Personal interactions that uphold the dignity of each individual and take every person’s unique needs into account form the foundation of a person-centered culture. This author offers the lessons he’s learned in building such an organizational environment.
In an era of heightened regulation and a more medically complex environment for senior living, the question of how best to approach care is constantly a part of the conversation. More specifically, at Presbyterian Senior Living (PSL), we prioritize an organization-wide focus that identifies how to best respond to the personal needs and desires of each individual we serve throughout our continuum of care and services for seniors.
This means that whether we are transitioning a resident back into independent living, helping a patient to rehabilitate, or educating caretakers on memory support—among other services—our top priority is to provide a personal interaction that upholds the dignity of each individual we serve, taking into account every person's unique needs.
The Culture Change Network coined the term “person-centered care” to identify this movement. To truly conceptualize and embed this culture shift into every interaction within PSL, we believe it must be implemented from both the top down and from the bottom up: beginning with our culture, so that it may extend to the bonds formed through day-to-day interactions with those we serve.
The benefits of creating a person-centered culture are numerous—from improving employee retention, to boosting staff morale, to creating the best possible environment for residents. However, implementing this sort of shift requires intentional work within an organization.
Here are a few lessons I have learned along the way in our mission to create a person-centered culture:
Make it a Mission, not a Tagline
This person-centered approach is the lens through which we see the future of aging services. But it is not a new concept in our world. Throughout our 90-year history, we have focused on personal touch in our relationships with each person we serve. The original model for our personal care communities (dating back to the 1940s) was described as: “small, scattered, homelike homes for the aging.” This same sense of being “others-focused” is still woven into our employer brand today. As a faith-minded organization, the fundamental commitment to person-centered care drives our business operations. It reflects a spiritual concept at the core of our mission: that every person is an eternal being and deserves kindness.
We strive to create an intensely personal environment for staff and residents that allows them to become more like family. This stems from how we interact with our residents and patients, and it informs how we believe interactions between our colleagues, peers and the greater community should be framed. This model creates a positive impact loop, influencing not just the dollars and cents, but a second bottom line as well—one that measures the social benefit of every output.
Embody It in Every Aspect of the Organization
To create buy-in from the top down, this philosophy should be embedded in all parts of recruitment, onboarding, retention and professional development processes, so that every employee is equipped with the knowledge to play their part to foster a person-centered culture. Constructing and implementing an effective person-centered approach requires the effort of every team member, regardless of their role in the organization.
We know that this is critical for an organization’s success, because staff retention and turnover is profoundly affected by whether a new team member is treated with compassion and respect by their supervisor and peers. The same is true in the cultivation of relationships between legacy team members. Organizations should strive to extend the same respect toward employees as they do toward the individuals they serve. People who have personal connections with the people they work with will stay longer, and are able to provide the highest quality care that is learned through years of experience.
Create Meaning Through Authentic Experiences
How does this “personal” thing happen between people who work together every day? The concept of outward thinking, as outlined in Ty Bennett’s book The Power of Influence, calls for being focused on paying attention to others, adding value to their lives and celebrating their triumphs. All of which will ultimately influence them in a positive way.
Fundamental to this effort is a genuine curiosity about those around you. What are their likes and interests? What do they value in life? What are they most proud of in their life experience? What are their goals and aspirations for the future? When we connect with someone on this level, friendships will grow authentically.
This won’t be achieved overnight. It takes time, practice and a lot of patience. Bennett encourages others to spend more time being interested in people than trying to be an interesting person to others. Genuine interest and concern creates bonds of affection that makes for a more satisfying work and life experience.
Our efforts to personally connect with others—whether it’s our peers or the people we serve—can have powerful and enduring consequences. We can all do our part, and it starts by making it personal, especially in any work that we do in our sphere of serving seniors.
Stephen Proctor is CEO of Presbyterian Senior Living, Dillsburg, PA, and a past recipient of the LeadingAge Award of Honor.