Covid & Culture Change

We are hearing beautiful, tragic, heartfelt, desperate stories from people working in nursing homes. People who are stepping up in ways that we cannot imagine. I know these people. They are giving everything they have.

The people working in nursing homes do not need blame right now.

They do need supplies, encouragement, and love.


AND, nursing homes need to change.

They need to change from institutions to communities. They need to not be seen as “warehouses of the old”, but places where people get the support they need to live their lives well. Places where people who work there are supported and respected.

The Covid-19 crisis uncovers problems that have been there – ageism, staffing shortages, under-staffing, turnover, broken systems that do not serve the people using them, and overall feelings of lack of support, whether it be from within organizations or outside them – reimbursement systems, survey processes, and the healthcare system-at-large.

There are many nursing homes who struggle every day to just get through the day.

I think most people would agree that there needs to be another way.

There has been much debate over the years about how to do this. Culture change is the way to do this.

Culture change is the term given for the deep transformation of care communities from institutional, medically-driven cultures to ones that are person-centered. The Covid-19 virus offers an opportunity to think about where culture change will go from here.

This crisis points to the value of, and need for, culture change, and what we learn from this crisis can further help us transform care communities into better places to live and work. This crisis can present us with an opportunity to promote continued change. To maybe even build something new.

So, what CAN we learn from this crisis that will help us to keep culture change alive? Can we use these experiences to grow the culture change movement?

In fact, many people have been practicing person-centeredness throughout this crisis. When guidance came to care communities to restrict visitors, group activities, and communal dining, what happened? There was an unbelievable response to find creative and alternative ways to connect with people living in nursing homes, and to remind them that they were seen. There was widespread, and almost instantaneous recognition, that people living in care communities were already at risk for social disconnection, and that this pandemic dangerously heightened this risk. I was so touched by the many people who wanted to be a light for people living in care communities.

Throughout this crisis, care communities have been living person-centered values. We can do this. We can change the culture of long-term care.

Karen Stobbe, Chief Purpose Officer of In the Moment, recently said to me, “I think we are learning that we can do change. I looked over at my passenger seat today, at the hand sanitizer, the mask, and it hit me how much we all have had to make changes. We CAN do change. Nursing homes and assisted living communities can change. They have during this crisis. They have adapted. They had to. They even had to do this in situations where there are limited or no resources. Maybe we can use this experience to see that change is possible, and we have what we need to make other changes. Maybe if leaders look to the future, knowing that they have to make changes, because it benefits everyone, and they know they CAN do it, this will help them. Their teams have been doing it throughout this crisis.”

Yes!! We CAN change. Here are some areas where we might gather lessons from this crisis as fuel for change.

I will try to connect some of the lessons we are already learning with foundational principles of culture change, developed by the Pioneer Network.


Each person can and does make a difference.

One of the principles of culture change is a fundamental recognition that all human beings deserve choice, dignity, respect, and meaning. This is for both people living and working in care communities.

Culture change reminds us that the people who care for individuals living in care communities are THE cornerstone of that care. So, there must be enough people to care for those living in care communities. They must be respected. They must be paid sufficiently. They must be given the tools they need to do their jobs well. These are individuals who show up every day to do important work and we need to treat them this way.

I have an optimistic view that this crisis is helping to elevate the extreme importance of people working in healthcare and long-term care. Healthcare and long-term care heroes are inspiring people all over the world, and perhaps this inspiration will lead to people wanting to join these fields. How can we tap into this inspiration to recruit people to work in care communities, and to keep the amazing people we already have?


Community is the antidote to institutionalization.

Perhaps one of the greatest lessons we are learning from this pandemic is our need for social connection and community. Perhaps we can ask ourselves, what does it mean to build real community in care communities?

Communities are foundational to authentic living. And, communities are created through authentic living and relationships, when we come together in real ways to support each other as humans. Like we are doing now. So, we are learning more about what it means to be communities and not institutions. How has this pandemic shown us how we have community in care communities? What are we learning about where community is lacking and how we can make it stronger?


Caring for the spirit is as equally important as caring for the body.

Despite the medical emphasis that is needed to address COVD-19, we are also caring for the spirit in care communities. We are living the deep knowledge that a person’s emotional and spiritual needs are just as, if not more important, than physical needs. What can we learn from this crisis about how we can better balance these needs?4_2Promote the growth and development of all.

As we continue to seek ways to create community and connections with people living in care communities, we might also consider how these individuals can be active participants in giving back to the community. All people have a need for purpose, for reciprocation, and I imagine people living in nursing homes will welcome the opportunity to help us heal, reconnect, and recover.

These are just some of the areas that need to be examined and where we need to keep doing better. And I believe we can.11Yes, there are many challenges. These challenges have been there. The same challenges might keep us from changing. Not enough money. Not enough time. But care communities are exhibiting their ability to make the best of what they have, to dig deep. We can use this energy to transform. Perhaps this will create awareness of the need for better financial support for long-term care communities and those who work closest to the people who live in them.

It is important that we do not lose this momentum, and place too much emphasis on the need for money to move us forward. Care communities have been transforming their culture for many years now, and have demonstrated their ability to change, so change is possible despite an influx of money. Additional financial support, especially to pay direct care team members increased wages, would certainly help. But change is not entirely dependent on this. After all, it is still possible for a home that has a lot of money to be very institutional. And giving more money to an institution might just grow the institution, unless there is desire and commitment to change. So, it is bigger than dollars.

Maybe this crisis will help us think creatively about how we ensure that a person-centered culture is the norm, and that it is the driver of operations, not a sidebar.

Can we use this crisis as an opportunity to look deeply within ourselves and see what we have done well, and where we can do better, for both the people who live and work in our communities?

I do see opportunity in all of this. The missed opportunity would be to move forward without envisioning something different.

I think we have to recognize a few truths at the same time.12Nursing homes need support, not blame.

The people who work in nursing homes are a part of a system that is not working for them.

The relatively small number of nursing homes who are really “poor performing” do not represent all nursing homes. And, they need support too.

All nursing homes need to change, or continue changing, from institutions to communities.

There is a relatively small number of nursing homes who have been on the journey of deeply transforming their culture. These homes serve an important role as we move forward.

  1. They demonstrate it is possible.
  2. They can serve as mentors and leaders to others.
  3. As they continue on their journeys of change, they can share these journeys, so that we can all develop comfort and acceptance that change is ongoing and never perfect.

There is also an opportunity to widen our lens from a primary focus on culture change in nursing homes. Culture change needs to happen across the entire system of supports and services for people who are growing older, growing with dementia, and those who support them – this includes all of senior living and home-and community-based services. Another lesson of this crisis is that which we already know – the system is fragmented and silo-ed, and we are better together.

I believe in the people in nursing homes and I believe that nursing homes themselves, as systems, have to change. Nursing homes are not adequate for what we need. They do not allow for everything that they could be, for both people who live and work in them.

I believe in nursing homes and the people who work in them. I know that they have what they need to transform culture. They are showing us this right now.

So, let’s do this – let’s change from institutions to communities, to places that live out person-centered values at every level. This is all possible. We know now that anything is possible.

People are living in nursing homes are working so hard. We owe it to them to create something better. Let’s build something new together. Culture change can help show us the way.15_1



6 thoughts on “Covid & Culture Change

  1. A perfect post, Sonya! You lay out beautifully how the lessons learned from the current crisis can be used to finally make culture change the norm in this country. It will take a lot of work and many people and organizations will need to work together to make it a reality but it is imperative that it happen for all of us and for future generations.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We do need to provide housing that encourages seniors to live actively as they can as long as they can. Central Florida has a long way to accomplish this. Besides Lutheran Haven was other senior living program is there? The Catholic diocese was considering a senior community at San Pedro Center in unincorporated Winter Park.

    Liked by 1 person

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