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June 17, 2020

More than training: How Country Meadows supports co-workers within their senior independent living community

Now under the third generation of family ownership and management, Country Meadows has consistently strived for one goal: caring for others. At each senior independent living community we own, fostering the well-being of residents is carried out on a daily basis, but behind-the-scenes, Country Meadows has worked hard to make all our co-workers feel supported as well.

Delinda Kanaskie, VP of Learning & Development

Delinda Kanaskie, the VP of Learning and Development has taken this initiative under her wing, ensuring that training goes well beyond basic teaching, by introducing mentorship programs, support systems, and constantly developing new programs that make employees feel inspired, knowledgeable, and excited to take on each day. It is one of our core beliefs that if employees are treated like family, they will treat residents like family as well.

Below, Delinda discusses how her department has shaped the compassionate atmosphere at Country Meadows and why she believes this system works.

Tell us about your position within Country Meadows

As the VP of Learning and Development, I cover a broad spectrum of training and educational programs. I like to take the philosophy of never settling on what you know. I encourage my staff and co-workers and our new employees to always want to learn more. So, while my role is to create these training programs, I don’t really look at it as training. For me, it is much more than that. Specifically, I’ve helped to develop our onboarding experience and mentorship programs for our newest team members, created on-going education opportunities with e-learning courses, worked with our dementia and memory support staff members to integrate their experiences into our training, and I’ve had a hand in setting up a management system that allows all of these programs to succeed. I really work for our staff so that our staff can work for our residents.

What prior roles have you held in the senior independent living community industry or others that influenced your position at Country Meadows?

I actually began my career as a registered nurse. My first job in a hospital was influenced very quickly by training. I just immediately became very interested in the thought of learning more and encouraging others to be curious and want to learn more. I helped to put together a training program for those caring for diabetics and eventually went into staff development.

I then worked as an adjunct faculty member at a local college. One day I was listening to a presentation from a clinical nurse specialist with a focus in gerontology talking to students about her role and how it played into the larger aspect of overall care. It really stirred a passion in me. I thought, “Wow, I hadn’t thought about how nursing interacts and contributes with an individual’s life experience and aging.” This really felt like an area that you could not only focus your energy on the care of another person but the well-being of an older adult’s life. And I knew then that this was a direction I’d like to try and move my career in.

Because of this experience and where I am now, I kind of like to think of myself as a teacher whose core curriculum was being a nurse. And it’s really influenced how I look at my role – it keeps that passion going.

How does your role and the behind-the-scenes staff contribute to the overall Country Meadows experience for residents?

First and foremost, we hire for heart and attitude and desire before we think about the skills required for our work. We look for candidates who can be taught the skills and continue to learn on the job. My colleagues behind-the-scenes are constantly learning, attending and presenting at conferences locally and nationally to learn and share with others. We bring what we’re learning to our community teams to help stretch our thinking, finding new ways to make life at our senior independent living community as meaningful and comfortable as possible. Further, we believe that our staff wants to continue to learn. Some have very ambitious plans and others simply want to remain effective in their current jobs – both are fine choices and necessary to our community here, but both need to keep up with changes. So, we aim to encourage and contribute to that development and whichever paths our employees choose to take. We strive to support them 100 percent of the way. It’s my strong belief that this has a direct impact on the overall Country Meadows experience for residents. How could it not? If our staff feels supported, they will support those they’re caring for.

What about your role are you the most passionate about?

Helping our teams to be curious, to consider what we know about being human –the need we all have to belong and to thrive, to become our best self – and the culture we create where we live and work to be sure everyone truly is able to succeed. It comes from the way we treat one another and the way our managers and leadership promote our principles. I want to be sure we all understand that.

What really fuels me is that I don’t want to take the typical training view in my role. I want to help my teams to be curious. I hate to think that where we are now is where we stop. We don’t have to stay in that place of knowledge, we can be experimental and grow in what we know. This creates the culture about what we give and the way we treat each other. It’s no less important today than it ever has been that we understand that how we interact with each other will ultimately impact how we treat others. Especially now, while we’re in the midst of this pandemic with COVID-19 and with the human rights issues in anti-racism. These conversations are focusing our attention on humanity. And those lessons relate to what we do here. We have a responsibility to show people that they are valued. Instead of thinking of this as on-the-job training, we try to think of it as how we can become better people.

How has the Learning and Development department changed over the years? And how has that impacted Country Meadows?

Early on, when I first started at Country Meadows, I noted the need for a focus on the coworker experience. It had to do with the orientation of new coworkers, and I could see that we weren’t focusing on that critical time in a new team member’s experience. So, we have a planned Onboarding process that all coworkers complete according to their roles. We also had training for coworkers in our memory neighborhoods, but we needed to integrate our efforts. We want to expand the capability of coworkers beyond the basics. For example, we teach the Validation method which honors the person with cognitive decline in ways that show empathy and respect.  We want our coworkers to understand the challenges of these residents, responding to them safely and in helpful ways. We have ongoing training to meet regulatory requirements. We support individual job roles so a coworker learns how to excel at their particular functions. We have career paths to promote coworkers who formally pursue the various learning and experiential steps. The career path doesn’t move up a ladder toward manager roles – not everyone wants to be a manager – but it recognizes the value of their knowledge and experience in their role with a promotion and pay raise.

Managers learn our philosophy for engaging and supporting their teams. And most members of our leadership team present training which speaks to the “practice what you preach” principle.

Where do you see your position and its impact evolving in the future? And do you feel this will be a shift in the industry in the future as well?

If we think about our department as training only, we are missing the value of a coworker-focused effort to develop talents. The knowledge they gain improves the work they do within our communities, but they then take these skills out to the larger community. The lessons of respect for a diversity of people whether different in race or age or skills is a principle our employees can use everywhere. I hope Pennsylvania retirement communities like Country Meadows who care for people will embrace learning and advance the understanding of the value of this work in society. These lessons are skill and specific knowledge that we gain, but it’s also about respecting the contributions of everyone. Further, our core beliefs are in asking all of us to keep moving to a better place and a better self through the opportunities we have in our organizations.

What sets Country Meadows apart from other retirement communities? And what would you say is the main reason seniors choose Country Meadows?

I think we have a long-standing reputation as a family owned, family operated organization with a mission that is evident as soon as you walk in the doors. Ours truly is a family and we work hard to maintain the fun, the purpose, and the camaraderie that embodies the best families. We often hear from outsiders that you can feel the difference here as soon as you walk in. That’s incredibly telling and rewarding in the retirement community industry.

In your own words, what is the Country Meadows mission?

Our mission is care. And the consistent belief in our mission and the foundation of these principles that have guided us from our beginning is what fuels us every day. Our mission is a genuine focus on the life and daily experience of every resident. We focus on the life’s meaning for residents and the purpose of the work for our coworkers. The two are entwined. The coworker who knows they are recognized, supported, valued (with all the technicalities of good policies and practices) puts that energy and confidence into their work with our older adults. We all enjoy life when we all matter, and especially when we’re treated that way where we live and work.

For more information on Country Meadows, our mission, and our services, please visit our website. With a compassionate staff, our campus facilities are able to provide senior living options for those with long-term care needs, personal care needs, or memory support. We also offer senior independent living housing and active senior living communities­.  Contact us today to learn more about how Country Meadows may be the senior independent living community that’s right for you or your loved one.

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