In Economic Mobility, Healthcare

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry faces challenges with retention, burnout and staffing shortages. Long-term care workers in the Portland-Southwest Washington Metropolitan region have a turnover rate of 87%, significantly higher than the economy-wide turnover rate of 69%, according to the Columbia-Willamette Workforce Collaborative’s 2022 Healthcare Labor Market Report.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated worker turnover across the economy. The impact was particularly exacerbated in healthcare. Many healthcare workers faced increasingly stressful and dangerous working conditions.

In Southwest Washington, Koelsch Communities found answers in a training and advancement opportunity, designed to help their long-term staff by equipping them with a new methodology of care for patients with dementia. Originally piloted in 2017, Koelsch partnered with Workforce Southwest Washington (WSW) to train staff on Humanitude, a paradigm-shifting training for staff working with patients with dementia.

Koelsch, established in 1958, is a family-owned and operated independent living, assisted living and memory care provider to almost 3,000 residents in 36 communities across eight states. Their innovative care techniques and programs are nationally recognized in the Senior Living industry. Nurses are involved with every aspect of resident care, including health assessments and direct communication with physicians or medical caregivers.

WSW has invested $58,669 in the trainings for 64 Koelsch employees, which took place in four cohort trainings, during 2017, 2019, 2020 and 2023.

The trainings proved successful for Koelsch, as staff noticed a dramatic positive change in quality of life for many residents. There were improvements in residents walking, talking, and accepting care. Several withdrawn residents began feeding themselves and interacting with others. There was a 90 percent reduction in aggressive behavior and refusal of care by residents with dementia.

The trainings also served as an employee satisfaction and retention tool with Koelsch committing to title changes and salary increases for employees that successfully completed the training.

“The training is intended to advance the skillset of the long-term care workforce in Southwest Washington. Humanitude places their skills set above their peers in the workplace,” said Sean Moore, Senior Project Manager for Healthcare at WSW.

In January 2023, WSW and Koelsch continued their partnership to bring the Humanitude training to additional long-term care workers and the public. Koelsch hosted a training for 24 employees and two public training sessions at the Cascade Inn in Vancouver, WA and Canterbury Park in Longview, WA. The public sessions attracted more than 75 participants, including family members and friends of aging adults, social workers, case managers, nurses and other healthcare workers.

The trainings were led by João Pärtel Araújo, Chief Operating Officer of Humanitude Portugal. With the public, João shared the pillars of Humanitude, including Gaze, Speech, Touch and Verticality. The public trainings featured examples of how the Humanitude methodology has impacted patients and how participants can implement ‘care-sharing,’ to reduce burnout.

“One direct issue is that those working in this field find it difficult to connect with their clients. Humanitude builds upon the idea that it is not ‘caregiving’ but instead ‘care-sharing’ where there is active communication between the worker and the client. This connection helps to keep the worker engaged and helps with burnout.” – Sean Moore, WSW Senior Project Manager for Healthcare

Staff participated in four days of hands-on training and were asked to provide examples of challenging situations they have faced in the workplace. João then worked with them on how to implement the pillars of Humanitude in their workplace. Staff left the training excited to put their new tools into action.

For Koelsch, the trainings provide four major impacts: empowering frontline team members, increasing employee retention, upskilling the workforce with the tools to do their job to the fullest, and creating a new career path for CNAs through the Humanitude certifications.

Looking to the future, the team at Koelsch are bringing Araújo back to Southwest Washington in 2024 to train employees to be trainers in the Humanitude method. This will allow Koelsch to set up a self-sustaining employee training program. The Humanitude trainer positions add another pathway for career advancement for CNAs. “It adds a whole other track of career growth for our communities,” said Benjamin Surmi, Director of Education and Culture at Koelsch.

WSW’s continued partnership with Koelsch demonstrates the impact of investing in human potential. Investments in incumbent workers help boost job quality, workplace equity and retention by providing opportunities to learn, grow and advance.

Koelsch’s dedication to investing in their workforce is demonstrative of their commitment to creating regional quality jobs. The Columbia-Willamette Workforce Collaborative, comprised of Clackamas Workforce Partnership, Workforce Southwest Washington and Worksystems, launched the Quality Job Framework to help employers improve job quality to recruit and retain top talent.

Training and advancement opportunities, like Humanitude, help organizations with their employee retention and forge career pathways for individuals. Learn more about how you can implement strategies to train and advance your workforce in the Training and Advancement Quality Job Guide.

“We’re not just investing in Koelsch, we’re investing in our healthcare system as a whole, and bringing tools to CNAs and nurses that our region needs,” said Surmi.

Is your business looking to invest in your workforce?

WSW’s Business Services team can assist your team with improving job quality, employee training, recruitment and retention and more! To learn more, contact Darcy Hoffman, Director of Business Services at or 360.608.4949 or submit a request and we’ll contact you.

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