Having been in the hotel business for 18 years, Tom Rotz knows a thing or two about making someone’s stay memorable. He takes this same approach to retirement living as executive director of the Kenwood by Senior Star in Madeira.

“Coming from a background in hospitality, there were a lot of things that retirement communities did really well and kind of did the same way, but there was a lot of room for opportunity as well,” he says. “I just thought it was a great chance for me to bring some of those things that are really unique to the hotel world into senior living.”

The Kenwood is full of amenities, like “anytime” dining with a full-time chef, a health club, personal drivers and diverse programming, but it builds its atmosphere through its staff.

They look for certain qualities in the hiring process, hiring people that are already “nine’s and 10’s.” The process is intensive, regardless of the position, and Rotz, or Health Care Administrator Debbie Welker, meet with every potential employee before they’re hired.

“We feel that the things we’re looking for aren’t necessarily related to a learned ability. We talk more about who a person is, try to put them in scenarios and see how they respond. You can glean a lot from a 20 minute conversation,” says Rotz. “We think we can teach anyone to wash dishes, we can teach most people to do many of the things that we do, but we’ll never be able to teach them to care and empathize and want to be a part of the lives here.”

Once someone is hired, their two-day training emphasizes this culture of caring. On the first day, they partake in “Virtual Dementia Training.” They go into a room with a list of tasks they need to complete, but impairments like goggles show them what it would be like if they had dementia or Alzheimer’s.

“There is never a time when we don’t regroup after and talk that there isn’t some true emotion that comes out from the staff from the experience,” says Rotz.

Day two is learning about the Kenwood’s culture itself. They discuss their core values, and their mission, making sure they understand what makes the place special.

“If there’s a nurse on the floor and a call goes out … they’re going to answer the call light because they’re worried about Mrs. Smith and what she might need,” says Rotz. “We focus less on the tasks involved and focus more on the overall job, which is creating an incredible environment for our families and residents here.”

The Kenwood continues to build on this culture for employees once they start working with its Take Five program. All employees are encouraged to spend at least five minutes a day getting to know a different resident.

“I was in the dining room having lunch on Wednesday with our Administrator Debbie Welker and [Director of Sales and Marketing] Mike Myers, and I watched the conversation in the hallway between one of our residents and one of our housekeepers, and you would think you’d have been in a high school hallway. They were just laughing and carrying on and I told Debbie, “That’s what makes us so special.”