In this Caregiver Corner with Sarah Beargie, our Staff Coordinator, she discusses the importance of making caregivers feel valued in building strong care teams. Sarah began working with Aware Senior Care in 2015 as a caregiver and was promoted to Staff Coordinator in 2016. Sarah focuses on learning the backgrounds and personalities of the caregiver staff, as well as understanding the needs of each client. In doing so, she is able to determine the best match to fulfill the client’s needs.
Sarah understands that communication is paramount in achieving success in her role as scheduling coordinator. Her ultimate goal is to achieve long lasting client and caregiver relations.
Caregiver Corner with Sarah: Q&A
Tell me about your work with Aware Senior Care.
I’ve been with Aware Senior Care for four years. I started as a caregiver. Then, as the company started to grow, Tim asked me to move into the staff coordinator role. My main goal as staff coordinator is to create consistent caregiver teams for our clients so that our caregivers have regular work schedules that meet their work needs while also providing our clients with reliable, top-quality care. The majority of my time is spent creating these caregiver/client team schedules.
Gina goes out to every new client appointment to meet the client and their family members. She performs an assessment and then comes back and gives us a clearer picture of what the family needs. We use that assessment to start to build the right caregiver/client team and schedule for that family.
The other thing that’s really important in this job is building rapport with the caregivers. We really want to get to know them, their preferences, their skill set. What is the best working environment for them? What’s the best client fit? Once we have this foundational understanding of each caregiver, it makes it much easier to pair them with the right client or clients.
How do you build rapport with your caregivers?
Building a strong team and establishing a good rapport with caregivers starts in the very beginning, right when they start working with us. In fact, I’d say the process even starts when they’re interviewing for the job.
I’m very involved in the hiring process, and the relationship we want to have with all of our caregivers really starts in the interview. We work to foster an open, trusting relationship from the very beginning, really listening to our caregivers’ needs and asking questions like “Why did they apply to work here?” and “What are they looking for in this job?” We listen to them, we invest a lot of energy in accommodating their schedules, job needs, abilities, and more.
When we can do that, it builds trust, and they feel heard. Once we establish a good relationship, then we work very hard to retain our caregivers. We seek out ways to make them feel valued and appreciated. For example, we call them just to check in and see how they’re doing periodically. When we have really great feedback from a client, we call the caregiver and let them know. When people feel valued at work, they want to bring their best to the job every day.
Is this approach unique in the industry?
I think it distinguishes Aware Senior Care from other agencies. We’ve had a lot of feedback from caregivers who’ve worked at other places and told us they never felt valued. We’re constantly looking for new ways to show them how much we appreciate them.
Caregivers really just appreciate hearing positive feedback from the client. It’s nice to know when you’re doing a great job! We also work really hard to meet their scheduling needs. If a caregiver comes to me and tells me about certain needs or preferences she has for her work schedule, I do everything I can to accommodate those requests. Many times, we’ll have a new client tell us she only needs support in the morning, and a caregiver who is available from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., and we’re able to match them up as a consistent caregiver/client team. That’s fun!
Can you share some examples of ways you and the team at Aware Senior Care go “above and beyond” to value caregivers?
Tim is always looking for ways to offer higher pay for our caregivers. Right now, I believe we’re in the 90th percentile for caregiver pay in this industry. We also have the Caregiver of the Month Award. Each month, we present one caregiver with a certificate of appreciation, and we send a note to all of the caregivers sharing more about why their teammate won the award. The caregiver who receives that award also gets a $100 VISA gift card.
We have a form we send to clients if they want to offer some encouragement or thanks for caregivers, and we always make a point to share those positive notes with our caregivers. We also enter those comments into our “Client Kudos Raffle,” and every time we get positive feedback from one of our clients about a caregiver, we put them into a raffle to win some fun prizes like $25 gift cards. Sometimes, Tim and Gina will give surprise gift cards to caregivers just to say thank you when caregivers go “above and beyond” to help with their clients.
What made you go into caregiving?
My mom is a nurse. My whole life I grew up around people caring for others. My grandfather is a pediatrician. When we were little, he would do housecalls, and he would take us with him. We’d see children with all kinds of needs – children with disabilities, children who needed full care at home. He would let us feed them, take care of them. This was when I was really young, and I loved going with him on these house calls. I always wanted to care for people from a very young age.
My undergraduate degree is from Florida State – I was pre-med there. I graduated, but I wasn’t sure if medical school was the right route for me so I moved back home. I started going to EMT school to get more hands-on experience, and I found that I loved working in those emergency situations. Soon after that, I decided to start a nursing program in Florida, but then my mom got really sick so I put a hold on nursing school to help take care of her.
Through that process, I realized that my heart is with helping people, really helping people who can’t help themselves, who are vulnerable. Right now in nursing school, I’m doing a pediatric nursing rotation. I love helping those kids. They just need someone to care for them and to promote their healing. It’s the same thing with older adults. I just love doing whatever I can to help them and meet them where they’re at and guide them through whatever they might be going through.
How did you find out about Aware Senior Care?
I moved to North Carolina in 2015 from Pensacola, FL. I didn’t know anyone here. I found a job at a local daycare, and one of the teachers there, Ms. Mani, also worked for Aware Senior Care as a caregiver. I told her about my work experience and how I was hoping to start working with clients with Alzheimer’s and dementia again. Since leaving Florida, I found that I really missed that one-on-one care that I had been doing there. Ms. Mani encouraged me to call Aware Senior Care, so I did. I spoke with Gina, she invited me in for an interview, and I was hired as a caregiver soon after that.
What do you love about working with clients with dementia, Alzheimer’s?
I worked as an EMT in Florida, and I also worked at an urgent care. Then my mom got very sick, and I stopped working to care for her. Caring for her full time made it hard to work in these roles, so I started working privately as a caregiver with several clients in different stages of Alzheimer’s. I worked one-on-one with them in their homes, and it was the first time I had ever worked like that. My clients and their families would often know of other families who needed care, and they would refer them to me. Through word of mouth, I ended up with several clients, and I loved it.
What do you love about working with Aware Senior Care?
Tim and Gina have become like my family. The company had just started when I came on board, and it was exciting to be a part of something, to nurture it and watch it grow. I had the privilege of getting to know them, growing with them and really being a part of the vision here.
One thing that I really love about working at Aware Senior Care is that we really listen to the specific needs of our clients. I feel like we’re able to do a little bit more, and meet them a little bit further than most other agencies. When a family is in distress and calls us at 6 p.m. on a Friday night, it’s not unusual for Gina to drive over to their house to help them. And I know that once she comes back, we’ll be able to find a caregiver for that family.
I feel like everyone here goes above and beyond for their families. Everyone’s heart is really in it, and they really care about what we’re doing. I feel like that’s just transmitted to our caregivers and our families. I feel like our caregivers and clients are just an extension of the Aware Senior Care family.
When I first started in this role, it was still a fairly new position, and I was able to assist in shaping the position into what it is today. I felt like I had the autonomy to navigate situations and propose different solutions. One thing I love about Tim and Gina’s leadership style is that they value their employees’ input. You don’t just come into a role; you create your role. We’ve all been able to provide input on various levels and be heard. It’s been really exciting.
I’m currently working full-time while also studying full-time as a nursing student. I’m hoping to graduate in December which is really exciting! Tim and Gina have been great at working with me around my school schedule. They’re extremely supportive of my goals, and honestly, they’re some of my biggest encouragers. The beautiful thing about scheduling is that you can do it wherever and whenever. It’s like laundry, it’s always there.
What would you say to something thinking about this work?
There’s something really special about being one-on-one with someone. You’re caring for someone’s loved one, and you become a part of the family. I just like being there for them and for their family. I knew when I moved here that I wanted to get back involved in that kind of work.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
Honestly, I love puzzles. I love coming through at the last minute when a family is really in distress, and they’ve called us and they don’t know what to do. I love assisting and navigating a solution for them. I love to be able to help when someone calls and doesn’t know where to turn, and Mom needs care tonight or starting immediately or in the morning.
Whatever their situation is, I love when we get those calls because I know my staff well enough and I can put them in place and provide the care that family needs at that moment. I love being able to provide just a little bit of comfort, ease, peace and help to them in those moments.
Do you have a favorite client story?
There are so many special moments. When I started as a caregiver at Aware Senior Care, I cared for one client, a woman named Miss Elsie. She was an inspiring lady. I got the privilege of being one of her caregivers and then when I started this role as staff coordinator, I always followed up on her care. I would make house visits and check in on her, even though I wasn’t her primary caregiver.
She was quite a trip. When I first met her, I was asked to spend New Year’s Eve with her while she was in the ICU. I remember her family came in at 3 a.m. that night – on New Year’s Eve! I realized what a special family they were. We talked all night long. It was a special memory just to be there with her and her family and celebrate that evening even though she was sick.
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