By Steve Moran

In just the last week I heard two stories about things that happened in different senior living communities belonging to different organizations where senior leadership had no idea they happened. One could have had major legal, regulatory, and financial implications. The other was a very small thing but was an indicator of a significant culture/leadership problem.

In the first case, a department head was told about it by a caregiver, and they did not tell the executive director or document the problem, both of which should have been done. In the second case it seemed trivial.

The Risk Is Huge

The risk of not knowing is massive: regulatory action, monetary fines, and/or legal action. There is also substantial risk for a damaged reputation, which makes it harder to attract new residents, retain residents, and attract and retain staff.

Why This Happens

This happens because people are afraid.

Team members don’t report things because they are afraid they will get in trouble or be blamed. This is particularly difficult when that team member is at fault.

Team members don’t report things they see because they don’t want their friends, their co-workers, to get in trouble or lose their jobs.

Team members don’t report things they see because they don’t feel like it is any of their business, or because they don’t want to be reported if they mess something up.

Residents and their families don’t report things because they don’t want to be a bother; they are afraid of retaliation; and, worst of all, they simply don’t think it will make any difference.

Ultimately keeping things secret is a form of self-preservation.

Making It Better

It is impossible to 100% eliminate secret keeping, but there are things you can do. It starts with the leader being transparent and willing to talk about it when they make mistakes. It also requires a “no blame” culture. This is a culture that recognizes that we are all imperfect and we make mistakes, and that some things — even when we do everything right — turn out wrong.

In a “no blame” culture these bad things become lessons that everyone can learn from. This means that when a fail happens, it gets fixed fast, minimizing the damage.

Finally, when residents complain, make sure they are heard, and fix what needs to be fixed, what can be fixed. And if you can’t fix it or won’t fix it, be grateful they talked to you, and explain why things are not going to be fixed and how they benefit.

What is easy to forget is that we (residents, leadership, team members, and family members) are all in this together to create a senior living community that improves the lives of residents, team members, families, and the local community.