How One Senior Living Community Makes Staff Retention a Priority

Fran Casey

Fran Casey, chief people officer, Goodwin House, Inc.

For senior living communities, staff retention is an ongoing priority. Not only does the current nursing shortage make attracting and retaining talented staff essential, but staff are the lifeblood of senior care facilities. Innovative staff retention facilities are more important than ever, and one community has demonstrated the value that comes with that innovative thinking.

Pandemic Benefits That Solved Real Problems

Management at Goodwin House, Inc., which has locations in Alexandria and Bailey’s Crossroads, Virginia, quickly realized that they needed to find unique ways to support staff during the pandemic.

“We recognized how difficult it was to obtain anything at the grocery store, and how uncomfortable it was initially to go to the grocery store,” explains Fran Casey, chief people officer at Goodwin House, Inc. “We were doing all that we could to keep residents and staff as safe as possible, and we determined that if we could provide items on site, that would reduce the need to go to the store. It would help our staff find difficult-to-find items, and it would allow us to provide these items at cost.”

In response, Goodwin House created an onsite grocery store, saving staff trips and helping them to access the items that were frequently out of stock in stores. Staff paid between nothing to the at-cost price for these items.

As the pandemic evolved, Goodwin House pivoted to offer staff grocery gift cards. “So many people were adversely affected by COVID-19,” says Casey. People lost jobs, or lived with spouses who lost jobs. “We provided gift cards to anyone in need.”

Unique Staff Benefits That Make a Real Difference

In addition to the unique COVID-19 staff support, Goodwin House supports staff in other ways. “Like many organizations, we provide a very competitive rich benefit package that includes life insurance, dental insurance, disability, and healthcare,” says Casey. “Some of the other things that we do are a bit unique, like our citizen assistance.”

Currently, the nearly 900 staff at Goodwin House represent over 65 countries, but the cost of applying for U.S. citizenship is often a barrier to staff submitting an application. The Goodwin House Foundation was founded in 1989, and its citizenship assistance program began in 2018. Through that program, the foundation provides employees with grants to help cover the cost of the citizenship application fee. Eighty-nine employees have received citizenship application support from the Goodwin House Foundation so far.

Goodwin House also offers a tuition assistance program, but takes a non-traditional approach in paying upfront and not predicating the assistance on grades. “In our opinion, a grade doesn’t necessary reflect intelligence,” explains Casey, “especially if someone’s coming from another country where English isn’t the first language.” She notes that the tuition assistance is a widely-used benefit among staff. “It benefits us, it builds investment in the organization, and it allows people to grow.” To date, 89 employees have received tuition assistance, with $250,000 in tuition assistance being provided to staff over the last two years, alone.

Staff also enjoy a very generous 401(k). “For many of our staff, we know this is their primary investment for their future,” says Casey. “In difficult times, we haven’t pulled back on our contributions at all, and we match dollar-for-dollar up to 4%. We also offer an employer discretionary contribution that began in 1999. Even in the most turbulent times, including during the pandemic, we were able to continue to provide that.”

Goodwin House also offers an emergency loan program. Staff in need can access interest-free loans that they can pay back over the course of a year.

Positive Results

This employee-centric approach has brought real results. Casey notes that Goodwin House regularly receives messages of gratitude from staff. Goodwin House was ranked as one of the top 10 organizations in The Washington Post 2021 Top Workplaces in the Washington, D.C. area ranking. This award is based on employee feedback.

Goodwin House continues to look for ways to improve its staff offerings. Staff feedback received in the community’s engagement survey helps identify what elements are most important to address. “We look to our staff to tell us what’s needed,” says Casey. “We do a lot of communication and involvement of staff in the decision-making process. When you take feedback, share information in both good and more troubling times, I think that goes a long way.”

As far as future initiatives go, Goodwin House is currently working on a living wage initiative. Under the initiative, no staff member will earn less than $18 per hour, and no clinical staff member will earn less than $20 per hour, by 2023.

The Key to Staff Retention: Listen

Casey recommends that facilities looking to improve their staff retention focus on really listening to staff. “Don’t assume you know what’s most valued, needed, or wanted. Ask the questions and then follow through.”

Even more importantly, if your facility isn’t able to do something, it’s essential to share the why. “Listen, follow through on your promises, and overcommunicate,” Casey recommends.

Topics: Activities , Facility management , Featured Articles , Resident Care