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Introducing 'Ask the Staffing Experts'

May 29, 2009
by Susan D. Gilster and Jennifer L. Dalessandro
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New feature answers all your staffing questions
Editor’s note: With staffing levels, training, and retention one of the greatest day-to-day challenges for long-term care providers, Long-Term Living magazine has enlisted the help of two experts in staffing, Susan D. Gilster, Ph.D., FACHCA, NHA, Fellow and Jennifer L. Dalessandro, BS, NHA.
Susan D. Gilster, Ph.D., FACHCA, NHA, Fellow

Dr. Gilster is a leader in innovative healthcare project development and has been involved in creating organizations in the United States and abroad. As an educator, researcher, practitioner, and consultant, Dr. Gilster has published and presented nationally and internationally focusing on leadership, organizational development, staff retention and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care programs. Dr. Gilster developed the Alois Alzheimer Center, Cincinnati, Ohio, which opened in 1987 as the first free-standing dementia facility in the U.S. Guided by her service-driven philosophy, she developed successful, transformational models and systems for leadership and person-centered care for residents, families, and staff. Dr. Gilster has published her innovative models and systems in two books: “Changing Culture, Changing Care: SERVICE First,” and “A Way of Life: Developing an Exemplary Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Program.”
Jennifer L. Dalessandro, BS, NHA

As an educator, researcher, and writer, Jennifer Dalessandro has been an innovator in long-term care for more than 19 years. She serves as the assistant administrator and research coordinator of the Alois Alzheimer Center. Ms. Dalessandro has helped the Alois Center evolve into a person-centered facility that continues to be service-driven. With her guidance, the facility has earned numerous deficiency-free surveys and the ACHA/NCAL Steps I and II Quality Improvement Awards. In 2006, the facility was one of the top 25 in Ohio for family satisfaction. In addition, through many international and national presentations and publications, Ms. Dalessandro has shared her knowledge about leadership, staff satisfaction and retention, and continuum-based Alzheimer’s care in a thought-provoking manner.
Visit the staffing experts' personal Web site:

Every week Dr. Gilster and Ms. Dalessandro will answer your staffing questions and provide advice on how to keep, strengthen, and build a quality workforce. Have a staffing question for our experts? Simply e-mail it to We hope to hear from you.

Life is a lesson learned each day, if we choose. And for those who continue to learn, the growth, development, and satisfaction in their work and life simply continues.

This column is designed to provide a forum for learning and exploring mechanisms for enhancing staff satisfaction and retention in assisted living and long-term care. Employees dedicated to serving older adults are vital to the success of a community. Research indicates that happy staff yield satisfied residents and families, which promotes facility success and profit.

Yet happy, supported, and nurtured staff is not what is encountered in many assisted living and long-term care facilities across the country. All too often the experience is a revolving door of staff, moving in and out of a facility and from one location to the next in an effort to find a workplace that is meaningful, respectful, fulfilling, and fun. With turnover rates of 40% to 100% per year, it is a very costly quality concern.

To impact this dilemma, we will offer, discuss, and share successful practices for recruitment, selection, orientation, and ongoing programs with the goal of retention, decreased turnover, and enhanced joy in the workplace. We’ll introduce the importance of organizational collaboration and a shared vision, among other important factors necessary to provide a stable, satisfied workforce.

First, it is important to acknowledge that creating a successful workforce and culture takes an organizational approach. All staff, all shifts, all departments are important in achieving an exemplary workplace. No one person, no single department can carry the weight of the entire facility and every individual person is important in achieving success.

Effective leadership is critical in the development of a global approach to the recruitment and retention of staff. Change starts with the desire of a leader to create a work culture that meets the needs and desires of all people that they serve—residents, families, and staff. Leadership has the power and authority to initiate programs as well as support others in their quest to create an exemplary workplace. It starts with a leader’s vision but must be shared and embraced by the entire employee base, all departments all shifts to become a reality.

However, this column is not simply just for leadership, but for any person within an assisted living or long-term care community who chooses to be a leader and wants a more conducive, collaborative, and fun work environment. Effective change can, and often does, begin with one voice…but success will only come when many voices are heard.