By Jessica Hanewinckel
Certain professions necessitate a deeply felt, genuine, absolute passion for the work. So much so, in fact, that those who are employed in these fields probably don’t consider what they do each day “work.” Teaching comes to mind. So do nursing and caregiving, and anything else that puts one person’s well being in another person’s hands. So it is at Seacrest Village Retirement Communities, where a team of 317 employees works (or, perhaps more accurately, lives) to take care of about 310 residents at its two campuses in Encinitas and in the Rancho Bernardo/Poway area.
“If you don’t love it, you just shouldn’t be in the business,” Seacrest CEO Pam Ferris says of senior care. “It’s not a job, it’s a way of life, and you’re impacting other people’s lives. It’s critical that you like what you’re doing and that you can enhance the lives of the people you’re serving.”
In all positions at Seacrest, from physician to certified nursing assistant (CNA) to server in a dining room, Seacrest’s goal is to ensure the employee has a genuine love of seniors in his or her heart. Generally, Ferris says, the highly skilled positions are filled by people who’ve known this was their calling for a long time, and they’ve already spent years developing relationships with and caring for seniors. However, Seacrest does participate in ongoing clinical rotations for registered nurses and CNAs, which allows them to observe firsthand which of these potential employees has a natural love of and knack for senior care, and which might stay on long term. (According to Ferris, Seacrest is also collaborating with Cal State San Marcos’ School of Nursing and will soon welcome RN students from the school into its clinical rotations.)
“Any time we can bring people in to experience senior living and what it’s like to serve our residents, our doors are open,” Ferris says. “We do this to encourage people to enter this rewarding field of work, if it’s right for them.”
The same philosophy applies to entry-level positions, which allow young people to see if a career in geriatrics is their calling. In these positions, which are often filled by local high school students or interns, the required skills are easily taught. But a love and appreciation of seniors is something that comes from within, and that can’t be taught. It’s the most important attribute of any Seacrest employee.
“It’s part of the culture of our organization — the importance of making sure we provide the very best to those we serve,” Ferris says. “In order to do that we have to make sure we have the very best and well-trained staff. It’s been part of the institution from its beginning. … We feel such a tremendous responsibility to screen as well as we can and hire the best.”
Kathy Sanger, corporate director of human resources at Seacrest, is directly involved in that screening and hiring process.
Caring for seniors is an extremely rewarding career for those who feel compelled to do it, but it can also be challenging, Sanger says. That’s why having fun and laughter are par for the course among direct-care staff, Sanger says. This sometimes demanding environment is also why it takes such a unique person to work in the field. It all comes down to making sure the residents are well taken care of and feel respected and kindly treated.
“Our staff definitely live it, they breathe it and they show it,” she says. “You can’t care for our seniors without having a big heart, being sensitive or being able to recognize that when they come here, sometimes they’re giving up a large [part of their lives. This is] a home away from home. And so when they come here we become their extended family. We have to figure out another way to talk to them and communicate so that the boundaries aren’t crossed. This is their home, and there has to be a great respect for them as people, and for this as their home.”
A large part of making sure employees treat residents well is ensuring Seacrest, as a business, treats its employees well. It’s a philosophy that goes back to the beginnings of Seacrest, when it was still the Hebrew Home on 54th Street.
“I have a strong philosophy that as an organization, if you take good care of your employees, then your employees will take good care of the residents,” Ferris says. “We strive to do that because it’s just important in so many aspects of being successful in business. I don’t know why any employer wouldn’t want to do that. Your residents are your customers, and their family members are your customers, so by taking good care of the staff, they’re innately going to demonstrate that in who they’re serving.”
Seacrest must be doing something right. On its Encinitas campus is what it calls its Wall of Honor, where employees of longevity are celebrated with a portrait and categorized by the number of years they’ve worked at Seacrest. Andrea Lundin, Seacrest’s longest-employed staffer, has worked as a CAN at Seacrest for 44 years as of last month. She began at Hebrew Home in 1969 and moved with the company to Encinitas when it became Seacrest. She’s still there today, doing what she loves.
“I just feel at home here, and I’m used to the patients,” she says. “I like the hands-on [aspect of my job as a CNA]. It’s more intimate, I suppose. You build more of a relationship [than an RN would], and when you feel like you belong, you stay. I’m interested in taking care of Jewish people too. I’ve always felt led to be with them and help them. There are scriptures that say you’re blessed if you take care of the Jewish people, if you help them, like the United States helping Israel. It’s a delight to work here, and I love it. I just feel it’s my little spot that I’m supposed to be in.”
Like Lundin, many of the employees at Seacrest have chosen to remain there, as opposed to caring for seniors in other settings, such as hospitals, because they’re seeking to build relationships with their residents.
“I could be an HR person in any industry,” Sanger says. “But I love seeing these people walk around. You get to know them. It’s not like in a hospital, and there’s a huge difference. People who work in long term care or in communities like this are here because they want to develop the relationship. They want to see the joys and the sadness. In hospitals, people come and they go, and you don’t get to know them. You get to know our seniors here.”
It’s a comforting feeling to stroll the Seacrest campus. Employees say hello and offer greetings freely to residents and coworkers, and they get to know residents and employees across their respective campus, even if they work in a different building or department. It’s this noticeable sense of teamwork, of camaraderie, and of friendliness that has caused visitors and potential residents to comment, time and again, that this place isn’t like any other they’ve visited, Sanger says. According to them, Seacrest is something special, a “diamond in the rough.”
“We really enjoy who we are, we enjoy who we serve and we love what we do here,” Sanger says. “We have so much to be proud of.”