In 2014, our Board of Trustees and Leadership Council committed the time and financial resources to ensure that every single Plymouth Harbor staff member is given premier education on dementia care.

Our goal is to have staff who are knowledgeable about dementia, aware of the unique manifestations of dementia, who understand the impact of dementia on family and environmental dynamics, and who are adept at interacting with those with dementia. Using Teepa Snow’s Positive Approach™ to Care (PAC) philosophy, we ensure that this happens.

Teepa Snow is a leading educator on dementia. As an occupational therapist with more than 30 years of clinical experience in the field, Teepa has become an advocate for those with dementia. She has made it her mission to help people better understand what it is like to live with the challenges that accompany the condition and to change the way people think about it. In 2005, she founded her own company, the Positive Approach™ to Care, to teach people how to effectively and compassionately work with those living with neurocognitive degeneration. The Positive Approach™ to Care (PAC) uses the GEMS® States model for brain change, Teepa’s own creation that focuses on retained abilities instead of those that are lost. Through the PAC and using the GEMS® States model, she now educates family and professional care providers across the world, but mainly in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K

Four years ago, Brandi Burgess, Interim Administrator of Assisted Living and Memory Care, became a nationally certified trainer in PAC and developed an education plan for all levels of our staff with responsibilities in any of our licensed facilities.

“I really love when staff members from all departments share an interaction they had with a resident and say ‘I felt myself getting defensive and upset, and then I realized I was talking to a diamond,’ or an emerald, or a ruby,” Brandi said. “When they can take a step back, use what they learned in their PAC training, and approach the situation with a different mindset, they can better understand and care for our residents.”

Health Services staff receive annual training, which consists of education on normal aging, dementia, current research, and the progression of dementia through the GEMS® model. They also learn positive physical approaches and skills to use during care. Many different techniques are used to teach our staff these skills: video clips of Teepa demonstrating how to sort out what GEM someone is for visual learners; lectures and Q&A sessions for verbal learners; role playing and hands-on care practice for existential learners.

Our Care Partners in the Starr Memory Care Residence receive a three-week training, the most intensive of all our employees. Their PAC training is heavily interactive and hands-on, allowing them to practice the skills they will need and also put themselves in the shoes of someone with dementia. Even those who work outside of Health Services receive an introduction to PAC in their new employee orientations.

“If we can teach our staff how to purposefully change the environment and approach to our residents, then we can ensure they have the proper setting to shine at their best,” Brandi said.

The State of Jobs Conference (SOJC) is Florida’s largest conference focused on college and career development. The conference introduces high school students, mostly sophomores, to career tracks and industry leaders early on in their education. Several tracks are offered for students, including healthcare, engineering/manufacturing, information technology, hospitality, art/culture, and business.

Presented this year by CareerSource Suncoast, BIG (Bright Ideas on the Gulf Coast), and Gulf Coast CEO Forum, SOJC began in 2013 as an offering of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and the brainchild of Chris Laney. In 2016, Chris recognized the need to expand SOJC to make it a regional event. He took the idea to CareerSource Suncoast and subsequently expanded to the surrounding counties. SOJC now hosts 1,000 students from surrounding high schools and includes an evening event that focuses on college students nearing graduation and looking for jobs in our community.

Plymouth Harbor became involved with SOJC in 2016 after recognizing the workforce shortage would continue and that we needed to find a way to introduce young people to our industry as a viable and steady career choice. For the third year now, Plymouth Harbor is the healthcare track sponsor. In 2016 and 2017, our nurses participated in one of the three sessions in the healthcare track, engaging over 150 students in nursing as a career choice.

This year we were again the healthcare sponsor, which invites visibility with an exhibit booth and hosting of the healthcare track. We were able to connect with hundreds of high schoolers throughout the day and college students in the evening.

New this year was an offering for the high schoolers called Executive Roundtables. Each roundtable was hosted by an executive, defined as someone who had been in their business for at least 10 years. Plymouth Harbor was asked to supply host executives for some of the 45 different roundtables. Several employees and residents were willing to participate:

George McGonagill, Vice President of Facilities, hosted a table and led the conversation in careers related to the building trades. Alyson Harris, Director of Accounting, hosted a table that talked about the accounting field.
Paul Groen, resident and orthopedic surgeon, hosted a table and spoke about careers in the medical field.
Bill Johnston, resident and former president of the New York Stock Exchange, hosted a table focused on careers in the business and finance industry. Other staff involved in the SOJC this year included Becky Pazkowski, Tena Wilson, and Stephen Moros.

There seems to always be guests who recognize Plymouth Harbor as an icon in Sarasota. Last year, the son of a resident who teaches in Sarasota visited our booth. This year, one of the panelists in the healthcare track was Sarasota Memorial Hospital ER physician Reuben Holland. Dr. Holland spoke highly of Plymouth Harbor, saying ER patients presenting at SMH from Plymouth Harbor are always obviously well-cared for patients. Additionally, some people mention that their first jobs were at Plymouth Harbor.

“Two different people came up to me this year and said their first job was at Plymouth Harbor,” recalled Becky Pazkowski, who hosts the healthcare track sessions. “One was a teacher of 40 years who retired last year from Emma Booker Elementary. She was a nursing assistant here before she went into teaching. The other was a chef in USF’s hospitality program. He said his first job was in dining services here at Plymouth Harbor!”

Among our goals for being involved in SOJC is to show leadership in our industry, an industry often not mentioned as an option for those seeking career tracks. Plymouth Harbor has been around for over 50 years, and our industry is one of the largest in the state of Florida. It is our duty to remind people that we are here, we are not going anywhere, and we value good employees. We remind them that this could be their first job!

You may have heard the term circadian rhythm, but do you know what it means and how it affects us? Circadian rhythm is defined as the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in our environment. It is driven by the body’s biological clock and controls our sleep/wake cycle.

Exposure to natural and artificial light is vital to control our circadian rhythm. Studies show that you need to be exposed to at least 30 minutes of morning light to set your rhythm, followed by a gradual progression of light throughout the day with a natural color pattern.

As we age, we become more at risk for circadian rhythm disorders and vision disorders such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration, which affects our eyes’ ability to take in light from our environment. Dementia further affects vision by decreasing depth, motion, and color perception. A brain with dementia takes longer to process the environment, which may lead to visual hallucinations. Maximizing exposure to light and the natural day-to-night progression becomes extremely important.

Our Starr Memory Care Residence was specifically designed to support proper circadian rhythms. Large windows let morning light flood into the neighborhoods, and easily accessible courtyards ensure our residents receive exposure to natural sunlight. Lighting features in the common spaces are on a dimmable program, allowing the inside artificial light to mimic the progression of natural light throughout the day.

Similarly, each neighborhood has a reflection room, a relaxing space that offers aromatherapy, a comfortable massage chair, and a tunable light that changes colors to mimic the natural color pattern associated with the day-to-night light cycle. The cycle starts with bright blue morning light, which increases serotonin levels, and gradually warms and progresses to a warm orange evening tone, which increases melatonin levels. We can manually control this light to support a resident that is having difficulty with his or her sleep/wake cycle.

Most important are the programming features we use to support healthy circadian rhythms in our residents. Our 24-hour cycle notes peak times for physical activity, concentration, and creativity, and we arrange our flexible activity schedule according to this cycle.

There have been many studies over the years about how a disorder in our rhythm affects those with dementia, but the importance of supporting proper circadian rhythms was only formally recognized in 2017. A team of scientists was honored with the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for their study indicating that a chronic misalignment between our lifestyle and our rhythm, as dictated by our inner timekeeper, is associated with increased risk of various diseases.

Health Services staff members Joe Devore and Judy Sarnowski teamed up with THW, the design firm for the Northwest Garden, to present at the annual LeadingAge Florida Convention in Orlando this summer. The topic was designing with light to support the circadian rhythm. The focus was the design and programming features of our very own Starr Memory Care Residence.

If you would like to learn more, the presentation from LeadingAge 2018 is available in the Family Conference and Resource Center located on the second floor in the administrative wing of the Northwest Garden.