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Listening to lead

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As a leader and caregiver for Vista Prairie at Copperleaf in Willmar, MN, Amanda Toutges relies on her listening skills. She’s pictured here learning how memory care resident Barb is getting along. She also listens to caregivers who report to her, as she pursues a progressive staffing strategy.

Amanda supervises about 60 Copperleaf resident assistants (RAs), as they provide individual care for residents. “I sit down and listen to them,” she says. “I’ll go around and ask everybody on the floor because I think they should have just as much say in things they’re gonna do, as me just changing it. I give that respect back to them and make sure they know I’m including them in my decision.”

Her leadership through listening is a key reason that Copperleaf is fully staffed. With lots of RA input, Amanda’s staffing innovations have made a significant difference in a geographic area where senior care communities have had challenges maintaining their staffing levels.

Amanda’s education includes her Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) certification in 2011 at Ridgewater College in Willmar. There, she also completed all but the testing phase to be a Registered Nurse. For five years before the pandemic hit, she was an LPN for the local CentraCare Clinic. “Then I had to go home and be a Kindergarten teacher for our five-year-old son.”

When her son’s school reopened, she interviewed with nine different health care organizations before she chose Copperleaf. “There’s something about the staff here – incredible,” she says. “Coming to work here every day, I feel like yesterday was my first day… like what can I do better? What can I learn? It’s a fun place to work. I love our old people.”

In addition to Copperleaf’s 55 assisted living apartments, Amanda also is responsible for ensuring that the community’s 24 memory care suites are staffed around the clock. The community also offers seven care-suites. While she’d like to be in all those places at once, she realizes that’s not possible.

Copperleaf’s Executive Director, Jennie Marcus comments that, along with the life complexities of each staff member, Amanda’s leadership supports an inclusive Copperleaf culture, “Her values and courage to create an inclusive environment are the reasons that our staff feels accepted, supported, and are thriving as exceptional caregivers.”

Copperleaf is in the process of a $1.4 million renovation throughout its public spaces, in the kitchen, and updates in the community’s memory care suites.