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Doctor of Nursing Practice Leaders Focus on Integrative Healing at The Waters

March 27, 2018

The gonging of a Tibetan singing bowl signifies the start and end of staff meetings at The Waters in Oakdale. Before every shift, the health and wellbeing team comes together for huddles to talk about their intentions for the day and what they will focus on, starting perhaps with a guided imagery exercise or aromatherapy. Grounded and primed with information needed to provide excellent care, these nurse leaders head out to engage with residents.

aria martinAria Martin, DNP, RN, Director of Health and Wellbeing at the senior living community, started using these integrative health and healing practices upon joining The Waters this fall. A recent graduate of the University of Minnesota Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in integrative health and healing program, Martin is actively implementing what she studied — both for residents and caregivers.

She thought that staff meetings, which she renamed as team huddles, were a place to start shifting toward a new approach. Introducing core principles of integrative health and healing at huddles would support an integral resource: its nursing staff. “I’ve gotten enthusiastic feedback from the team as far as feeling more grounded and connected and supported,” Martin says. “It’s been a great experience.”

Martin isn’t alone in weaving integrative practices into her leadership role at The Waters, a rapidly growing national senior living company based in Minnetonka. She’s actually one of three newly hired leaders who earned DNP degrees in integrative health and healing from the University; they join The Waters’ Senior Director of Health and Wellbeing, Britni Bolstad, DNP. Katherine Todd, Vice President of Health and Wellbeing, and Stacey Grenier, Director of Health and Wellbeing at The Waters on 50th in Minneapolis, also joined the company this fall.

Together, they are strengthening the already flourishing relationship between The Waters and the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing, home base for the integrative health and healing DNP program. When CEO Lynn Carlson Schell founded The Waters in 2012, she partnered with Center Director Mary Jo Kreitzer, PhD, RN, FAAN, on creating an integrative model of health and wellbeing for seniors. The Waters’ entire essence focuses on six dimensions of wellbeing in the Center’s Wellbeing Model: health, relationships, security, purpose, community, and environment.

Britni BolstadBritni Bolstad, a three year veteran at The Waters, has led the implementation of the integrative model of health and wellbeing and is grateful for the new DNP leaders who embody professional-relational skills. “The DNP program has provided us with the capacity to infuse the distinct tasks of leadership with who we are as humans and empowers us to lead with our presence,” she says. “The DNP is the catalyst for growing our self-awareness, life-knowing, and authenticity to transform us into our best selves to thrive as nurse leaders. It’s transformative, not only for the healthcare system, but for the whole-person system.”

Kreitzer is thrilled that The Waters welcomed integrative nurses into key leadership positions. “They are putting their knowledge and experience to work and embedding integrative health and healing practices even deeper into its operations,” she says. “I have long thought that our DNP graduates would be ideal to serve in leadership capacities at The Waters. They bring a wealth of leadership, clinical experience, and the ability to create an innovative care model that supports the needs of seniors.”

As The Waters continues to grow to nine locations in the Twin Cities with three more under construction nationally, it has evolved its approach to integrative health and healing. A key component of that shift stems from the new DNPs, Schell says. In hiring Todd, Martin, Grenier, and other future leaders, she aims to employ integrative clinicians as leaders. This is critical, she adds, because caregiving jobs are challenging due to high turnover, changing labor laws, and historically low unemployment levels in Minnesota, which means that the employee market is ever-changing.

Lynn Carlson SchellThe DNPs are essential to guiding The Waters’ new approach, Lynn Carlson Schell says. It involves focusing and deepening its macro wellbeing initiatives while more intentionally bringing integrative health and healing methods to the staff, too. DNPs are making a difference because “they come in already with a knowledge of the science behind whole person and integrative healing, and they understand the industry and how to provide care in this residential setting,” she adds. “They have the background, knowledge, and superior hands-on leadership and mentorship. Now we have people who are out front of our vision.”

Ready and Willing

Martin believes the DNP program prepared her to step into the Director of Health and Wellbeing role just as she graduated. “I applied all my learning right away in this role, such as public speaking and doing needs assessments to see how we can improve quality and performance,” she says. “It’s been transformative.”

Katherine ToddKatherine Todd was thrilled to join The Waters because of its deeply engrained wellbeing model and connections to the Center, where she belonged to the first cohort of DNP students with a specialty focus on integrative health and healing. After years providing in-patient, acute care, she pursued her doctorate to provide care that benefits people’s health and wellbeing in daily life, not just during crises.

A good sign for Todd began with her title at The Waters — Vice President of Health and Wellbeing — not the traditional Vice President of Nursing Services. “We’re not just talking about directing nurses,” Todd notes. “We’re talking about supporting their health and wellbeing.”

According to Todd, it’s an advantage to have fellow DNP leaders at The Waters who support each other and collaborate on ideas and initiatives. It will be helpful as they continue to implement new approaches and programs with staff teams, such as guided imagery, centering, and breathing exercises. 

“I don’t think any of us would have had the confidence or knowledge to use these approaches if we didn’t have the background and training we have,” Todd says. “We have to demonstrate empathy to the team so they can absorb what it feels like, then pay it forward to the people they serve. It works.”

DNPs will also make a difference at The Waters by integrating evidence-based practices generated from research, Martin says. Such learnings and connections between the Center and The Waters are integral to both entities’ success. The Center considers The Waters a living lab for integrative health and healing with caregivers and seniors, while The Waters benefits from the latest thinking and innovation in this type of care, Kreitzer says. 

Stacey GrenierStacey Grenier, an experienced clinical nurse for seniors, moved from Connecticut to earn her DNP in integrative health and healing. After learning about The Waters early on, she knew she wanted to work there because of its commitment to the whole person. Her doctoral project explored how to build resilience in nurses working in senior care settings—an important, proactive way to avoid burnout. 

Planting Seeds

Grenier is bringing that new outlook to The Waters on 50th staff. She aims to build her team’s resilience by focusing on their health and wellbeing. “We need to take care of the caregivers. I view my role as being their nurse,” she says. “Because when they are healthy and well and their wellbeing is taken into consideration, they will be able to provide better care and be more present for the residents.”

Since joining The Waters this fall, Grenier turned meetings into grounding times for staff, helping them come together and share their experiences instead of “data dumping.” On her first day, she showed her team that she cared by writing each person a thank you note, provided them with food, and introduced them to 4-7-8 breathing, a technique backed by Andrew Weil, M.D., to reduce stress and anxiety at work or home.

“I’m hoping to plant seeds for them of tools they can use at work and across their continuum of life,” Grenier says. “It’s thinking about the nurse as a whole person, and these tools help them be more whole and more well.”

Grenier also took steps to focus the team’s intentions. She asked them to confidentially list words that describe what they need from co-workers to thrive at work. Next, they listed words describing leaders who are influential to them. Grenier turned both lists into two word clouds, one for the nursing staff office and one for her office, serving as a reminder of what team members need from each other and what her team needs from her.

Such exercises tap into research about the art of convening and purposeful leadership, with an overall aim to build community and relationships among the teams, Todd notes. The Waters’ DNPs are introducing these techniques while going about the daily work of running health and wellbeing services at their buildings. That means these changes are happening in a measured way that builds on what The Waters started when it began six years ago. 

“I had the baton handed to me from the nursing leaders at The Waters, who did a wonderful job of building a foundation for us to create processes of health and wellbeing,” Todd says. “I get to make it come alive with this team.”

Going forward, Grenier, Martin, Todd, and other integrative health and healing experts at The Waters will continue to incorporate these daily practices with staff. They, in turn, will pass on what they know to residents — a beneficial circle of wellbeing.

The Doctor of Nursing Practice with a specialty in integrative health and healing is offered by the University of Minnesota School of Nursingcourses in this unique program - including health coaching, self-care, functional nutrition, and healing environments - are offered by the Center.

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The Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing blog covers a range of integrative health and wellbeing topics. For more information about our blog, contact us at csh@umn.edu