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The Commons at Auburn Peer Mentoring Program

May 30, 2017

It is quickly becoming a well-known fact in eldercare that the number of people who require care, is outpacing the number of available people to provide the care. Projections show that 5.2 million direct care workers will be needed by 2024 to care for a rapidly increasing aging population that is expected to double by 2050.

The result is an increasingly competitive job market comprised of organizations struggling to recruit and retain adequate numbers of quality care providers.

The Commons at Auburn, a Loretto care community, is addressing this challenge head-on by improving how they welcome and support new employees. Knowing that most turnover of direct care workers occurs in the first few months of employment, The Commons at Auburn is spearheading a Peer Mentoring program that partners a well-trained, experienced worker with each new employee. The goal of the program is to lessen the stress often experienced by a new employee while building their confidence and welcoming them into the fold of the organization.

At the same time, the Peer Mentoring program gives current employees the opportunity to lead, grow professionally and advance their career. Each mentor receives intensive peer mentor training, graduating to a position that is paid at a higher rate and recognized within the organization. Currently, The Commons at Auburn has 19 trained peer mentors, with the eventual goal of having a mentor on every floor, on every shift. It is within this context that Auburn hopes to use the Peer Mentoring program as an effective strategy to strengthen their workforce and reduce staff turnover.

Although the program is still in its infancy and process improvement is in action, to date the response from mentors and mentees have been positive. Mentors agree that how a person is welcomed into an organization is important in determining if someone stays and that how they spend their first days on the job really matter. They see their relationship with their mentee as pivotal in making this a positive experience.

Mentors also noted that the program has served to clarify practice guidelines ensuring clearer expectations for new employees and those supporting them.  Mentors report that mentees regularly thank them and comment on how helpful the relationship with the mentor is,“I was afraid…then I met you and you made me feel at ease. You were so helpful.”  Family members reportedly have taken note of the difference the mentoring program has made as well, complimenting both the mentee and mentor on jobs well-done.

An additional responsibility of the Auburn Mentors is to take an active role in the continuous improvement of the Mentor program. In regular meetings planned by program coordinator, Becky Staring, mentors have the opportunity to share their observations and suggestions for how to improve the mentor process. For instance, at a recent gathering of the mentors they identified the need to orient new employees to the various units in the building. Together with the program coordinator, mentors will adapt their process, resulting in a more effective mentoring process and a better program.

In addition to the Peer Mentoring program, The Commons at Auburn is rolling out Coaching Supervision and Person Directed Living across the organization to support the deep relationships and a person directed approach to care.      

At a recent PHI Peer Mentor booster session, the level of commitment and ownership of the success of the program was apparent. Peer mentors expressed a level of responsibility for whether a new employee stays or leaves. When asked how they felt about being a peer mentor and their role in the organization, one Mentor shared,” I feel like I make a difference.  I get to set the tone for the new employees.” 

Still another Mentor reflected on the personal benefit of being part of the program, “I approach situations differently now.  In the beginning, we learned a lot of communication skills and how to see things from the other person’s side. I am more positive in my approach now.”

Although it is still early in the implementation of the program and glitches in scheduling and process are still being resolved, one cannot argue with the enthusiasm and ownership expressed by one of the Mentors, I’m having a field day with the it [Peer Mentoring program]! I have helped to recreate second shift on my floor and the residents and staff are both noticing the change. We rock on my floor!

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