Just one more question

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.

So to summarize what you’ve said so far, shut off the news ticker and get creative. That should be a motivational poster.

Yes. I’d definitely say we need to put our heads together and get smart. The economic downturn of the 1930s was devastating. I wasn’t around for it, but I got to hear about it from my parents and grandparents-and in fact they never quit talking about it. But during that time, many companies started up and prospered. So I’m suggesting that smart people get busy. The more we mobilize in this situation, the better off we are.

What can a long-term care administrator do to support staff who are possibly feeling intense financial challenges at home?

One thing you could do is meet with your employees to talk about their economic issues and concerns, and what your own worries are. You might also be a local sponsor of conversations about area unemployment, and part of your social responsibility could be to sponsor a job networking opportunity, whether people are in healthcare or not. That way you’re seen as a positive person.

The other thing is, if we’re worried about the mood in our town, the mood of our staff, the mood in health care, then why don’t we get a project? Most organizations do better if they do that. I’m not trying to gloss over the economic condition, but a lot of our clients are saying, “We have to take care of ourselves because no one else is going to,” and they’re getting busy. I mean, the feds and the state might not care if we stay open or not as long-term care providers, and the community might get too busy worrying about other things and take us for granted. But we can get busy ourselves.

How about if we work on a team-based growth of our Medicare business, instead of relying on state Medicaid? Or let’s take our biggest at-risk staffing situations and really analyze them, trying to fix those three positions we can’t seem to fill on the afternoon shift. Let’s mobilize to become the premium provider in the marketplace with great scores in reputation and customer service.

Obviously, some things can’t be fixed overnight for some people, and I think we should be supportive, listen, and try to help individually when we can with our own version of an employee stimulus package. But I also believe we can take a lot of fretting away if people have something purposeful, focused, and outcome-oriented to work on as a team.

But what if I’m a caregiver who stops by your office to admit I’m not sleeping, my stomach hurts, and I’m pouring whiskey on my cereal every morning? What can you say to calm me down?

Well, quit eating cereal, for one thing. That’s just a waste of good whiskey. But I think some people just need a place to talk, and as leaders we need the ability to listen first with an empathetic ear, instead of brushing off what they say with placating statements. I don’t know that everybody wants you to solve their problem. In some cases, they just want somebody to know they have one, and be given the time to talk it out. And if you hear enough from different people on the same themes, it could give you a clue about something you could do collectively to help them take some stress off.

Are there any stress reduction or relaxation techniques you personally recommend? Or are you just a naturally carefree and tranquil person?

I grew up in a family that was always worried about money and the things that could go wrong, but I am a pretty carefree guy. I like humor, I like playing the horses, and I like to read something that’s not too heavy. If I’m going to turn on the TV, it’s going to be The Andy Griffith Show or Green Acres or Leave it to Beaver, where the world’s problems are solved in 30 minutes with four commercial breaks.

Now, I don’t know if that works for everybody, but I can’t see turning on and getting sucked into Fox News, CNN, or Bloomberg to get the next spin on what’s going wrong. Even if you’re not watching economic stuff, there’s always something on about somebody doing something bad to somebody else. If you’re already stressed, what do you need to add to it for?

I’m just thinking out loud here. What about putting all your staff on yoga mats in a dimly lit room?

I actually have clients that are doing that. Instead of two 15-minute breaks, a couple of them are offering a third if staff will come in and be part of an exercise group or meditation. Or a number of others are giving department staff a third break if they’re willing to take it with one of the residents-not to go out back to the smoke hut with them, but to go for a walk, play a game of checkers, read a story, or just talk. It’s a reminder that this is about somebody else’s life, not just mine. And if you’re a housekeeper, maintenance person, or working in the business office, you might enjoy getting out of the routine.

I’m thinking James Earl Jones reading from the MDS manual with dolphin sounds would also be very relaxing.

Now you’re talking my language! Something soothing like maybe Barry White going “Oh baby, oh baby,” as we get ready to play the bingo game.

Exactly. Well, I notice it’s finally getting light outside. You’ve helped me through a dark time, Clint.

Yes, and now you’re going to make it through another day. You could also try my daily free podcast. It’s available for download at https://www.clintcast.com, and is basically a 10-minute dose of me talking about a solution or idea-something fun that’s not gloom and doom. We have several thousand people listening every day on their smart phones or around their campfires or computers.

It’s been fun because we have people e-mailing and blogging and telling us things they’re trying. I jokingly call them “Clint’s Care Crowd,” though that sounds a bit like a cult. We’ve even come up with a Care Crowd Creed to live by: Healthcare is cool, customers are great, teamwork makes it easier, and I make a difference.

Are you Twittering?

Yes, and we’ll be Youtube-ing soon also. Then you’ll be able to see me and James Earl Jones reading the MDS with the dolphins.

To send your comments to the author and editors, e-mail tetz0409@iadvanceseniorcare.com.

Long-Term Living 2009 April;58(4):37-39

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