Inverness Village internship program shaping leaders

According to U.S. Census data, by 2016 one-third of Americans will be more than 50 years old.  In addition, the first Baby Boomers turned 65 on January 1, 2011, signaling what many see as a paradigm shift in the mature market from changing how they view retirement to how they view aging itself.  That growing market will also require special workers with special skills, particularly in the fields of senior living and senior health which Inverness Village has been leading the way with a progressive internship program.

For more than six years, Inverness Village, a local retirement community located at 3800 West 71st Street in Tulsa, has supported the internship program designed to train and equip the next generation of senior living leaders.  Led by the community’s Wellness Director Jana Headrick, the 12-week program draws on students from nearby Oklahoma State University, and serves as a semester-long requirement to obtain a Bachelors of Science in Health Promotion or Exercise Science.  Along with that robust OSU internship program, Inverness also operates a partnership with Oral Roberts University for nursing students, and Oklahoma University Medical Center for research projects.

With so many options available, why would a student studying health-related professions choose senior living?

“I get asked that a lot, and I ask that question a lot,” says Headrick, who serves on the visionary board of the International Council of Active Aging (ICAA) and speaks with students in and out of classroom settings. “Many are interested in the traditional therapies, nursing, pre-med or sports medicine. When you start probing as to why they want to do these things, they’ll say something like, ‘I can’t think of anything worse than being an athlete who can no longer play the game they enjoy.’ My answer to that is, ‘What if you couldn’t take care of yourself ever again?’ In this field, you’re helping people enjoy their life – not just a game. The expectation is that ‘we get old and we get sick,’ and as technology and medicine advance, we’re both living and unfortunately, dying longer. Senior living workers can start the conversation about taking steps to live longer and healthier.”

Up to two interns will work at Inverness’ wellness center per semester under Headrick’s watchful eye, while others may act as job shadows for a set period. Participants have run the gamut from those pursuing corporate wellness to a student who wanted to become a flight medic.

“I try to bring in interns that have some experience,” she explains. “They go through an orientation process, and then they’re expected to act and function like someone I would hire.”

Interns participate in all aspects of the Inverness wellness program, known as HealthAbilityTM.  Designed by Sodexo Senior Living, HealthAbility focuses on six dimensions of wellness that can lead to a more active, vibrant and happier life for residents.  By focusing on physical wellness, the program strives to enable seniors to enjoy the other five dimensions: spiritual, intellectual, emotional, social and vocational.

Through regular fitness assessments and classes, Inverness Village residents can track their progress and work one-on-one with the staff and interns on strength, flexibility and endurance. Professors require students to maintain daily activity journals, describing every high and low point. Each works within guidelines of HIPAA, the federal rule that protects health privacy.

“So many are surprised that the environment isn’t cold and clinical,” she says. “People here are active, vibrant, full of life, and have great stories to tell. They want to get to know the students, and are so appreciative that they are here.”

Headrick believes that both the HealthAbility program and the environment at Inverness Village collectively create an ideal atmosphere for developing relationships between students, residents and staff.

“People are not one-dimensional, nor should the approach to wellness be one-dimensional,” she says. “Inverness offers variety as a 24/7 community with residents at the independent, assisted living and skilled nursing levels. We have exercise therapy, and that experience is beneficial for an exercise, physical or occupational therapy background. We also operate outpatient physical therapy services, which offer some classic therapy or nursing experience. The more we can open them up to opportunities or pathways, the better.”

Students and mentors learn from each other. “They bring in a fresh perspective, unique life experiences, and new research. We don’t expect them to know everything, but want them to tell us how we can make things better. In turn, we’re able to offer them an experience they may not have imagined, as well as teach some ‘real world’ issues. For instance, what is customer service? What’s it like to work a full day? How do I handle a sensitive situation? They’re thinking about things in new ways, and that also challenges us to maintain a certain level of openness and thought.”

By her own admission, Headrick’s personal path to senior living was not exactly direct. After earning a degree in Health Promotion from OSU, she found work as an exercise physiologist for St. John Medical Center. It was there, she says, that she found her passion for helping others.

“I enjoyed being able to have a positive influence on people, and really drilling into the behavioral aspects of how they make decisions and why. It was really about the approach – how you packaged it and made it person-centered. There’s no cookie cutter wellness solution.”

When recommended for a wellness director position at Inverness Village, she was admittedly hesitant, noting preconceived notions about “homes.” The first visit changed her mind. “This was an environment where you could see tangible results and the impact you could you make,” she says. “Hearing residents’ stories and what they had overcome was life-changing. It’s been total immersion for me.”

Headrick is quick to note that the internship program serves as an example of thought leadership for the students, Inverness Village and the larger community. “It shows we’re serious about partnering with great universities to teach them about successful aging, and it demonstrates commitment to the potential of this very unique, growing population.”

A picture of a 90-year-old woman doing a long jump serves as a visual. “She’s not an athlete,” says Headrick. “She’s an active, positive person who continues to be engaged and live her life in a holistic way. Funny thing is — today, she’s not an anomaly.”

Inverness Village is a Life Care retirement community located in Tulsa, Okla., that is part of Asbury Communities, Inc., which provides management and support services for a system of continuing care retirement communities for older adults. Asbury Communities is ranked by LeadingAge (formerly American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging [AAHSA]) and Ziegler Capital Markets Group’s AZ 100 as the 12th largest not-for-profit multi-site senior living organization in the country.