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  • Writer's pictureDave Veale

Nurturing change, leading with the heart

Updated: Sep 23, 2021


Cindy Donovan, Loch Lomond Villa

Cindy Donovan, CEO of Loch Lomond Villa Inc. in Saint John. Over the last 12 years, she has guided the nursing home through a shift in culture and significant growth. Photo: Cindy Wilson/Telegraph-Journal

Cindy Donovan leads with her heart. She has been the CEO of Loch Lomond Villa for 12 years now and the unique approach Cindy takes at the Villa ensures each resident receives the most innovative and expert care possible.

Founded in 1972 by the Simonds Lions Club, the Loch Lomond Villa’s core values – along with its Planetree Continuing Care Philosophy – form the basis of all of its relationships. Planetree is a belief system that touches all areas of life at the villa, including the work environment, operations, leadership, expertise, innovation and services. This creates a focus of compassion and dedication and allows the staff to keep their attention exclusively on their clients – the residents.

Loch Lomond Villa, a nationally accredited facility, offers a full continuum of care – independent apartment living, supportive housing suites, a seniors’ outreach program, a child daycare and two nursing homes. It has won some impressive awards, including the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes 2014 Life Enrichment Award, 2014 Workplace Wellness Award and the 2014 Workplace Quality Award.

Q: What happens here at Loch Lomond Villa?

A: We’re actually caring for people as individuals – we are giving them a holistic approach to care. So it’s not just physical care but spiritual, psychological and emotional care. We’re a large community within the community in east Saint John.

Q: How would you describe what your organization does?

A: Our philosophy at Loch Lomond Villa is to provide individualized services for our aging population under one umbrella. Right now we have 500 clients and a staff of 326.

We’re not just a nursing home – we have many apartments where seniors live independently. We also have a wellness centre where we reach out to the community and those same community members come to us to provide different wellness programs for seniors that live here as well as seniors in the community.

Q: How did you land here as CEO?

A: I am a nurse and I worked in acute care for a few years. At an early age I decided to apply for my first management job, which was in long-term care, and landed the job at one of our local nursing homes as the director of nursing. Since then, I’ve moved from that nursing home to another one, then landed here at Loch Lomond Villa 12 years ago as CEO.

Q: What are some the changes you made to keep pace with the health care industry?

A: We re-activated our foundation so we could bring revenue into the organization in order to buy the things that the government couldn’t fund – the things that would increase the quality of life for our residents.

With that, we started looking at our organization as an old building with infrastructure issues. We started lobbying the government for funds to build new homes, new rooms and in December 2009, we accomplished that after doing $10 million in renovations to upgrade our apartments.

We recently built a 100-bed state-of-the-art home across the street from our original building and it’s been open for a year. Currently we are building a 90-bed nursing home and we’ll be renovating the old structure, all to be completed by the summer of 2015.

Q: Apart from infrastructure, what else have you been doing?

A: I just came back from British Columbia and was looking at multi-generational concepts. We’re looking at doing a community-needs assessment here to determine what we really need in this community. Soon I hope to travel to the Netherlands to see their magnificent concept of dementia care. I want to ensure that our residents continue to celebrate their life while they live with us.

Q: How would you describe the culture you are encouraging at Loch Lomond Villa?

A: We won’t have happy residents if we don’t have happy staff. The culture change since 2010 has been magnificent. The change is a feeling – new staff, staff that have been with us for years and the families all agree. It is a resident- and staff-focused culture that we have been working hard at transforming as a culture that is practiced every day and embraced by all. It is about building relationships.

Q: How did the culture shift take root?

A: In 2012, we sent the whole staff – all 326 staff members – to a one-day retreat. They learned what it was like to be a resident. They lived the experience. They came back with a different appreciation.

This year, we have broadened the retreats to include volunteers, residents and families. We’re building relationships between staff, residents and families. They now know the vision and the purpose of the organization. Enhanced communication supports people buying into the culture shift.

Q: What’s the biggest learning for you in leading a shift in organizational culture?

A: The scariest part is opening up. You need to open the book and be prepared to know everything. We’re not perfect so you have to be prepared to hear what’s wrong and be open to it. It has to start with the board and the leadership. We had to accept what people said in the focus groups.

Q: What was the initial reaction to the feedback you received?

A: Generally, our automatic reaction is to defend when we are told something is wrong. We, as a team, had to remember that that couldn’t be our first reaction. We needed to say “thank you” for letting us know – we needed to stand up and take notice.

Q: How much do you think the average person understands long-term care?

A: People don’t want to have to come to a nursing home. We want people to be able to stay in their homes with their family. Absolutely. But we are here for a reason, for people who can no longer be at home.

Q: Tell me about the Connecting Seniors’ Dreams Program.

A: Six years ago I read an article from the U.S. about nursing home clients having their dreams come true and I thought, “Why can’t we do that?” So we asked residents what they would like to do before they die and we have been able, with the support of the community, to grant 29 dreams so far. We’ve done everything from going out for chicken wings at a restaurant, to flying to Florida, to going over the Confederation Bridge to publishing a book.

Q: How would you finish the following sentence,“A leader’s job is to…”?

A: A leader’s job is to make a difference. It’s about seeing skills and abilities in others and knowing just how far you can push.

Q: What’s the best advice you have received?

A: My father said,“You have to realize that to be a good manager not everyone is going to like you.”

Q: If someone were considering a leadership position in health care what advice would you give?

A: Long-term care does not get the credit it deserves. When people think healthcare, they think acute care, the machines. Long-term care is special – every resident has a life history to share with us. It’s about celebrating life.   A leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John

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