Cedar Community: Steve Jaberg, Executive Director and CEO

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Fifty-Five years ago, Mr. William Koehl, an aging farmer without any heirs or family, donated 98 acres of land to the United Church of Christ. His only stipulation was that it be used to benefit the elderly. The result has become Wisconsin’s largest not-for-profit senior health care and retirement housing complex.

Cedar Community has facilities located on five campuses in Washington and Sheboygan Counties in Wisconsin. With upward of 1100 residents and 650 staff, they provide a wide range of senior support services, including independent and assisted living options, subacute care for patients ready to leave the hospital but not quite ready to return home, skilled nursing care, outpatient rehabilitation, home health, hospice, and more. From seniors who are still living independently, but would simply like to reduce responsibilities such as yard and home maintenance, to seniors who need help in specific areas of living, the facilities and programs of Cedar Community are set up to assist with the whole spectrum of senior needs, and to make the transitions easier as each individual requires more assistance.

Responding to Trends & Technology

Steve Jaberg, Executive Director and CEO of Cedar Community, attributes the steady growth of the organization to a tradition of paying attention and responding to trends in demographics. Rather than waiting to be forced to fulfill a need, “the moment we hear of a trend, we create a plan,” says Jaberg. “We tend to want to experience it.”

This explains the breadth and depth of services provided at Cedar Community that cover the continuum of care for seniors. Cedar Landing at Elkhart Lake is the community’s newest addition. It consists of 40 side-by-side homes for independent men and women over the age of 62, as well as a 27-apartment assisted living complex for those needing some amount of support for daily living. The 14-acre community includes walking paths, a club house, and a welcoming gazebo in a central park-like setting.

Other recent expansions include the launch of Cedar Community Supportive Care in 2007. The non-medical, home-based care includes everything from help with everyday tasks such as meals and laundry to light cleaning, medication assistance, and running errands. Home health nursing services have also been expanded, as well as buildings and renovations to enhance community, such as the Cedar Lakes Campus Village Clubhouse.

The organization also just spent $800,000 on new computer servers. “We feel computers are critical to the operations,” says Jaberg. CNAs use CareTracker, a documentation system that virtually assures every resident in the health care center has his or her health care plans needs met by the end of each shift. Each household has several monitors. Care takers simply document their actions via a touch screen monitor. The system also includes pictures explaining procedures that might need to be carried out. This allows the director of nursing to be able to see a complete picture, at any time, on how well each facility is complying with patient health care plans. A shift doesn’t end until all markers for that shift are met.

Wireless SmartPads and a program called MySys provides similar benefits for Home Health Aides. All actions are documented in home, as the service is being provided, which carries directly into the billing system. “We don’t waste time sitting behind desks doing documentation,” Jaberg says.

The Administrative Council

Jaberg believes that one key to successful administration is leaving egos at the door. We live in a society based on winners and loses, he says. “The problem is that this is usually to the detriment of everyone else, except for the ego being fed. We have to think in bigger terms.”

The word community literally means to give among each other (Latin cum = together, among each other; munus = the gift). Cedar Community takes its name quite seriously. “I’m the CEO,” says Jaberg, “and while I have a different job that the custodial maintenance, I’m not any better than the custodial maintenance. We’re all in this together.”

“We’re a community providing services to a community.” By keeping individual egos out, Jaberg says the focus remains on the residents who need the care. To this end, Jaberg has created an administrative council. Through an extensive process of education and administrative coaching, the council has learned to work together for the greater good.

“We are all very aware of what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are,” Jaberg says, and the agreement is that everyone is free to call each other out when needs aren’t being met. “We’ve really congealed as a group,” he says. “We know how to temper things, why we think the way we do, how we’re likely to respond to a situation, and we’ve been able to pull the positives and really cut through a lot of problems with ego and miscommunication which is pretty traditional in many organizations. We’ve really tried to be proactive in addressing that.”

The lessons learned are filtered down, but Jaberg says it is important to address education from the top down and the bottom up. The organization was recently involved, along with nine other nursing homes, in the development of an educational curriculum that was almost entirely developed by certified nursing assistants. “We said, ‘We don’t know how to do your job better than you do. You tell us what the best practices are.’ And we built a whole curriculum around CNAs … for educating others and it’s from people who know what they are doing in the field,” Jaberg explains.

The World’s Friendliest

“If you would walk in here today, I promise you … everybody’s going to look you in the eye and say, ‘Hi, How are you?’ ‘Good Morning,’ or ‘How are you doing?’” Jaberg says. He believes this atmosphere of friendliness enhances both co-worker and patient relations. “When you validate each other, that cuts out a lot of blaming and backstabbing,” he says. “And in terms of marketing, when you bring your grandmother here and the first eight people who see you are friendly and shake hands and touch her, there’s a sense of security. And we’re not phony about it. I’ve gone into so many hospitals and so many clinics where I’ve walked in and nobody acknowledges you. They walk past you, look down at the wall. I think part of healthcare being therapeutic in all aspects is that you at least acknowledge that they’re there and greet people.”

Jaberg knows that keeping everyone rallied around that type of culture is crucial. He believes in promoting from within. The current director of nursing came on as a certified nursing assistant only seven years ago. He believes in investing in and developing existing staff to move them into leadership roles. “We are constantly thinking about succession planning at all levels and we always have people cross trained and backed up, including me, so that at any position this organization can never be basically weakened by a turnover in leadership.”

Values at Cedar Community are pretty straightforward – honesty, decency, friendliness, communication, professional development, learning new skills, paying attention to trends and acting on them. “This is pretty much universal in this organization and people who respond to that stay here, and people who don’t eventually find another place, and we’re okay with that.” Jaberg points out that turnover can be good and bad for an organization. He tells new hires to mark a big X on their calendars at six months after they start working there. When they see that X, he encourages them to ask themselves if they are having any fun. If not, he says, “Please leave – because you owe it to yourself, to this organization, and to your family to always be in a position where you are happy to be there.”

“I want to be the world’s friendliest,” Jaberg says. “Somebody has to and I want it to be Cedar Community.”

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