5 Reasons Nurses Thrive at Hebrew SeniorLife

Author: Tammy Retalic, DNP, M.S., RN
nurses sitting at a table

At Hebrew SeniorLife, we understand that the backbone of exceptional senior care lies in the hands and hearts of our nurses. In the face of a significant nursing shortage, the health care industry has been presented with the challenge of not only attracting but also retaining nursing professionals. Hebrew SeniorLife has risen to meet this challenge head-on by fostering an environment that nurses don’t just work in, but one they love and can consider their “forever home.” Here are some of the aspects of our culture that make Hebrew SeniorLife a great place for nurses. 

Empower Career Growth

At Hebrew SeniorLife, we understand that our nurses have diverse career goals and aspirations, each as unique as they are. To support these ambitions, we’ve established personalized career counseling, available to nursing staff at all levels, to ensure that every nurse receives tailored guidance to chart their own professional journey. Our approach is not just about career advancement; it’s about striking a balance between professional goals and personal life. Our executive staff and direct managers engage proactively with each nurse, fostering an environment in which educational pursuits such as master’s or doctoral degrees are encouraged and supported in a way that respects personal commitments and lifestyle needs. 

Shirley Belfleur’s story illustrates this commitment. Shirley has been with Hebrew SeniorLife since 2009. In 2013, she enrolled in the Practical Nurse program at MassBay Community College, but struggled with test-taking anxiety and ultimately was not able to pass the course. Afterward, she began working longer hours, but was encouraged to go back to school by her family and coworkers. In 2019, after one of her sons left for college, Shirley decided she wanted to give college another try. With assistance from Hebrew SeniorLife’s scholarship program, she enrolled at Labouré College of Healthcare, transferring credits over from her previous coursework. This time, she tackled her busy schedule with the help of teachers and coworkers and went on to become a registered nurse, graduating in June 2023. As she puts it, “I encourage any one of my coworkers who want to start a new career to go for it. It is not about age, it is about discipline, perseverance, and determination.”

Our stepped approach to professional development allows for a manageable progression toward higher professional goals, increased wages, and support for family life. By promoting a culture of continuous growth that is attuned to individual needs and life circumstances, we create a nurturing and flexible environment. Here, nurses are empowered to reach their full potential, both as professionals and as individuals with rich lives outside of work.

Reward Excellence

At Hebrew SeniorLife, the Nurse Excellence Program stands as a beacon of our commitment to nurturing the professional growth and expertise of our nursing staff. The program seeks to identify and cultivate the individual strengths and interests of our nurses, providing them with the opportunity to advance their skills and leadership in areas they are passionate about.

Participants in the Nurse Excellence Program are carefully selected based on their demonstrated desire to excel and to serve as role models for their peers. The program includes a comprehensive approach to development, encompassing mentorship, participation in specialized committees, and engagement in activities such as conferences and quality-improvement projects. Each nurse is paired with a coach to guide them through designing and leading educational programs, and to spearhead initiatives aimed at enhancing patient outcomes within their specialty.

Support Lifelong Learning

Hebrew SeniorLife has established partnerships with a wide range of colleges and universities, providing our nurses with valuable opportunities to advance their education and careers. Notably, St. Joseph's College and Regis College stand out as prime examples of these partnerships.

Our partnership with St. Joseph’s College enables Hebrew SeniorLife to offer innovative educational programs for certified nursing assistants to obtain their bachelor of science in nursing degrees. Classes are conducted at Hebrew SeniorLife by our own experts, who serve as adjunct professors, seamlessly blending work and study. This is complemented by generous tuition reimbursement, reduced tuition fees, and scholarship programs, some of which are funded by residents of Hebrew SeniorLife’s senior living communities and other donors, showcasing a community-wide investment in the future of nursing.

Our partnership with Regis College through the Clinical Nurse Leader Master’s Program is a model of advanced nursing education. This program is designed to prepare nurses for advanced clinical leadership roles, equipping them to navigate and excel in the ever-evolving landscape of health care.

Nurses enrolled in the program are empowered to address complex issues and to practice effectively across the continuum of care in any health care setting. They are trained to assume accountability for patient-care outcomes, integrating and applying evidence-based information to design, implement, and evaluate patient-care processes and models of care delivery. The program goes beyond traditional nursing roles, focusing on improving health care outcomes through quality management and evidence-based practice. Graduates emerge as expert clinicians, educators, and advocates, proficient in outcome and information management. They are prepared not just to adapt, but to lead in the dynamic field of health care, bringing about transformative changes in patient care and health care delivery systems.

Foster Open Communication

Our commitment to inclusivity extends to providing opportunities for all staff members to participate in decision-making committees, not just senior leadership. This shared governance model empowers our staff at all levels to contribute to the solutions that affect their daily work.

For example, tiered huddles at Hebrew SeniorLife represent a structured, multi-level approach to communication and problem-solving that is integral to our nurturing work culture and commitment to open communication. Huddles help ensure that concerns and challenges encountered by nursing staff on the front lines are addressed promptly and effectively.

The foundation of this model is the frontline huddle, in which staff gather to discuss the day’s agenda, any issues related to patient care, and to share updates or changes in protocols. The frontline huddle empowers nurses to solve problems directly, fostering a sense of autonomy and direct impact on their work environment.

Nurses escalate complex or systemic issues to huddles that include leadership and/or interdisciplinary teams. Escalation ensures that persistent problems or those requiring more resources are brought to the attention of decision-makers who can implement organizational changes.

The tiered huddle system also serves as a mechanism for continuous quality improvement. As issues are resolved at various levels, feedback loops are created, allowing for the implementation of long-term solutions that improve patient care and streamline nursing operations.

Nurture Wellness

Hebrew SeniorLife’s well-being initiatives, such as the Stress First Aid Program and the Code Lavender Program, ensure our nurses have the support they need to thrive. These programs provide tangible resources and trained personnel to help staff manage stress and maintain well-being.

Stress First Aid

The Stress First Aid Program at Hebrew SeniorLife is a pioneering initiative designed to address the mental health and stress management needs of our health care staff, particularly our dedicated nurses. This program acknowledges that those who provide care also need support, and it equips staff with the tools and resources to recognize and respond to stress in themselves and their colleagues.

Stress First Aid is not just a policy but a culture within Hebrew SeniorLife that promotes resilience and well-being. It offers a structured system for early identification and intervention for stress reactions, with trained personnel ready to provide support and strategies to mitigate stress-related issues. The program is tailored to the unique pressures of the health care environment, providing practical, evidence-based tactics that staff can utilize in their daily routines.

Through the Stress First Aid Program, our staff are empowered to maintain not only their physical well-being but their mental and emotional health as well. It encourages open dialogue about stress and mental health, removing the stigma and fostering a workplace where individuals feel seen, heard, and cared for. Ultimately, this program is a critical component of Hebrew SeniorLife’s commitment to sustaining a healthy, supportive, and productive work environment for all employees.

Code Lavender

At Hebrew SeniorLife, the introduction of Code Lavender has been a testament to our dedication to the well-being of our nursing staff. Recognizing the emotional and physical demands of nursing, Code Lavender serves as a rapid response system for caregivers in need of psychological support or a moment of respite.

Code Lavender is summoned when a nurse or a team experiences a particularly stressful event, such as the loss of a patient or a high-tension emergency. It is a holistic care huddle that provides immediate, on-site support to those affected, offering resources to help manage the acute stress and emotional toll such events can take. The initiative is symbolic of a cart that can be brought to the unit, equipped with items designed to provide comfort and stress relief — such as stress balls, aromatherapy, snacks, and supportive materials.

The program is not only reactive but also preventive, as it fosters a workplace culture that openly acknowledges the impact of stress and burnout in health care settings. By encouraging staff to step away from the intensity of their duties and partake in a collective moment of healing, Code Lavender reinforces Hebrew SeniorLife’s commitment to nurturing a supportive and compassionate work environment. This initiative underscores the organization’s holistic approach to health care, valuing the well-being of the caregivers as highly as the patients they serve.

Our initiatives, from educational programs to well-being support, are more than benefits; they are the embodiment of our commitment to our nurses and the seniors they care for. As we continue to evolve and adapt, one thing remains constant: Our dedication to creating a place where nurses are not only empowered but celebrated, making Hebrew SeniorLife not just a workplace, but a home. Learn more about why we’re a great place to work and view open positions.

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The Best Health Care for Seniors

Hebrew SeniorLife is the only senior health care organization affiliated with Harvard Medical School. Members of our caregiving teams specialize in providing geriatric care, and they do so with care and compassion.

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Chief Nursing Officer and Vice President, Patient Care Services, Hebrew Rehabilitation Center Tammy Retalic

About Tammy Retalic, DNP, M.S., RN

Chief Nursing Officer and Vice President, Patient Care Services, Hebrew Rehabilitation Center

Tammy B. Retalic, M.S., RN, is chief nursing officer for Hebrew SeniorLife and vice president of patient care services for Hebrew Rehabilitation Center. Tammy manages a staff of 1,200 over a continuum of long-term chronic care and rehabilitation services on...

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