LeadingAge Magazine · January-February 2019 • Volume 09 • Number 01

When Angela Jalloh arrived in the U.S., as a refugee from war-torn Sierra Leone, she didn’t have any idea what kind of work she wanted to pursue as she built her new life in America.

Fortunately, Jalloh’s counselor in a Chicago-based refugee assistance program had a suggestion that resonated with her immediately.

Angela Jalloh
Angela Jalloh

“She encouraged me to go into nursing,” recalls Jalloh, who received the Joan Anne McHugh Award for Leadership in Long-Term Services and Supports (LTSS) Nursing at the 2018 LeadingAge Annual Meeting. The award recognizes aspiring nurse leaders who provide excellent clinical care to their residents while demonstrating leadership in LTSS nursing and a commitment to the profession.

“I fell in love with long-term care,” says Jalloh about her early work in the field. “My grandmother was like a mom to me. I wanted to give something back because there was no way I could have done what I am doing now without her.”

Love for her grandmother may have led Jalloh to choose the LTSS field, but her passion for person-centered care has helped her excel. That passion came naturally to the West Africa native, who grew up in a culture that expected younger people to take care of their older family members.

Now, as director of nursing at The Admiral at the Lake, a LeadingAge member in Chicago, Jalloh is keeping her cultural traditions alive by encouraging team members to treat residents like they are members of the family. She’s just as committed to helping her team become family for one another.

“Person-centered care deals with all the different ways you can individualize a person,” she says. “You let go of everything that you think you have to do, and you listen to the individual, you get to know the person. I make that a priority no matter what I’m doing.”

Spreading the Love

Jalloh arrived at The Admiral in March 2017 after 14 years at CJE SeniorLife, another LeadingAge member in Chicago. She began her CJE career as a certified nursing assistant, but received early encouragement from her supervisors not to stop there. With their support, she soon became a licensed practical nurse, which led to a new position as nurse manager. After becoming an RN, and earning a bachelor’s degree, Jalloh became assistant director of nursing at CJE.

“They always wanted more from me, which is probably the best love you can give to someone,” says Jalloh.

Jalloh brought that love to The Admiral, where she is known for setting a high bar for performance among team members at The Harbor, which provides skilled nursing, assisted living, and memory care services to 96 Admiral residents.

She has also earned a reputation for spending significant time and energy helping team members reach their potential by offering them encouragement and support at any time of the day or night, providing one-on-one and group training to ensure their success, and taking an interest in their personal joys and challenges.

“I spend a lot of time listening,” says Jalloh. “I also share myself a lot with them. I want them to know that I am a human being, that I have kids, I have my own daily life. I also look at them as people who have a life outside of here. I get to know them so when they are reaching out to me, I know how to reach back to them.”

Jalloh makes it clear from the start that her relationship with team members must be a 2-way street.

“They are holding me accountable for getting them the tools they need to be successful,” she says. “And I am holding them accountable for doing the things that we all said we were going to do.”

That accountability means that team members agree to see residents as people, not “patients” or “clients,” says Jalloh. But it also means that team members “respect each other, think about each other, and have compassion for one another, so we will all want to come here and do a good job.”

Breaking Down Barriers

Increased respect and compassion among team members were unexpected benefits of a workforce initiative that Jalloh instituted soon after her arrival at The Admiral.

Eager to reduce the organization’s reliance on agency staff, Jalloh asked team members who are permanently assigned to skilled nursing, assisted living, or memory care to consider filling open positions in other care settings when regular caregivers could not work their shifts.

The new system is not easy to manage, admits Jalloh, who says that consistent assignment is her preferred strategy for providing quality care to residents. However, she says, the use of temporary floaters has brought myriad benefits to The Harbor.

First, the new system has helped each care setting achieve full staffing coverage, even when some team members are unable to work their scheduled shifts. As a result, The Harbor has eliminated the need to hire agency staff, after many years of relying heavily on these temporary workers.

Second, in what Jalloh calls a “win-win for everyone,” the system has helped team members from different settings within The Harbor bond with one another while strengthening their clinical skills.

In order to be effective floaters, workers must be cross-trained so they are able to hold their own in all of The Harbor’s care settings. That training, now required for all new hires, has been good for worker development, says Jalloh. It has also helped foster a new sense of camaraderie among team members, and a respect for the work that each team member does.

“They benefit so much knowing each other, talking to each other,” says Jalloh, who recalls a time when the 3 settings operated autonomously, with little or no interaction among workers. “Now they understand the roles that everybody is playing. And because they are learning together, they realize that we are all working together.”

Support That Makes All the Difference

Jalloh credits Nadia Geigler, The Admiral’s CEO/executive director, with giving her the support she needs to implement new ideas, even when those ideas aren’t guaranteed to work.

“The working environment here is very conducive to making change,” she says. “And because I am feeling that support, I want my team to feel it too. I am happy to have team members who are ready to make a change with me, even when they are scared and don’t think it is going to work. But they give me the okay to say, ‘Let’s try it.’ It is a really good feeling and it makes me always want to do more.”

Geralyn Magan is a writer/editor for LeadingAge.