Updated: May 27
By: Ashley Strehl - Managing Editor of Digital and Print Publications
Did you know that substance abuse disorder affects over 20 million Americans aged 12 and over, and 99% of nursing homes across the nation are suffering from staffing shortages in all departments, from nursing to kitchen, to housekeeping? How do these two issues relate to one another? On the surface, they don’t, however, there is a way that they can both be solved, and it’s by working together.
Like so many administrators around the country, Seana Sutterfield, Administrator at Oak Hills Care Center in Jones, Oklahoma, was struggling to keep her nursing home fully staffed. Because of this, Sutterfield and Chief Operations Officer of Voyage LTC, Kip McElwee, began the search for more employees in a more untraditional, and innovative way. Instead of the usual job post on Indeed or Facebook, they set out on a search for substance abuse recovery programs housing individuals in need of employment.
After extensive research and multiple phone calls, they finalized a partnership with The Unity House LLC of OKC, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program that houses women in recovery. “I thought, you know, if we could just staff the building with these women, even if it was just housekeeping, dietary, laundry, and hospitality aids, it’s giving those women an opportunity for a second chance,” Sutterfield said.
While low employment numbers did play a large factor, Sutterfield says that this has been an aspiration of hers for a while. “I’m a recovering addict myself,” Sutterfield said. “I’m 14 years clean, and it’s always been my heart's desire to give back to individuals who are recovering from addiction, because I know what that’s like, and it helps my own recovery as well.”
Women of The Unity House of OKC recovery program are required to have a job to pay rent for their housing. However, obtaining employment can be challenging when many have no access to their own transportation. Current Oak Hills CNA and Staffing Coordinator, Lindsey Fuller, was appointed by Sutterfield to use the long-term care community's transportation van to shuttle the women to and from work until a full time driver was hired. “I’m also a recovering addict, and I was more than happy to help,” Fuller said.
Sutterfield took the first step by attending and speaking at a Unity Church meeting in January that the women who currently don’t have employment are required to attend. “I shared my story of addiction in front of 65 women, and invited them to come work at Oak Hills,” Sutterfield said. “I told them about our Core Values, specifically Ministry, and I told them that we would be able to provide transportation. It was amazing to see the outpour of eagerness to work that these women had. They were so grateful that someone cared enough to come to them, and that it was someone that they could relate to. There is a stigma against people of recovery, and I think it gave them hope and inspiration.”
Since that night, 11 women of The Unity House have begun their employment in Jones. Four are performing as Hospitality Aides, two in dietary, one in transportation, and four in housekeeping. “After we did all the necessary HR stuff, we started to make the calls, but I think they were probably calling us more than we were calling them,” Sutterfield said. “They were more than ready to get to work.”
CEO and Founder of Voyage LTC, Brad Underwood, jumped on the idea with the Voyage Core Value, Ministry, in mind. The Ministry Core Value states, “We acknowledge and accept our purpose is to serve, to love, to care, and to heal.” “I’m really excited about this,” Underwood said. “Not only will this help us keep our homes fully staffed, but it’s going to open a lot of doors for people who need them.”
About Unity House LLC
There are currently eight houses in the OKC metro that fall under the umbrella of The Unity House LLC. According to the Oklahoma Alliance for Recovery Residences’ website, the Unity Houses are 12-step based women’s recovery residences designed to support alcohol and drug addicts through their journey of recovery. All houses of The Unity House are certified Level II recovery residences, which means that this is only the second step in the women's journey of recovery.
Each property operated by The Unity House LLC is uniquely named, and houses 5-10 women. So far, Oak Hills has employed women from the Steanson House, Hefner House, Princess House, and Warren House. The invitation to work at Oak Hills is open for women of the other homes as well, such as the Senior House, Flamingo House, Ann Arbor House, Vermont House, Mayfair House, MacArthur House, and Hammond House.
Only the Beginning
A new designated transport driver, and fellow member of the Unity House, has already begun shuttling individuals of the recovery program to and from Oak Hills this week. “It’s a second chance, and a new chapter,” Dietary Aid, and member of the Steanson House, Lynda Carter, said. “I love it here.”
Other long-term care management communities under Voyage Long Term Care, such as Edmond Health Care Center, are expected to look into the new pool of candidates as the staffing needs arise. “I think this most certainly sets us apart,” Sutterfield said. “I don’t see any other healthcare company or long-term care facility doing this.”
Continuation of education will soon become available to the new employees interested in pursuing a career in the field of nursing.
Hospitality Aides are looking forward to obtaining their CNA licenses, while Heather Pruitt, a member of the Hefner House, is planning on studying to get her LPN license. “When you have a background, it’s hard to find places that will take you in and trust you,” Pruitt said. “I turned my life around, and I am proud of that. I’m improving my life. If it wasn’t for Oak Hills, and Seana, I would still be stuck, but I feel like I’m moving forward.”
Sutterfield is also arranging to visit more recovery meetings to share her story and encourage even more women, and men, to join the team at Oak Hills Care Center.
“I think the fact that they can relate to the administrator helps them feel more secure here. If I hadn’t been given a second chance, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.” - Seana Sutterfield