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Executive Q&A with Vetter Senior Living’s President, Glenn Van Ekeren

Consumer expectations are changing in the senior-living arena. Personalized experiences are now expectations, not only in hospitals, but also in senior-living communities. Glenn Van Ekeren, the President of Vetter Senior Living, explains what he is seeing as the expectations of his consumers and what Vetter Senior Living is doing to keep up with these expectations, especially in light of a looming caregiver shortage.

1. What will senior-living consumers (residents and their families) expect of their experiences in the years ahead?

This truly is the million-dollar question for every provider. Now that I’m nearing the age of people who need these services, I tend to have a clearer picture of what the “near” future might look like.

Promoting and providing personal independence has been the senior-living mantra for decades. I sense a shift in that mentality from independence to control. It appears independence is now a given—a minimum expectation. Having personal control over my activities, life, physical environment, etc. is the lifestyle Baby Boomers are accustomed to, and they’re adamant about sustaining that lifestyle.

What got us where we are won’t get us where we want to go. It is no longer acceptable to just add years to someone’s life through quality care; Baby Boomers will charge us with helping them add life to their years. It seems to me our profession will be kept busy helping seniors experience their world in new ways.

2. How will senior-living organizations keep up with these expectations?

First, senior-living organizations must become agile. We need to learn to dance on a moving carpet and be willing to challenge “the way it is” to achieve what people want.

Second, I’ve observed that nothing changes in life without our changing two things: the way we think and the way we act. We must learn a new way to think before we can master a new way to do. We can’t keep thinking about senior services the way we have been thinking about them for years and believe we’ll be capable of making the changes seniors expect. The future isn’t what it used to be.

We could benefit from a “mental enema” of sorts in our profession. We need to start with a blank page and redesign the future for long-term care. I have long been challenged by this. It’s not what I think; it’s not what I think they think. It’s what they think that matters.

Creating an exciting future in senior living will require us to re-create how we do what we do. Wise providers will meet the future needs of seniors by finding out what seniors want, and then making it happen.

3. How do you help solve the caregiver challenge in the senior-living space in the coming years?

The caregiver challenge is and will be a reality. It is a wake-up call to every leader to make people a priority. I know we all talk about it and even declare it, but until people are given the same level of priority as procedures, policies, and paper, senior living is going to have a dramatic problem. We need people-focused cultures—cultures that make where we work a place we love to be—to represent senior living. Until then, most efforts to recruit and retain people will only be temporary in effect.

The ultimate question is, how do I create an environment where people feel good about themselves, their job, the people they serve, and the people they work with, and go home at night feeling good about the organization? Why does someone choose to work in the demanding (and, yes, fulfilling) senior-living environment, versus a much less demanding—and perhaps less personally emotional—environment?

I sincerely believe solving the caregiver challenge begins with creating an unequivocal culture in which people are attracted to work. How do we make where we work a place we love to be? What if we created such incredibly great places to work that senior living became the cool place to be? What if we transformed the view of senior living, so the stigma of working in our profession vanished?

After 50 years in the working world, I now contend that we are simply compelled to look at the simplicity of “doing what’s right for people.” That’s my simple, complex answer for beginning to resolve these workforce challenges.

4. How does Vetter build strong teams and a strong culture to decrease attrition of caregivers?

During his Oscar acceptance speech, Robert Altman said, “The role of the director is to create a space where the actors and actresses can become more than they’ve ever been before, more than they’ve dreamed of being.” That is a wonderful principle for creating dynamic teams and enhancing retention.

At Vetter Senior Living, we have taken a proactive approach to ensuring we are creating teams and a culture that ensure people love what they do and the people they work for. It all begins with our mission to “treat everyone as the most important people in our life.” Everyone—all the time. Period. This helps people understand the simple “why” behind everything they do. It’s clear, simple, and expected. We work hard to ensure the right people with the right talent, attitude, character, passion, and energy are invited to be part of our family.

Vetter Senior Living’s leaders understand they are accountable for creating cultures by doing what they do like no one else does it in our profession—or in any other profession, for that matter. We must have 100% buy-in by leadership and a unified message that we are committed to a culture in which people feel valued, important, involved, and appreciated for what they do. We believe in people potential—and communicate it!

Actively making our values jump off the poster every day creates a safe, inspiring, and fulfilling environment for people. We invest in people through our benefits, education (world-class orientation, “take time to care,” leadership development, etc.), and professional-growth opportunities. We are intentional about creating environments that promote a “professional career” mentality rather than “just jobs.” Do the right thing for people—no excuses!

As far as retention goes, we are passionate about making our work environments the envy of everyone. The question becomes, how do we make it possible for our team members to say, “This is the greatest place in the world to work—you’d have to be here to believe it”? When people feel that way about where they work, there will be very few reasons for them to leave.

How is your organization getting closer to the voice of your customer? What strides has your organization made in helping solve the caregiver challenge? We want to hear about it! Contact us at mcharko@nrchealth.com to schedule your interview today.