual for older adults who have already excelled in a variety of fields. But it makes perfect sense to Lasell Village residents.

That’s because their community is sponsored by Lasell College, an institution of higher education that offers 40 undergraduate and graduate academic programs to more than 2,200 students.

The requirement also makes perfect sense to Robin Scully, RN, director of the Lasell Village Wellness Center.

Scully received the 11th Annual Joan Anne McHugh Award for Leadership in Long-Term Services and Supports Nursing during the 2016 LeadingAge Annual Meeting and EXPO. The award is managed by the LeadingAge Center for Applied Research.

A Love of Learning

Scully had earned degrees in communications, business administration and nursing by the time she joined the staff of Lasell Village’s short-term rehabilitation department 16 years ago. She went on to earn her master’s in elder care management after becoming director of the Lasell Village Wellness Center 2 years later.

Now Scully is toying with the idea of returning to school once again, this time to earn a degree in emergency response management at Lasell College.

“I am very similar to the residents in that I really do enjoy learning,” she explains.

Scully’s love of learning has not been lost on the 2 full-time nurses, 3 part-time nurses, and 5 certified nursing assistants (CNAs) who work at the Lasell Village Wellness Center. They know that Scully takes full advantage of the financial support Lasell Village offers to employees so they can participate in continuing education each year. And they have benefitted from Scully’s efforts to make sure members of her staff feel equally encouraged to build their own knowledge and skills.

“If there is some topic that really piques their interest and they want to go to a conference or take a course, all they have to do is let me know and I’ll get it approved, I’ll get them there,” she says.

With that offer comes the tacit agreement that each staff member, including Scully, will share with colleagues whatever he or she has learned at a conference, workshop or class. That’s an easy agreement to fulfill, says Scully.

“When you are picking something that you really enjoy or something that really speaks to you, then you just naturally get excited about it and you want to come back and tell everyone about it,” she says.

Scully, whose passion is wound care, says she never tires of teaching her staff new techniques for helping residents heal. In addition, she regularly brings speakers to the wellness center to educate staff about a variety of topics, from dementia care to fire safety.

“Education gives you confidence,” says Scully. “You definitely need experience in the field, but being educated around issues of senior care, senior care management, and health care gives you the confidence to say, ‘This is what we need to do and I can do it.’”

Driving Innovation in the Wellness Center

Scully’s education-inspired confidence has been a driving force for innovation during her 14 years as director of the Lasell Village Wellness Center. During her tenure, the center has expanded its hours—from 20 to 77 hours a week—as well as its services.

A primary care practice serving about a third of Lasell Village residents holds office hours in the center one day a week. In addition, the wellness center’s staff is available 7 days a week to help any resident with a health issue who drops by the center or requests a home visit.

Wellness center nurses actually conduct “morning rounds” each day to assess residents who are not feeling well. They check in regularly with residents returning home from the hospital or emergency room, and change wound dressings when needed. They help residents manage their medications, fill pillboxes for anyone who requests that service, act as liaisons with primary care physicians, and carry out other care and service coordination as needed.

Scully also oversees the 4-year-old Lasell Studios, a supported living residence she helped launch after noticing that some aging Lasell Village residents needed help to stay independent. That residence now serves 9 residents in a small house model and has a waiting list of 5.

In addition, the center’s 5 CNAs recently started providing larger amounts of personal care, including help with dressing and showering, to Lasell Village residents living independently in their own apartments. Scully hopes to expand that program in the future.

Finding ways to expand services is a core mission of the wellness center. And it’s a highly collaborative process.

For example, during a weekly interdisciplinary wellness meeting, representatives of several departments, including dining and maintenance, sit down with the nursing staff to identify residents who may be showing early signs that their health is changing. The team then discusses the best ways to intervene before a health crisis occurs.

Scully also meets monthly with a Medical Advisory Council, composed of residents who are retired health care practitioners, to brainstorm about what more the wellness center can do to meet the medical and service needs of residents.

Three Keys to Strong Leadership

Scully receives high praise within the wellness center and throughout Lasell Village for 3 approaches that colleagues say make her a strong leader.

All-inclusive job descriptions: Scully has earned a reputation as a leader who isn’t shy about jumping in when residents need help, rather than waiting to delegate that task to someone else. She expects members of her staff to do the same.

That expectation is clearly illustrated by a wellness center program that brings home-delivered groceries to campus for residents who can no longer manage the community’s weekly van trip to the supermarket. Each week, the center’s staff places a $400 grocery order for those residents, sorts the groceries when they arrive, delivers the food to individual apartments, and puts the groceries in the refrigerator if the resident is not at home.

Some might say that grocery shopping isn’t an appropriate task for a nurse or a CNA. But Scully doesn’t agree.

“I hate the phrase ‘That’s not my job,’” she says. “It is everybody’s job to make sure residents are as healthy as possible. I don’t believe in any kind of hierarchy that says ‘I’m at this level now and I don’t need to do that kind of thing anymore.’”

Transparency with a touch of charm: Scully draws on Lasell Village’s culture of transparency to help residents and their families make decisions about care transitions or resolve other problems that arise. Her approach involves being honest and upfront with a resident about what staff has observed, and then “putting a charm school twist on it so as not to offend,” she says.

Difficult conversations are made easier because Scully has made a deliberate effort over the years to know each Lasell Village resident.

“You may be sitting and having a difficult conversation with a resident today, but you have also sat with that person on other days and talked about their children and their grandchildren, what they did in their life, what their work was, what their joys are,” she says. “You already have that connection. They know that you care about them and that you have their best interests at heart.”

A positive work environment: Nearly every team member that Scully has recruited over the past 10 years is still working in the wellness center. That’s an accomplishment that Lasell Village President Anne Doyle says is directly related to the center’s positive work environment.

“It has to start with me as an individual,” says Scully about the workplace she’s tried to create. “If I’m not positive and hard-working and open and honest, then I can hardly expect my employees to be that. If I want my employees to be something or do something, I need to be that way and do that. Everything that happens here is my job.”

Geralyn Magan is a writer who lives in Glenelg, MD.