The ECA Experience: Engaging Employees, Improving Care

Elder Care Alliance pioneers a barometer to help assisted living staff provide consistent care.

In January, Elder Care Alliance implemented the ECA Experience, an enhanced take on the organization’s six core values: dignity, excellence, caring, prudent stewardship, collaboration and learning. The new program helps increase quality of care by ensuring that staff members are living out these values each day.

The program, which includes nearly two-dozen action items for assisted living staff members, was created to prevent any discrepancies about what Elder Care Alliance care should entail, according to Kathleen Quinlan, Elder Care Alliance’s Director of Professional Development.

“Core values are really important to us; they guide a lot of our decision making,” Quinlan says. “However, one person can decide caring looks one way, and a coworker could decide it looks another way.”

The foundation of the ECA Experience is a set of 22 behaviors that help Elder Care Alliance staff, part-time and on-call employees carry out the company’s core values. These behaviors were clearly communicated to all staff “so there’s no confusion about what caring means,” Quinlan says.

A staff-wide survey about the behaviors’ use helped the communities identify their strengths—and areas that showed opportunities for growth. Team members and managers went over survey results in staff meetings to determine the actions each community could work to reinforce.

For example, to pursue the core value of excellence, staff members engage in conversations with residents and their families to learn about individual’s preferences and then proactively provide the services they want and need.

Staff members are encouraged to respond to residents and coworkers with compassion and to create an environment that fosters holistic wellness and empowerment.

“A resident assistant’s job is to help residents with the activities of daily living—walking down the hall, taking a shower—the ECA Experience addresses the how,” Quinlan says. “That’s what makes a difference and changes the quality of life for the residents.”

Elder Care Alliance has encouraged staff members to share ECA Experience success stories in their daily meetings. Last spring, the communities sponsored a daily March Madness-themed sweepstakes to reward employee engagement. It’s also not uncommon to find Quinlan handing out granola bars or lunch tickets to staff members who are displaying ECA Experience behaviors.

“We have a lot of fun with this,” she says. “Our philosophy is that we hire great people, invest in them and expect great things—so we have a good group of people who are living the ECA Experience, and we’re giving lots of positive reinforcement and appreciation.”

Employee engagement makes all the difference, says Quinlan. “When we are working with people who are practicing these behaviors, it’s a more enjoyable place to work, and the residents are happier,” she says.

As a result, the ECA Experience program has been a success.

“The important thing is that it makes it really clear how we can live out our values, on a very empirical, behavioral basis,” Quinlan says. “We realize that [staff] are doing an enormous amount of that, and we want to give them positive reinforcement that they’re on the right track in helping us achieve our mission.”

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