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James L. West Center fosters culture of care with employee aid program

Written by Mindia Whittier

An on-going labor shortage in the long-term care industry is so severe that many facilities have been forced to limit the admission of new residents or close altogether.

Since June, North Texas has experienced some of the hottest days on record. As the longstanding heat wave settled in, the James L. West Center for Dementia Care looked to not only meet the needs of its clients, turning concern to the agency’s employees as well. 

Earlier this summer, the West Center’s leadership team asked each employee if they were living in an environment with adequate air conditioning to protect themselves and their families. Four employees immediately provided notification they were living without AC. Through an employee giving fund created three years ago to support the West Center’s staff in times of need or crisis, work began immediately to purchase cooling units and other necessities. 

The West Center is a faith-inspired nonprofit serving those impacted by dementia. The agency provides personalized care and support for families, as well as specialized education for caregivers, healthcare professionals and the community. It was founded by Eunice P. West, who witnessed the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on her husband, Fort Worth business leader and philanthropist James L. West. A grand opening for the West Center was held in 1993. Major funding was provided by the James L. and Eunice P. West Charitable Trust through First Presbyterian Church of Fort Worth.

The West Center’s Employee Aid Fund was established as a “pay it forward” opportunity just prior to the pandemic. Through bi-weekly payroll deductions, more than $7,000 has been collected to date. 

Post-pandemic, the fund’s existence took on greater meaning. The long-term care community has been considered “ground zero” for COVID-19 and among the least attractive places to work. Staffing shortages and attrition have intensified. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that long-term care facilities have lost more than 400,000 employees since the start of the pandemic. Long-term care workforce levels are at their lowest in 15 years.

The issue is so significant that in January, industry advocates from LeadingAge, a nonprofit organization representing more than 5,000 nonprofit aging services providers, called on the Biden administration and Congress to deliver emergency relief for senior living and other long-term care providers. The group advocated one-time $2,000 relief payments to the nation’s 4.6 million direct care workers, among other measures.

Leaders at the West Center view taking care of its ’employee family’ as a way to help buoy the agency during these times of staffing challenges.

“The West Center’s greatest asset is its amazing healthcare workforce,” said Cheryl Harding, CEO of James L. West Center for Dementia Care. “Our employee family is the heart of the Center and through the Employee Aid Program, we can illustrate how the Center’s nonprofit status and culture of philanthropy is embraced from the inside out.”

Recent response efforts through the Employee Aid Fund didn’t stop with air conditioning. As leadership continued to ask employees about their needs, other concerns were identified. Staff members needed assistance with medical bills, beds, secure housing for someone fleeing abuse and more.

The West Center reports that the Employee Aid Fund has expended more than $4,800 in cash or merchandise grants to support employees so far. In addition to disbursing resources from the fund, an on-staff fund coordinator has worked to identify additional community resources for addressing long-term needs.

Creating a culture of generosity, integrity and support is the goal.

“We know that when we take care of the needs of our employees, our employees come to work with energy and a commitment to our residents,” said Harding. 

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About the author

Mindia Whittier