For Erica Yeager the old way of doing things made for a much more regimented experience working in a skilled nursing environment. “It was more hustle-bustle,” she says. “We had a certain amount of time to get things done. There wasn’t a lot of time for 1-on-1 relationships, and elders didn’t really have a choice for anything.”
Erica’s experience was not unique, as the common narrative around working in a nursing home has read this way for years. That all changed for Erica in 2011 when she was selected to join the team tasked with opening St. John’s two new Green House Homes in Penfield. The homes were the first licensed nursing homes in the United States located in a residential community. While the move to a quiet neighborhood provided a much different setting for elders and staff alike, it is the unique philosophy of care that the Green House model provides that was so eye opening for Erica and her colleagues. “I didn’t feel like I was doing anything wrong before,” she explains when looking back on her work as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) prior to moving to the Green House Homes. “It’s just that it was all that I knew.”
A key component of this new philosophy of care is the role of shahbazim, or versatile workers. First at the Green House Homes and now at St. John’s Home—as floors throughout the building transition to smaller neighborhoods, shahbazim are responsible for providing care and quality of life to elders in whatever ways that might entail. Rather than being tasked with one or two aspects of care to a large number of elders, each shahbaz is responsible for making a small group of individuals feel cared for in every way. According to Erica, this approach has made all the difference. “Everything is different because the elders feel more comfortable. They don’t feel like it’s just somebody’s job to take care of them. They feel like they have a friend, and that’s how they should feel.”
These days, Erica and other shahbazim feel more comfortable too. More than that, she has seen first-hand how elders have embraced their having a greater say in how they live. She references several instances of elders who have responded in positive ways to the more personalized approach that the role of shahbaz delivers.
Erica, who lives in Gates with her 12-year-old daughter Eunyce and Siamese cat Pachino, believes that the move to small homes will significantly improve the overall experience for elders living at St. John’s Home. As an employee who has gone through the transition from CNA to shahbaz, she knows staff will greatly benefit as well. “I think it’s going to be amazing. It’s going to take time. But once you see an elder thrive, you’re there!”