Change = Crisis or Opportunity: Which Will It Be?

This marks the end of a tough year for many people, organizations and communities. A vast majority of people had to rethink what to expect and how to operate in a world that is in transition. Those with less have suffered more; those with more have experienced a world in flux. Wherever we stand, this moment in time provides an opportunity to re-think how to live and operate on planet Earth; it is an opportunity that can lead us down a far better path.

By what values and principles do I, does my organization, my community, my society, my world, organize upon? These questions have been on my mind, and on the mind of my clients and friends. If we are only thinking about how to get through the crisis at hand, we may lose the opportunity to shape the larger direction.

I agree with Joanna Macy who says that at this point in our history we must work on three levels simultaneously to affect lasting change: We must help, and not abandon, what is falling apart; work to create new systems, institutions and ways of co-existing; and adopt a new way of thinking that supports inter-connection over separation. Shortly after making a commitment to work this way, I was offered a culture change project that embodied this approach, which I think provides an incredibly feasible model for others to follow.

The "Coffee Shop" at Terrence Cardinal Cooke

The "Coffee Shop" at Terrence Cardinal Cooke

The project that I was asked to do was linked to a larger person-centered care movement. This movement seeks to change the underlying organizing principle behind nursing homes. Instead of organizing around the institution (and I think most of us know what institutionalized care looks like) organize around the needs of the resident to create a home-like environment and an opportunity to MAKE THEIR OWN CHOICES. Very simple but revolutionary. Imagine how different things look when you do this! One principle changes the nature of the business, and how care is provided.

Just as important, person-centered care also means staff input and involvement at all levels. Imagine that! If you think about it, you really could not do the former without the latter. It is taking the pyramid and putting it on its head. What happens when you do this? You come up with neighborhoods instead of nursing units, fine dining vs. cafeteria style meals and many other ways creative ways of organizing the work and the environment itself.

What makes NYC unique is that there is a city-wide quality care committee made of union and nursing home leaders, whose goal is to transform the way care is provided and to do this via worker involvement. A joint commitment to implement person-centered care is actually written into the contract. Whew! Now we are talking. Imagine, union and nursing home leaders working together to move from institutional to person-centered care, backed by leaders from the union and the nursing home. It is happening big time in NYC.

The staff at Terrence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center

The staff at Terrence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center

I will give you a simple example of how it played out in my work with a labor-management team at Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center. We began the project by creating a union and management steering committee to guide the change. The first project was to transform a nursing home dining room from a traditional, institutional space to a person-centered “coffee shop,” as one resident called it now.

The morning the new dining room was launched, I could see it was different in every way: how it looked, how it felt, and what occurred. For the first time, I could not tell which of the people in the room were staff and which were residents, who was management and who was union. The staff transformed the space – a paint job, pictures that residents had created, a continental breakfast at 7am for those who wanted to linger with others in the morning hours over a cup of coffee a pastry or toast. Flowers and tablecloths the staff purchased the day before.

The new space, “Windows on the Park,” was not at all the same: Where they once sat apart, each in their own job and role, now everyone was sharing breakfast, laughing and talking about their lives and backgrounds. I remember sitting there, astounded by the love, community and leveling of power relations. I knew that I was sitting in the middle of a quiet transformation. This is just one example. The power of people to change their environment, to be guided by a new principle, is here.

Whatever field or area you are in, by what core value do you want to organize your life, your organization, your community upon? Does it support a new direction, or will it just shore up the holes on a sinking ship? In my future posts, I will share what’s working, what’s not through my process and the process of my clients. I am eternally grateful to the Labor Management Project for the opportunity to work on initiatives and projects that are meaningful and important to me.

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7 Responses to “Change = Crisis or Opportunity: Which Will It Be?”

  1. Pam Bennett says:

    What a message of hope your newsletter turned out to be. Too often the thought of change is uncomfortable but your experience with Terrence Cardinal Cook feels more energizing, and welcoming, like a celebration.

    Keep up the good work and keep me posted.

    Best to you and your community of clients and friends for a happy and healthy holiday. May we all go into the New Year with the wonderful transformation at Terrence Cardinal Cook Health Care Center in our minds.

  2. Wonderful work, Linda. It’s amazing how change begins within and then the circumstances change to meet it. Congratulations!


    Thanks, Jesus, that’s exactly my philosophy!

  4. I couldn’t agree more…

  5. Where does reality end, and our perceptions, our philosophies, begin.


    thanks for the feedback! Will check with my website person about this – it is good to know


    Thank you! Not sure what rss is? I will check and get back to you.

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