I absolutely love the people I support at COR

“First, I must say that I absolutely love the people at COR. There is never a day that I dread–and I believe that is a bold statement; especially when rough days arise. I really do care about the well-being of these individuals and I believe the strong relationships I have built reflect this. Secondly, I feel that my honesty and enthusiasm makes others feel safe and loved; and others are able to open up to me. I want to treat everyone the same and not talk down to anyone. I consciously practice what I preach and always strive to be fair in both decision making and everyday conversations.”

Whitney, COR Support

A culture of gentleness is also about being able to be vulnerable

“When I first heard about creating a culture of gentleness I had no idea what that meant.

After going to trainings, learning about gentle teaching, and seeing a culture of gentleness through the people around me in an organization that seemed so alien, I finally understood what it was. Talking about a culture of gentleness isn’t enough. You don’t really understand what it is until you start partaking in the movement of gentleness that has spread across Canada. It really is a powerful thing.

I learned that creating a culture of gentleness doesn’t just mean serving the people that we support, but serving every person you meet on the street and at home.

It is a way of life. I had to change my mind set and mold my thinking to something completely different and something unnatural to a lot of people. Growing up the way I did, I learned what it meant to love unconditionally and to care for people in a way that was personal. Maintaining a culture of gentleness is very personal. In order to have gentleness, I needed to care about another person more than myself and take their limitations and physical or mental state away from how I viewed them. I have come to do this everyday with the people I support. I see them more than just someone I look out for and someone I spend a lot of time with: I see them as friends and as a huge part of my life, because to them sometimes you are their family.

The way I create a culture of gentleness is finding a balance between being firm and being personal with each person I serve. The definition of gentle is to be kind and mild temperament; I have found that being that understanding person that will listen and care in a more personal way has created this culture of gentleness for our team. The more bonded we are on a personal level and the more we listen and show kindness to each other the more gentleness has spread.

In my team, I have had to hold team members accountable and have had to have some tough conversations, but at the same time, building each person  up and showing them that I care for them. In order to create a culture of gentleness, I needed to gain trust. In going out of my way to make team members feel comfortable with me, I demonstrated that I genuinely care for them and their life situations. I try and make the people that I serve feel appreciated and loved, I have written personal cards to each and every one of them praising them for things that I have seen them do well. To maintain a culture of gentleness, I have realized that taking the times is very important… A culture of gentleness is also about being able to be vulnerable with both the people that we support and those who we serve with. It has helped us grow individually, as well as grow as one.”

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Krystel, Team Leader

It’s Time To BULK-UP Your Shoulders

I am a firm believer that exercise is a necessary evil.

If I could get away with never working out I would be an incredibly happy man! However, there is something strange that began happening to me once I graduated high school; my ‘average size’ frame began morphing into something that resembled the shape of a Teletubby. What was described to me as the ‘freshmen fifteen’, in reality became the freshman thirty-five: I had lost control!

Instead of crossing my fingers and wishing for the weight to miraculously dissolve, I made the hard choice to eat better and begin working out. At first going to the gym was incredibly intimidating; but with every time I kept my commitment, it became easier and more comfortable. Once again I began noticing changes. I felt healthier, stronger and my shoulders became more defined.

Shoulder’s aren’t typically something that you wake up thinking about: unless you are an Olympic body-builder and yet my post today focuses our attention on this idea: Do not be dismayed, this is a challenge that runs significantly deeper than the physical. I believe that we as living and breathing people need to continually ask ourselves, ‘what am I able to bear and what is my breaking point?’ This question comes to mind after weeks and months of dwelling on the question “whose responsibility is it?” Particularly thinking about the disability sector and the desire on COR’s behalf to be leaders within our community by embracing Gentle Teaching—and challenging the status-quo.

Whose responsibility is it when the police are called to a house because of a yelling match between roommates? Whose responsibility is it when a customer in line at the grocery store glares cruelly at the person we support, and utters comments under their breath? Whose responsibility is it to put the house together after an escalation that resulted in property damage? I’ll stop here, but please don’t think that this is a compulsive list—No! It can entail anything and everything that falls within a grey area, including care for those that we support as well as those that we support with.

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On going relationships should motivate us to dig into unconditional love and share the load of others burdens. Giving the emotional encouragement and mental strength, so that the love of friendship spurs on that individual to continue. We have often said that we desire to work in a community of like-minded people: in order to do this we need to learn to carry the burdens and stress of others. Assist where needed and when available in order to bulk up our shoulders.

From my meager perspective, the greatest way to do this is to question your intent in everything. Are you noticing the down-trodden parent, the intimidated support worker or the overwhelmed team leader? Or, are you so caught up in the happenings of your own life that others are hidden in the background: with a painted banner over their heads that convinces you they are “happy”, “fine” or “will pull through with time”. I am convinced that we need to learn to become more intentional, bend down to help the helpless and bulk up our shoulders to carry the burden of others.

 

Ben, Director of Culture and Mentorship

 

See Worthy

At the age of eighteen I had applied for a job at a coffee shop in the city that I had been living in. I had visited this establishment numerous times and fell in love with it; at the time I had seen it as a place that screamed adulthood, something that I was craving in my life. To my surprise, I had been asked to come in for an interview; I was ecstatic! As I entered the meeting I was greeted by the manager. He asked me a few questions about my work experience, desire for growth and future plans that I had for myself. The overall interview didn’t span more than ten minutes before the manager offered me a position at his coffee shop; My teenage dream came true! For the next few minutes he talked to me about work expectations (what I should wear and when I would be trained). For the next twenty minutes the manager began to blast me with statements such as,

“I know people like your kind–you better not disappoint.”

“All you teenagers are the same.”

” If you ever dare to call in sick because you are hungover, you can guarantee yourself an early retirement from this job!”

Your boss woud never yell at you at COR

I left the interview feeling deflated and heart-broken. ‘How could I be treated like this?’ I thought to myself. I wasn’t seen as the person I am, but seen as a stereotype. In that moment any worth that I had was extinguished with a swift blow and no filter on a over opinionated mouth.

In the world today, the idea of worth is something that doesn’t go unnoticed. A person is able to see the value of ‘worth’ on a daily basis. Whether it is the constantly changing stock market which drives the worth of our currency, the title that falls before the name of a person, or the color of robe that is worn at graduation ceremonies; a person’s worth is often built upon standards that society has crafted over time. While economics, academics and professional titles are not the problem, we need to work hard at challenging our perspective. Think with me for a moment: When a baby is born there is something magical about the community that seemingly appears out of no-where to celebrate this thing we call life. As quick as we take a breathe, this baby has been given value and worth–yet as the child changes and grows into an adolescent and then an adult so does the societal view of worth. Choices are made; some good and some bad. As much as we hate to admit it, we are capable of becoming hardened towards people and deflating a sense of worth.

Our role as part of humanity, friends and supports in building the worth of another person can be viewed through the  lens of a child’s building block set; we have three options: We can either stand idly by and do nothing, which is of little value, we can build the tower of worth up, or we tear the tower of worth down. In his book, ‘Mending Broken Hearts’, Dr. John McGee says, “The self is seen not so much as independent or self-determining, but as connected with others who help the person feel worthy because he/she is safe and loved.” The choice is yours– but I would challenge you to build.

Ben, Director of Culture and Mentorship

 

A House Is Only a House Until a Family Makes It a Home

” I am an advocate of the common phrase, ‘mi casa es su casa’, which translates into ‘my house is your house.’ Though figuratively speaking, I feel that by taking the extra effort to make a house a safer place to live is possible. I believe a house is only a house until a family makes it a home. This, I find is a crucial part of my role as a support worker. I know that being dedicated and reliable with a healthy mix of willingness to learn, is vital to creating a fun, vibrant and effective family home. As it only takes one stone to create a ripple, just as personally I have been caught up in another upon me; I feel to carry this is an extraordinary phenomenon.

Such simple acts of caring for the next support person coming into the house helps usher in a stress-free environment (dishes, sweeping, bathroom etc.). It is often these little things that encapsulate the idea of Gentle Teaching and strives to create an environment of selflessness.”

Tony, COR Support

COR is Such a Perfect Fit For Me!

“I have always been a very sensitive person, which allows me to feel compassion and empathize with those around me. This is why I believe that COR is such a perfect fit for me! By reading the website and from my first experience shadowing as a support, I instantly knew I was extremely lucky to be hanging around such amazing, strong people.

I have always been drawn to people with disabilities as I find a deepened sense of honesty and a genuine spirit: there is no fear to be themselves, which is something I fully admire. I do my best to involve the guys I support within the community, but I am grandstanding when they are hesitant as the majority of them have had their fair share of struggles in life. I am very much attached to the men that I support and consider them very good friends. I don’t believe I could have formed the type of relationship I have with them if I were to use any philosophy over Gentle Teaching. I believe that Gentle Teaching, equips people to listen, to act in love and to be diligent in selflessness. I believe that Gentle Teaching comes natural to me, as I am a very gentle soul, and although there are tough times when the guys are going through difficulties and sometimes it may be hard to remain clam, Gentle Teaching always prevails and makes me realize that there are reasons for their struggles and my role as a support, and a friend is to help: not to alter behaviour in any form of condescendence or discrimination.”

Marie-Claire, COR Support

Training Tips for Caregivers

Communicate “YOU ARE SAFE!”– We are safe together. Don’t focus on the behavior. Respond to the feeling state. When we are upset, we are driven by emotion and physical arousal, not intellect.

Reduce Demands– Our tolerance for demands is an ebb and flow; changes from one moment to another. Be sensitive and flexible. Meet the person where they are at.

Do not linger in conflict– No feeling lasts forever. Every day is a new day. Reach a state of calm, re-engage and move on.

Check your expectations at the door– Whatever happened yesterday, let it go. What do you want the culture of your support time to look like and what can you do to make it happen.

Ask for help from your supports– Teams members, management and administration

Have hope– Try to reflect on your past relationship with the person you serve. Appreciate the steps toward growth no matter how big or small.

Why a Culture of Gentleness Makes Good Business Sense

The following article addresses the culture found in residential settings where the quality of life is shaped by the multiple relationships between residents and direct care support staff. I was struck by the correlation between the elements of a culture of gentleness and what LaLoux has described in “Reinventing Organizations” as new level of organization emerging that holds great promise. (see “Book Corner”) The organizing principle in this new tier is the constellation of the deep values individuals are liberated to express in their work. – Clint Galloway, Editor

Those of us in the business of providing care for others often find ourselves trying to balance sound financial decisions with decisions that directly impact the quality of care provided. Tipping the balance negatively on the economic side (we can refer to them as “scale tippers”) include staff turnover, worker’s compensation claims, unemployment claims and the cost of training new staff, all of which can lead to increased anxiety for those we support, lower staff morale, reduced quality of care and increased expenses. If we can agree that the scale tippers attribute to a majority of the increased costs then we can agree that by reducing the incidents of scale tipping we will be making decisions that can lead to expansion, fewer vacancies and other business opportunities. Fortunately, we are learning that the same things attributed to reducing expenses are also attributed to increasing the quality of care for the individuals we support.

The ever changing landscape of our system of care pales in comparison to the changes experienced by those receiving care due to staff turnover. I recently went to my dentist and was informed that I would have a different dental hygienist. “What…no Dena?” I thought, “she’s been my hygienist for many years and suddenly they expect me to have my teeth cleaned by someone else?” (Maybe if I’d flossed regularly I’d be less concerned). The care that the new hygienist provided for me and my teeth was more aggressive than I’m used to, leaving me wanting Dena back. After my initial disappointment, I’m okay now with the notion of waiting six months to find out who will do my cleaning next. But I would be much less settled if I was to experience this uncertainty with every shift change, 547 times over the next six months. This uncertainty about whom we will be interacting with in a face-to-face relationship makes us feel less safe and precipitates negative feelings and actions. It invades the entire culture of care. It is an expensive drain on our resources as well as the peace of mind of those that we support.

Providers report an average turnover rate of 49% among frontline direct caregivers. For agencies that experience high annual turnover rates (hopefully you’ve calculated your annual rate, if not this would be a good first step to take), it is likely staff will leave within the first six months of employment. This is the period in which the initial, comprehensive training will occur for new staff. At an average replacement cost of approximately $3,500 per employee, these costs weigh heavily on the economic scale.

Other scale tippers that often appear in a workplace with excessive rates of turnover include worker’s compensation, health insurance premiums and unemployment claims. Worker’s compensation claims tend to increase when the people in our care feel unsafe and are more likely to be aggressive towards staff, resulting in injury. Insurance rates increase when claims expense increases, and conversely, rates remain more stable when claims expense decrease; in some cases refund checks are cut to providers when there is a well-established “culture of gentleness.” When excessive scale tipping is present we are more likely to find frivolous worker’s compensation claims. This can reduce morale, as well as your bottom line, due to time spent resolving the issues. Another hidden cost of high turnover is health insurance premiums. Decreased turnover means that a large health insurance claim can be absorbed over time if staff continues to be employed after the claim has been paid. Unemployment claims, whether you are reimbursing or a contributing provider can be incredibly time consuming and expensive, costing up to $10,000 a claim in some cases.

Not to be forgotten in the discussion are wages and benefits. These are significant factors in finding and retaining qualified staff. According to the Michigan Assisted Living Association’s (MALA) 2009 Strategies for Improving Wages, Benefits, and Training to Staff Providing Community Mental Health Funded Residential Services, “Wages for direct care workers among the providers responding to this survey are as much as $3.25 per hour less than wages in other similar sectors of long-term care.” Although it will not bring parity to our Medicaid reimbursement rates, an established culture of gentleness will increase our ability to offer more attractive incentives for our employees.

Now that we’ve identified the scale tippers, how do we begin to tip them in more favorable directions? We cannot support the people we support without feeling supported by the people who support us.

That sentence will gain few points from English teachers, but it does offer insight into what our focus must be if we want to create a culture that is conducive for healthy bottom lines and healthy hearts alike.

Have you ever heard of “seagull management?” This philosophy is indicative of a culture that offers little or no proactive support, and when things are not going well—for example, if a group home is in chronic upheaval—management (the seagulls) intervenes by providing plenty of white droppings to go around. The flock then flies off, leaving those covered in white droppings to rectify the scale tippers. So where do we need to focus if we want to prevent the seagulls from disrupting our day at the beach?

Creating a culture of gentleness starts with the leaders of organizations recognizing that the way we train, support, and maintain our employees ultimately has a direct effect on both the quality of care provided and staff retention. Just as those we support in our system of care strive for unconditional valuing, uplifting interactions, and encouragement so do our employees. We all do. It is imperative that all levels of management have an understanding of the six elements (safe, valued, praise, demand, structure, and transitions) that lead to a culture of gentleness. The key to higher quality training includes finding quality trainers and materials. The Center for Positive Living Supports (the Center) has been involved with supporting staff in numerous Mobile Response Training Unit deployments. Overall, we find that without understanding, commitment, and congruent behavior from the host provider and CMH staff, we often find an increased amount of scale tipping.

For example, our home managers play a vital role. Staff often quit a direct care position, not because of the people they support in the home, but rather the way they feel devalued by management. Many home managers also feel devalued from lack of support from above. One way in which we demonstrate our appreciation of the value of employees is by providing tools that give them the confidence to help create a supportive culture under complex circumstances. These tools come in the form of training and gaining a basic understanding of what we can do. In a best case scenario, it is estimated that 2% of annual budgets are earmarked for training. To use this effectively we need to incorporate ongoing support within the day-to-day culture and focus less on the external classroom. This requires developing trainers and recognizing that mentors play a vital role in creating and sustaining a culture of gentleness.

When the going gets tough, the mentors get going. Not exactly the adage with which we are all familiar, but a culture of gentleness requires us to invest in some of the more skilled staff, enabling them to become mentors. They are able to assist in some of our more difficult situations that traditionally may have escalated into scale tipping events. If you can build a capacity of at least one mentor for every 50 staff you will be investing in someone who has the skill set to assist in our most complex situations. The goal of mentoring is to create a sustained environment that will begin to make everyone that lives and works in the setting feel safer, more valued and less volatile. MALA’s findings, from their aforementioned 2009 study, concluded, “Education related to this culture of “gentleness” should be broadened throughout the state.”

According to projections from Michigan’s Department of Labor and Economic Growth (DLEG), employment in the state’s long term care industry is projected to grow by 20 % over the decade from 2006-2016, adding nearly 25,000 new positions. May I take you back to the dentist chair experience for a moment? When it’s time to see your dental hygienist wouldn’t you rather have Dena, whom you have grown to trust and respect? Me too, and for the same reasons the people receiving our care and those we employ will look to you, and want to stay with you. We need entire organizations that embody the elements that constitute a culture of gentleness. Working within an organization built on trust, mutual respect and valuing, dedicated to quality service, is like a sunny day at the beach engaging in experiences that can be meaningful and fun without worrying about Seagulls hovering overhead. They have also learned the prerequisites for landing and being warmly welcomed on the beach.

Example: Ayanna is extremely bright, has a wonderful sense of humour, likes to shop, and cares deeply about her family. She has had over 15 different placements over the past several years and more recently spent two-thirds of a year in psychiatric hospitals. Ayanna spent 45 days at the Transition Home and her future caregivers attended the preliminary training offered by The Center. When Ayanna moved to her new home, our staff worked for approximately three weeks with her caregivers during which time the six elements were demonstrated, coached, and observed by the Mobile Response Team Mentor. Her current provider remains committed to supporting her in her home and for the past year she has lived successfully in her home having only been hospitalized for a week.

Ed Kiefer, B.S., L.B.S.W
The Center for Positive Living Supports, an affiliate of Macomb-Oakland Regional Center.

 

Connections Help Build Relationships

The relationships and communication I maintain with the individuals I support have helped me establish a gentle, secure and caring presence within the homes of these individuals. By taking the time to get to know these people, I have learned how some of life’s little problems can build into a bad day. By being consistent, enthusiastic and a positive support, I have been able to help small problems stay small!

Sometimes, a little space and time to think is all that is needed to bring someone back to their personal best. It could be a trigger that can be removed from the environment, or even small talk about the Roughriders or Regina Pats. Knowing each of the people I support has taught me to truly consider how the world is uniquely different from everyone’s perspective and just because a problem may not seem like a big deal from my view point, it may be a crucial crutch in these people’s world view.

When I enter the homes of the individuals I support, I bring a friendly and supportive person into their lives. I have a lot in common with each person I support; these connections have helped build our relationship. It has been a wonderful experience to learn from these people and it continues to provide me with the opportunity to help someone see that there are a lot of great things in life and hopefully I can help make it a good day!

Mickey, COR Support

History Changes Our Perspective

History. Everyone has one, yet most of the time they are hidden like little secrets that blow in the wind. When you meet a person it isn’t the first thing that typically comes to mind.

If I was to meet a stranger on the side of the road (because that’s my normal hangout spot 🙂 they would most likely notice that I am a pretty outgoing guy, I like to smile and find joy in the small things and hopefully notice that I am kind in spirit. At first glance you wouldn’t know that I’ve moved half a dozen times in my life, travelled as a musician for year or had an eating disorder in my teenage years. You wouldn’t be able to tell whether or not my parents were married or divorced and what my relationship with them is like. You wouldn’t be able to tell that art is soothing to my soul, or that my wife was the second woman I had ever dated and the only one to capture my attention and keep. You wouldn’t be able to tell that over the past three years mild health problems have led to intense bouts of anxiety. You wouldn’t be able to tell that I have been in six car accidents and have a perpetual fear of sitting in the passenger seat. And you wouldn’t be able to tell that one of those car accidents was because of a grasshopper that latched itself to my eye—this has caused a lasting fear of insects like grasshoppers and lady-bugs.

Contrary to popular belief my goal is not to expose my soul to the eyes and ears of our internet readers: rather to challenge our ideas of “history” and how it effects the way that we communicate and relate with each other. If a person knew that I had an eating disorder as a teenager, the likelihood of them teasing me about being overweight, fat or “chunky like a monkey” most likely wouldn’t happen. Why? Because when you know a person, your response changes. The person becomes less of a stranger; they have shared the intimacy of their life with you—they reach out with open hands asking you to be careful as they seek to trust you in relationship.

As we know, not everyone is willing to share freely about their life and its past events—this makes our job as a people difficult because regardless of who you are and where you came from, you have a history—stories upon stories that have come to shape your life, beliefs and character. Our job, though difficult, is exciting! Learning to approach people with unconditional love which knocks on the door of their lives asking to be part of their story, in true and honest relationship in a manner in which we are constantly learning about who they are as people, and not who they are on paper.

Ben, Director of Culture and Mentorship