What are we doing to create successful lives for senior living Sherpas?

Years ago I read the 1997 Jon Krakauer book “Into Thin Air” about the disastrous 1996 Mount Everest climbing season where, on a single day, 8 climbers died, including two experienced guides, Ever since I have been fascinated by stories about climbing Everest. After reading that book and a couple of others on Everest I even had a dream of doing the climb myself. . . . until I started looking at the cost ($100,000), the three to six months the expedition itself takes and, finally, the human toll. More recently a 68 year old great-grandfather, Jim Geiger, who is a part of my faith community, left to climb Everest this season.  Because of that connection the headlines from a few days ago that a number of climbers were killed on Everest made my heart stop. We now know that all of those who died were Sherpas who had been hired to do the heavy lifting for the mostly Western and Asian climbers who will attempt the summit this year. Being a Sherpa Sherpas are an ethnic group in Nepal, many of whom live at high altitudes in the Himalayas. They have created a niche specialty of being human load carriers for climbers who are looking to tackle the most difficult Himalayan peaks, including Everest.  They get paid a relatively high wage, in local terms, for hauling heavy packs and for the dangerous work of setting up ropes and ladders that the paying climbers will use to get to the top. This recent mass death has caused some individuals to wonder if the Sherpas are being asked to, or perhaps being forced to, pay too high a price so that wealthy Westerners and Asians can brag that they climbed Everest. Senior Living Sherpas In a very real sense food servers, personal care aides, drivers, house keepers, laundry staff and dishwashers are the Sherpas of senior living.  While they don’t get paid big bucks, even relatively, and the amount of risk they take is not so high, they are the ones who, day to day, do that heavy lifting that allows residents to have a great quality of life. They make it possible for executive directors and corporate staff to claim great victories when communities are full and profitable. These low level workers are there for a variety of reasons but, for the most part, they are very much like the Sherpas in that they are doing what they are doing because it is the best they can do with the hand they were dealt. The Senior Living Response I find myself wondering if that is OK as a status quo.  Do we just accept that this is the way the world and the economy works?   If you say yes, then I would ask the second question:  Is that the career you would choose for your child or grandchild?  I am thinking the answer is no. I would propose that we have a unique opportunity and obligation when it comes to line staff.  I would propose that each line staff member be provided a variety of opportunities to move up in the world, even if it means that they need to leave your employment, but especially if they can climb an internal career ladder.  I would be so impressed with a senior living company where few, if any, line staff have been in the same position for longer than five years, because they are consistently growing out of their jobs. My wife did her AIT under an Administrator who started at the facility as a High School kitchen worker. She had filled many roles over the years, working her way up. Facility photo albums included photos from her wedding, her son growing up at facility events and, later, her grandson.  The staff longevity and stability in that facility was unparalleled. What this concept means:

  • Providing education opportunities.
  • Providing education subsidies
  • Providing schedule flexibility that allows staff to take advantage of the opportunities.

Mostly, though, it means community and corporate leadership helping line staff members dream big. Steve Moran

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