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Just one more question

April 1, 2009
by Gary Tetz
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Like the great TV detective Columbo, Long-Term Living columnist Gary Tetz (Funny You Should Ask) always has one more question. In this bimonthly feature, he talks with long-term care leaders about anything that pops into his mind. He's as surprised as you are that they'll speak to him, and apologizes in advance for whatever inanity he might blurt out in the pressure of the moment.

With so much unbridled panic in the air, I wanted to talk to someone who could calm me down, put things in perspective, wrap me in a velvety blanket of reassuring words. Someone like Clint Maun. So when the opportunity arose to talk to the man himself, and not just to someone like him, I acted swiftly.

Clint is a nationally recognized healthcare speaker, and consultant. As cofounder of Maun-Lemke, he's been focused for decades on improving the people side of the profession, including staff retention, customer service, leadership, and dealing with change.

He is also one of a select few to be designated a Certified Speaking Professional by the National Speakers Association. And after a highly enjoyable 30-minute conversation, I've resolved to never again speak to anyone in any setting who cannot demonstrate similar credentials.

Clint was in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for a speaking engagement, and he called me at precisely 6 a.m. IWT (Insane Wakeup Time).

Gary, Clint Maun.

Good morning!

How are you? Why are you up so early?

You're the sole reason.

That's really sad.

It's still dark outside. You have to wonder if that's a metaphor for what's going on these days.

True. But the stimulus plan is coming your way, so…

Well, not to me personally, right?

No, it will just hover overhead, and then pass you by.

You're a nationally known motivational speaker. Shouldn't you be saying something to make me feel optimistic about the coming day? Where's my pep talk?

I think the great news is that even in an economic downturn, healthcare is needed and will always be there. Certainly, they [legislators and bureaucrats] could play with reimbursement and other things, but the jobs aren't going to go away or be sent offshore, and the organizations are, for the most part, necessary. I look at the role of healthcare providers in many towns and cities as economic stimulus, because whether you're in hospitals or taking care of America's seniors, there's plenty of opportunity there.

We just ran into one of our clients who operates a retirement community in a smaller city. They had a job fair, and they did it up right-they organized and advertised and really put it out there. They had 800 people show up. Eight hundred people! There were students who needed work because their parents couldn't help them with college, and people who had lost jobs. I've heard stories like this in many places across the country.

So if we want to take action in healthcare, this could be an opportune time to lead the way, to retrain people, to help them understand that if you show up to work, do a good job, and enjoy taking care of people, then there's a future. Certainly some of those jobs don't always pay as much as people would like, but being purposeful and helping others and earning an income is a huge opportunity.

In healthcare we tend to fall for the trap of feeling like stepchildren or victims-that the world is out after us. But good organizations and leaders are looking at this as an opportunity to not only survive, but to grow.

But it's hard to get past the anxiety and see the possibilities when we're so deluged by negative news every day.

Well, I don't care what profession you're in. If you turn on the TV and you let Bloomberg go by on the scroll every morning, it's hard to move forward. I travel for a living, but if I was constantly turning on the Weather Channel and seeing how most of the nation is going to be covered in blizzards, I'd never want to go outside. So spending a lot of time listening to economic gloom and doom can paralyze you with a lot of analytical despondency, rather than an attitude of “let's get busy.” As leaders we need to focus on the opportunities.

For instance?

We could work with community colleges to provide retraining opportunities for people to transition into healthcare careers. We could go to schools and talk to kids whose parents are going through layoffs about healthcare careers in the future, and how we even have jobs for people who are still in high school or going to college. We could work with the Chamber of Commerce on solutions in our local economy. A community may not get that local manufacturer back again or ever, but maybe we could use economic development funds to create an enterprise zone for healthcare jobs.

We also could mobilize our efforts to think smart about our own folks. If we hire someone whose spouse is the primary breadwinner and gets laid off, we're vulnerable that they might have to move out of the community. So we need to think about how to retain people. We should also be looking at job-sharing opportunities for part-time positions, to see if instead of needing half a nurse on this shift and half on another, we could give one person a full-time job. We could even job share with other healthcare organizations.

On top of that, we could think smart about helping our people save money during this downturn by carpooling. Not only will that help green the planet, but it will green up their pocketbooks. Some clients I'm working with right now are using a shuttle bus to pick up people from a town down the road and take them back home. There are a lot of creative possibilities.