CEDAR FALLS — The workforce in the health care field has changed considerably during Milissa Tierney’s career.

“We have very high standards — not only in terms of quality, but of quantity as well,” said Tierney, executive director and CEO of NewAldaya Lifescapes. “What we do depends on people being the best they can be and making a difference in people’s lives.”

There are negative aspects, from increasingly stringent health care and privacy regulations to Iowa’s shortage of health care professionals. However, today’s senior residential services workforce provides many positive rewards, said Tierney.

As such, NewAldaya relies on full- and part-time employees, including students, as well as support from scores of volunteers.

“In a place like this, you really have to be an employee family,” Tierney explained. “When you walk into your workplace, it feels like home. There’s a bond there, and that’s rewarding. We do important work, which provides everyone a very unique experience.”

NewAldaya must staff for round-the-clock needs, in a business with varied emphases — individual residential living, home care, assisted living, hospice care and more. This makes providing employees with flexibility to make it to family events and other personal commitments a challenge. Still, Tierney and her team make it a priority to search for creative solutions.

“Our focus is on how important it is for people who work and serve others to find the support and encouragement they need; it has nothing to do with being competitive,” Tierney explained. “We’re investing in and encouraging our employee group in a facility that has seen phenomenal growth among residents — and employees. That has been gratifying.”

Courier Employer of Choice nominators noted a consistent objective they apply to their work: Treat NewAldaya residents the way you’d want your loved ones treated.

“Many employees say this workplace is like a home to them,” said Tierney. “That translates into a group of people who are inspired to create the culture that provides a sense of community. … We work very hard, and while we’re working hard, we play hard.”

For example, each year, there is a “very competitive” Halloween costume competition, noted Tierney. Human resources staff also plan regular fun and engaging activities. Regular meetings and recognition events are another way to bring together the large, varied and dispersed staff.

Nominators also highlighted exemplary communication and transparency among managers and senior executives.

That’s by design, said Tierney.

“It’s essential to our success that we’re open to people who have different ideas,” she said. “We have discussions called ‘bubble ups,’ where no idea is off limits. That’s where the idea of our Main Street area came from.

“Not everyone is comfortable with innovative conversations,” Tierney added. “For someone like me, who tends to live on the more innovative side of things, it’s a good idea for me to monitor the comfort level of employees in those discussions.”

Employees appreciate the balance — being open to different, “out there” ideas while ensuring others are engaged and included.

Tierney also works to help employees become more comfortable with possible failure.

“If you learn to tolerate some risk, you hear more ideas, and you’re going to empower your workforce to be part of that change,” she explained.

She learned that from experience. When she joined the staff of the former Cedar Falls Lutheran Home, she told the director of nursing she’d stay two to three years at most.

Nearly two decades later, Tierney laughs at her former plan.

“The people here — the volunteers, clients, friends, people who visit and staff — are committed to this place,” she said. “That’s special. When an employee walks onto this campus to begin work, he or she may not realize it’s an opportunity to make a difference to thousands of lives.”

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