To support a foreign-born workforce, education is always important, say providers. Specifically, education and required trainings should be geared to meeting staff where they are.

“It means that you understand that folks learn in different ways, and that you make sure that the educational program can be adaptable to meeting the learner’s needs,” says Mary Savoy, executive director and administrator at Forest Hills, a private, not-for-profit, full service retirement community in Washington, D.C. There are rewards to following this approach, including the acknowledgement and appreciation from the staff. “While it’s not specific to foreign-born employees, in some cases, that acknowledgement may mean more to someone who’s not used to getting it than it may mean to someone who is born in this country.” 

Resident satisfaction surveys at Forest Hills are all sent to family members. “We typically score 100 percent on those,” says Savoy. “Even with a near totally foreign-born workforce working with individuals who have memory care and cognitive difficulties, the outcomes are fantastic.”

Some of the residents at Forest Hills can barely speak, do not know who they are, or why they are there at the center. “So the cognitive deficits are in most cases very severe, but there’s something that happens between that resident and that staff member that makes it work for both of them,” says Savoy.

Savoy shares a story of a young woman staff member who was from an African country. The staff member became aware that one of the residents really enjoyed a song. So she took the time to find the song on her phone and memorize it so that she could to sing it to help the resident remember or recall it. After much practice, says Savoy, the staff member made sure that she could interpret it and sing it to the resident. “That’s a person from African working with someone here who suffered from dementia.

The caring, the compassion, and the commitment doesn’t care where you were born, it’s the culture of caring that makes the difference for the employee,” she says.

Read the February 2018 cover story.