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Northern Hospitality: Creating a hospitality culture in a nursing home setting

April 1, 2007
by root
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By the staff of Northern Services Group, Inc.

Northern Hospitality staff members are treated to a scenic boat trip

Northern Hospitality staff members are treated to a scenic boat trip

In business as in life, healthy competition raises the bar of performance and expectation. With the wave of baby boomers soon to reach the shores of long-term care, competition among healthcare providers is growing. There is increased attention for facilities to develop “guest hospitality” as a way to improve organizational performance and customer satisfaction. It is also an opportunity to set oneself apart from intense local competition through a cultural change. Northern Services Group, headquartered in Monsey, New York, is meeting this challenge. Its array of senior lifestyle options in Rockland County provides for a continuum of care that includes 531 skilled nursing beds, 100 assisted living beds, and 5 adult home beds under the Medicaid program, and 155 market-rate retirement community units. Northern Services also offers two medical-model adult day care programs with 146 slots and two sessions, six days per week; SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), providing home-cooked kosher meals for 75 homebound elderly recipients; Northern Home Care; and various outreach and community programs. The organization serves more than 1,000 seniors and employs more than 1,000 staff members, making it one of the largest employers in Rockland County.

Superior “guest services” has been one reason for the corporate successes of companies like McDonald's, Disney, and the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels chains, which are noted for their excellence in guest relations and ingrained hospitality cultures. Traditionally, the healthcare industry has not incorporated guest services as an integral part of the delivery of healthcare services. Organizations are divided into departments such as administration, nursing, admissions, social services, finance, dietary, and housekeeping, with each area concerned with its own goals and objectives. To successfully implement a guest hospitality program, it must be integrated into every area of the organization—a challenge worth tackling.

Many healthcare organizations have long-established staff-recognition programs that help set a standard for employee behavior. The concept of creating a program that embraces the resident and family as “guests” while incorporating an employee-recognition program is a unique concept in the healthcare setting.

One need only recall a recent advertising campaign for Hilton Hotels and its slogan, “Be hospitable,” to understand Northern Services' guest hospitality program. We wanted to create an employee and corporate culture that treats everyone who enters our facilities as if they are guests in our own home.


In late 2004, a Northern Services director attended the Ritz-Carlton “Legendary Service” program to learn firsthand how a premier service organization established itself as one of the finest in the nation, if not the world. Our director returned from the seminar with an idea for a program based on Ritz-Carlton service principles.

The basic theme that would pervade our program is: How is it that the Ritz-Carlton hotel is known as one of the finest hotels in the world even by people who have never been there? The guiding focus of our Northern Hospitality program is: How do we create an organization that is known as the finest—even by people who have never entered our doors?

Clearly, as long-term care providers we are expected to provide quality healthcare to our residents. Families expect that their loved ones will be given the proper medical treatment and that we will meet all state regulations. We do this just to meet basic expectations. Our goal was to exceed expectations by establishing specific guidelines for how we expect our staff to treat guests.


Our guest hospitality program, Northern Hospitality, was developed over nine months. First, an interdisciplinary “hospitality” committee was formed. The committee was made up of corporate directors of Operations; department representatives from Human Resources, Marketing, Admissions, and Home Care; and facility administrators/directors. Biweekly and, eventually, weekly meetings were held to brainstorm and conceptualize the intricacies of the Northern Hospitality program.

We created an outline for the Basics of Northern Hospitality, which would define the expectations we have for our staff. By specifically defining our expectations, staff will know what we, as a corporation, believe to be important. All facets of the program revolve around the Basics and help to support the hospitality culture. The expectations are printed on a trifold (2 × 3") Basics card that each employee carries at all times. The Basics are a series of 10 word/concepts as follows:

  1. Hospitality

  2. Respect

  3. Integrity

  4. Pride

  5. Anticipate

  6. Manners

  7. Trust

  8. Commitment

  9. Warmth

  10. WOW

On the Basics card each word is simply defined and summarizes what staff should know about the concept and how they may apply it to our guests. The following is an outline of all the components of the Northern Hospitality program:

  • A training module was developed to support each Northern Basic.

  • Each module is presented to staff during mandatory monthly in-services.