It all began with a nursing home in Fairbury, Nebraska.
In 1975, Jack and Eldora Vetter took a leap of faith and bought the facility, with the goal of offering that community’s senior citizens a safe, loving and welcoming home. Grounded in the belief that the elderly deserve “dignity in life,” the Vetter Way was born.
Today, from that first nursing home, Vetter Senior Living has grown to 32 facilities in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Wyoming, caring for approximately 2,500 residents. For the organization’s 3,600 employees, the Vetter Way is not just a slogan. It shapes every interaction they have with each other and the residents they care for.
“Visit any of our facilities and within ten minutes max you’ll know what our culture is,” said Glenn Van Ekeren, president of Vetter Health Services, which provides management services to the Vetter Senior Living facilities. “People who believe in what they are doing, who are passionate about being part of something bigger, operate at a higher level. The higher the level of employee satisfaction, the better the results.”
As evidence of this passion and high level of employee satisfaction, Vetter Health Services was recently named as one of the 2018 Best Places to Work in Omaha. This annual initiative measures employee satisfaction and engagement via an online survey. Vetter Health Services has been awarded this distinction several times over the past ten years.
In addition, all Vetter Senior Living facilities were recently certified as Great Workplaces by the independent analysts at Great Place to Work.
According to the surveys:
- 90% say their work has special meaning, and it isn’t “just a job”
- 90% say they are proud to tell others they work at Vetter Health Services
- 93% say senior leaders of the organization value people as their most important resource
What makes a company a great place to work? Employees say it all boils down to relationships.
“Relationships are the best part of my job and why I love working here,” said Rhonda Flanigan, Vetter Health Service’s chief people officer. “The culture is, ‘How can I make this other person’s job or life easier?’”
The company’s emphasis on relationships—rather than profits—sets them apart in the industry. “We believe that if you take care of relationships, the bottom line will take care of itself,” Van Ekeren said. “When we open new facilities, at the ribbon cutting ceremony Jack always says that quality isn’t about the facility, it’s about the people. The people create the quality environment. This philosophy makes us unique.”
This focus on quality and high standards isn’t just demonstrated by the employee survey results. Under the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Five-Star Quality Rating system, the average score for a Vetter Senior Living facility is 4.7. The national CMS average is 3.2 stars.
Both Van Ekeren and Flanigan stressed the importance of new employees embracing the organization’s culture. Behavior-based questions during the interview process help them find candidates with the qualities of warmth, compassion and respect they are looking for. “This gives us a good idea of where their heart is,” said Flanigan. “We need to know that their heart is in the right place. You can have great skills, but if you don’t have a servant heart, it won’t work.”
To help sustain the company’s positive culture and employee engagement, they created the cross-functional Best Places to Work Transformers (also known as the “BPW Transformers”). The team, consisting of representatives from each home office department and led by Van Ekeren and Flanigan, meets quarterly to refine and develop employee engagement strategies.
Vetter Health Services’ low turnover rate—60% of employees have been there 10 years or more—indicates the company is onto something. “I’d rather let the position stay open than hire someone just to get it filled,” Flanigan said. “Finding the right person is better than hiring too fast.” Van Ekeren summed it up: “Right people, plus right job equals happy work environment.”
Two Vetter Health Services employees, Joe Sturgeon, a network administrator, and Chay Indra, a registered nurse in the organization’s clinical services development area agree with the “right people plus right job equals happy work environment” equation. Both feel a deep connection to the work they do and the people they work with and for. Sturgeon has been with Vetter Health Services for 18 years; Indra has worked at the company for two years.
“We know how lucky we are to work here every day,” Sturgeon said. Indra agreed. “I wish everybody knew what it was like to feel this every day,” she said. “I am very blessed to be put in this position, at this company.”
Both Sturgeon and Indra credit Vetter management with leading by example and establishing the company’s commitment to servant leadership. “Making this a great place to work doesn’t happen by accident,” Sturgeon said. “Culture starts from leadership down. They are who they say they are, and they do what they say they are going to do.”
Vetter Health Services has been a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska client for 17 years.