Staff Empowerment and Caregiver Relationships in the Green House Model

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Yang

I think one of the things that make the Green House Model viable from a caregiver’s perspective is that it incorporates many of the positive things that direct care workers in traditional institutional settings already do – or would like to do – and then formalizes and enhances them in a supportive environment. For example, that “deep knowing” of elders so vital to the Green House Model also exists in traditional settings. However, in places where caregiver workloads are too heavy, that level of awareness can’t happen consistently – even with the best of efforts – and some residents are going to fall through the cracks.

This is also applies to how workers relate to one another. Anyone who has been in the business for any length of time will tell you that friction among direct care staff is a staple of the institutional work environment. At its worst, it is exhibited in things like petty rivalries, cliquish behavior and bullying. Some of this behavior borders on the juvenile and the atmosphere on a nursing home unit can sometimes feel more like a middle school cafeteria than a home for the elderly. A quick check of the CNA Facebook pages will confirm this. Frustrated managers will often respond by saying something along the lines of “Why can’t you just act like adults – aren’t we all here for the residents?” apparently oblivious to the fact that having to remind workers of something so patently obvious is an indication that the problems go deeper and require a better solution than simply telling people to “grow up.”

On the other hand, it’s not unusual for direct care workers to create strong and positive relationships with one another and cooperate in ways that benefit their residents. Even in the worst work environments, caregivers often form very close bonds that resemble family ties and can even last a lifetime. Sometimes these are bonds are formed because of poor work environments, as a matter of mutual self-preservation. These relationships develop spontaneously, more a result of the nature of the work and the individual personalities of caregivers than from any systematic institutional initiative. And the value of these relationships often go unrecognized. Indeed, according to the conventional wisdom of many managers and caregivers “We are here to take care of the residents, not to make friends.” As if creating heathy personal connections with your coworkers is somehow inconsistent with good care.

By empowering staff, the Green House Model depends upon self-managed teams of workers to deal with the day to day issues of the home. In this model, strong interpersonal relationships among caregivers is a critical element. As part of their extended training, shahbazim receive instruction in interpersonal skills. This provides them with the tools that enable them to defuse personality clashes and focus their energies on resolving common problems. In the process, the natural bond that forms between caregivers is nurtured and can grow into a strong and effective professional relationship.

Furthermore, prior to the opening of a Green House Home, direct care staff go through a team building process that enable workers to develop positive relationships. In this way, caregivers become familiar with one another, learn to trust each other and a cooperative foundation is established even before the real work begins. As new workers are hired, they are brought into an environment that is open and supportive. The self-managed team has the supportive aspects of a clique, but without the exclusion. In a Green House Home, everyone belongs to the clique.

The shahbazim I talked to characterized their work relationships as “like a family.” I have no doubt that this is precisely what the creators of the model intended.