The Keys to Hiring a Strong Dementia Care Staff

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When it comes to onboarding in the field of dementia care, what do you need to look for in your staff? And how can you ensure their success?
My colleagues Kim and Virginia recently attended the ALFA 2015 Senior Living Executive Conference, where they met many owners and builders with questions just like this.
Then an ALFA article, Strategies for Greater Staff Stability by Angela Hickman Brady, caught my attention, as it captures the sentiments that were expressed by several executives in one of the conference sessions. In that session, executives shared their perspectives on how to successfully on-board staff and promote retention.
I would imagine that on-boarding staff is a challenge in any industry, but in my experience as an occupational therapist and a Global Professional Instructor/dementia care trainer, I know that it’s particularly important in the healthcare field because healthcare requires a specialized set of skills that focus on compassion.
The executives in the session were of a similar mind, Brady reports, and shared approaches such as:
  • Focus on the attitude of the potential new hire
  • Approach the hiring process from the perspective of your company’s mission
  • Ensure that employees feel valued, respected, and have a variety of tangible incentives
Ben Thompson, a participant from Senior Living Communities, emphasized his perspective of fostering what I view as relationship-centered care. He talked about how it’s important to “encourage the employees to get involved in the residents’ lives. They should be talking to the residents and getting to know them as family members. Engaged employees don’t just show up for work; they perform tasks well and with enthusiasm, they go above and beyond, they are committed to the organization, they want to be at the organization, and they are fulfilled by their job.”
I agree that these are all very important approaches. And this discussion relates to a very important foundational piece of a much bigger picture:
How do we create environments that enable those we serve to have meaningful, enriched, and engaged lives? How do we bring together the right staff with the right attitudes and approach to care, in order to create an environment that fosters relationships, individualized care, and optimal function and emotional well-being of each person?
Blair Minton, another participant, addressed this when he identified himself as a “mission-based employer.”
I agree: Mission is critical, as it drives the work that we do. It’s another foundational piece of the larger schema.
But how do we enact the mission and have key stakeholders working toward the same goal? 
The alchemy of hiring and fostering employee relations is important. Every organization should engage in a mission-driven philosophy. 
My experience also tells me this:
The piece that ties it all together is a philosophy of care or a model of care.
Once you have the right players on your team and they’re all aware of the goal, they need a structure to guide their performance. That’s where a model of care is key to promoting success.
I’ve seen it happen. Here at Dementia Care Specialists, we provide a model of care that helps facilities support the needs and abilities of persons living with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias. We help facilities and their staff place the needs of each individual at the center of the care they provide. This model of care focuses on the remaining abilities of each person you care partner with, and promotes that person’s emotional and functional well-being.
And when residents are optimally engaged, enabled, and feel joy, then staff are engaged, enabled, and feel joy—and satisfaction in their work.
Assisted living facilities are where people turn when they have increased needs with their daily self-care. As you likely know, the Alzheimer’s Association anticipates that by 2050, over 13 million Americans will be living with Alzheimer’s/dementia. 

Providing care to this special population requires the key elements of the right staff, a mission-based philosophy, and a model of care that supports this unique population.
Which keys do you have? Which do you think are most important? Please share in the comments.