We want to continue to highlight the work of our amazing adult foster care home providers in Oregon.
Matthew Gannon spent some time talking with Joana Olaru, MBA, owner and operator of Alpine House Senior Skilled Living in Washington county. Please read below to learn more about Joana.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you began working in adult care homes.
I was born in Romania, as are many providers, and that is where I earned my nursing degree. Shortly after, I escaped the Communists by migrating to Belgium for about a decade. I went back to school in Belgium and France and got two master’s degrees, one in geriatrics and nursing home administration, and another in business administration. I speak Romanian, French, and English.
I came to the United States in 1995, and in 1996 I fell into working in an adult care home by accident – a friend begged me to work in his house so he could go on vacation. I agreed and quickly I discovered it feeds my soul. Because Romania is a culture of multi-generational living where we care for our elders, my background made it feel like a natural fit. I love helping people when they most need it, and I found the relationships that would form with the elders very meaningful. Six months later, I opened my first adult care home. I now have three classification 3 homes, and there is nothing else I’d rather be doing.
...this is a chosen lifestyle, not a job; there is total involvement in my business.
What do you believe makes adult foster care homes special?
If you have to go somewhere else to live, then definitely a smaller environment such as an adult care home makes it easier to meet your needs. Also, this is a chosen lifestyle, not a job; there is total involvement in my business. In this model, there is fluidity and flexibility of the custom-tailored and detail-oriented care, and the real belief in allowing every resident the freedom to make choices - real choices - and the ability to give support in achieving what otherwise would look like dreams. It’s about making residents a part of my extended family.
We have a scheduled activity every day, and family members are always invited. We celebrate all holidays. We take people to golf courses, to ride horses, to go swimming, (peer) paragliding, and Harley motorcycle riding to the coast and Mt. Hood. We’ve brought in ponies, llamas, curly mice, professional musicians, and dancers, just to name a few.
We try to make it fun, worth living life, and still have exhilarating experiences, even if at a smaller scale and for a shorter time. We are very party friendly and COVID was a big downer, but we still brought in – outdoors of course - music bands, drums, didgeridoo players, cellists, flute bagpipe players, puppeteers, and fireworks. Everyone enjoys the parties and celebrations together.
What do you love most about the work you do?
Making a difference in people’s lives – I do the heaviest of the care needs. The majority of, if not all my residents would be parked in a nursing home if they were not here with us, but, you know what…we can do better, and we strive for being better every day. We know the residents by name, and they all matter to us. They also know us all by name, even when they forget their children’s names at times because I make every effort to support and care for them each and every day.
To me, it is not about physical care, though it often starts with that, it is more about the life we are able to breathe into the lives of residents for the last years/months of their lives. Getting old and dying is a sacred passage, and I feel so privileged and blessed to be part of that journey.
If you lead with love, you will enrich the lives of residents and enrich yours even more.
What do you believe makes someone's work successful?
Love what you do and try to expand your body of knowledge every single day; don’t stop learning, and remain curious. Open your heart to new people, and to new ways of doing things. Try new things and do not stop loving people, experiences, and stories. If you lead with love, you will enrich the lives of residents and enrich yours even more. It is a journey, so find pleasure and joy in it, and you will be so good at it that the money will follow.
There is not one success story; the stories are reoccurring. Success stories are when I get all the health care professionals involved to respond to me and work on a comprehensive care plan for a new resident. It occurs when the discharge/admission is orchestrated well. A resident is a person whose life has been entrusted to me, and all that matters is they get the very best of what there is. This is hard work, but it is very rewarding.
Remaining in compliance with the state is also a key to success. Do whatever you can to remain in compliance, even if it takes away from other things.
What is most gratifying to me is when family members of past residents and former staff still come to participate in celebrations with us.
Anything else you'd like us to know about you?
When I hire staff, I have very high expectations, and if our team accepts the new staff member, I will then bend over backward to make sure we retain the person. We are a team, and we focus on the details together. I want things done in excess of the rules. I want more and better, and I believe people that stay with me appreciate that striving for excellence. There is pride in this and there is pride in being associated with Alpine House. I add layers of caregivers and outside agencies when or if needed because it takes a village. I do this to avoid burnout.
All my staff has the training of a provider, and I recognize their effort and I empower them. Again, this is not a job, it is a lifestyle. I want all people living in the home and working in the home to live life to the fullest.
Taking care of seniors is my passion, and I am always expanding on what I know.
When I started my first house, people would ask me, “why would you be a caregiver when you
can be so many other things with all of your education?” I said it then and still think it today after more than 25 years: it is what you make of it. Like we say in French, “L’auberge Espagnole” (you get out with what you put/bring in).
For me, it was and still is a deeply enriching experience and one that has challenged me in more than one aspect, including my humanity and sense of self. In the end, giving feels better than receiving – but then when you give full-heartedly, you will always receive tenfold.
You can visit Joana's website: Alpine House Senior Skilled Living