As part of the Queen Silvia Nursing Award’s ambition to capture the story, challenges, opportunities and realities of working within the elderly people and dementia care sector, we have been honoured to draw upon the experiences of experts within our network throughout six countries.

Attendo is the Nordic’s leading private care provider, and has been a partner of the Queen Silvia Nursing Award Sweden program since 2019. In June 2020 Attendo Finland announced a commitment to support the scholarship in Finland.

Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to interview Martin Tivéus, CEO of Attendo Group. This article highlights the experiences of Attendo Finland’s Managing Director, Virpi Holmqvist, and how the company is working with stakeholders to ensure patient safety while growing employee satisfaction during challenging pandemic times.

(All images from Attendo Finland)

Hej Virpi! Could you please introduce yourself?

Sure. I’m actually a former Attendo Finland employee who returned to Attendo last year. I started in 2008 as the Financial Director of Attendo Finland. It was an interesting time because Attendo had just bought MedOne, a provider of health care services in Finland. It was a good fit as MedOne’s strength was health care, and Attendo was driven by care. At that time, I worked at Attendo Finland for 7 years, first as the Financial Director and the last two years as Regional Director of Outsourced Social and Health Care Services.

I left for other assignments for a period of about 4-5 years, and now I’m back. In spring 2019, Martin Tivéus, Attendo Group’s CEO, called me up. He asked if I was interested in returning to the organization. I shared Martin’s view of the future direction of Attendo and his passion for the company. I seized the opportunity to return and have not regretted it since.

Virpi Holmqvist, Managing Director, Attendo Finland

Throughout the years, my efforts have always been focused on the service industry in some shape or form. I am particularly interested and passionate about how talent that is dedicated to helping others can work together in the best possible way.

What makes Attendo special to you?

Talented people and the working atmosphere. I think that this combination is exceptional. People are enthusiastic, proactive and innovative and they want to give their best. People don’t see issues, but rather challenges to be solved. That is why I believe we have a great possibility to resolve some of the challenges within the care industry, such as the change of perspective from a production viewpoint to a customer focus. We have the possibility to build the future of elderly care services. It is a real honour to be back here and part of this journey.

Could you please tell us a little more about Attendo Finland?

We have over 400 units in Finland and 13.000 employees. We provide elderly care, care for people with disabilities, therapy and child protective services and  family care. Just an interesting detail, we prepare almost 17 million meals per year and that in and of itself is an enormous undertaking as we serve over 10,000 Finnish customers day in and day out.

There was a care crisis in Finland in spring 2019 that was widely reported through the media. Both private and public care service providers really needed to step up and make some important changes in how we worked with care and the customers that we serve. Since then we have been embarking on “The Attendo Journey.” This means that we have a dream: our ambition is that Attendo Finland becomes the most valued and desirable care company in Finland. This is a big dream for us, and it really starts from us working towards earning the trust of the Finnish public.

“Looking at interactions from the perspective of the customer
is critical in earning trust.”

How we go about achieving this vision starts at the most humble, human-to-human scale. We need to earn this trust one action at a time, one customer at a time, one appointment at a time, one phone call at a time. Each of these encounters is significant and in each of them, we fulfil our promise of a good work climate, good care, support and a meaningful life. These encounters reinforce trust between Attendo and the Finnish public. Therefore, they form the heart of Attendo’s operations. 

In our latest employee satisfaction survey, Attendo Finland achieved good scores. Our employees think that Attendo’s values are good and they are present in our daily work. Attendo’s values form a strong foundation upon which we can update our activities and operations. Finland, as you might know, is an extremely process-oriented country. What “The Attendo Journey” does is shift our perspective back to the customer first and foremost. On our change journey we focus on how our team members can best empower, support and care for the customer.

Looking at interactions from the perspective of the customer is critical in earning trust. We need to be aware of what we are doing and how we are delivering that service to each other. That starts within our organization. We have a philosophy of giving continuous feedback to our colleagues by:

  • Listening to each other
  • Praising each other
  • Thanking each other
  • Encouraging each other
  • Giving constructive feedback respectfully

This helps us set a baseline in which we can begin our journey together. By respecting, helping and being grateful for each other in the team, we have a better foundation to make things better for others.

Could you please comment on how you balance what might seem like two opposing disciplines such as care and finance? You mentioned your finance background earlier. How do you balance something as critical as human care with a results-driven focus?

We talk a lot about “high quality service” and “high quality care” within care spheres. This is, of course, the right focus that anyone should have when working in this industry. In order to provide high-quality care, you need to have a common framework for operations and provide a good employee experience. With confident and satisfied team members, you almost automatically create high customer experiences as well.  

My belief is that good financial results will follow if you have a clear operative model and satisfied employees who work towards a common goal. This most probably will result in high customer experience, which ensures that your services are desirable. We are also working hard to find ways to keep Attendo Finland employees motivated and satisfied, so they will continue delivering care at the highest standards possible.

What is the elderly care sector like in Finland at this time?

There will be an increasing demand for elderly care in the coming years in Finland. However, on the other hand, Finnish municipalities are currently experiencing tough financial situations

“Every Finnish citizen should have a voice in his/her care journey, and each one of us should have the opportunity to create the type of life we envision, knowing that there is care and assistance available if and when required.”

Changes in the elderly care law such as an increased staffing ratio have just become valid: and some of the changes will gradually be incorporated, like, for example, the staffing ratio. From the customer’s point of view this might mean that in the future it may be more difficult to get needed services. We want to ensure that the services that are required throughout the ageing process match the individual’s own desires and requirements. I think there is no doubt that the government and stakeholders within elderly care wants every one of our older citizens to have the right to a full, active and healthy life at every phase of the ageing journey, but we need to ensure that individuals may access the services if and when they might need it. There must be confidence in the system of services, and that individual choices are respected rather than mandated by others. Every Finnish citizen should have a voice in his/her care journey, and each one of us should have the opportunity to create the type of life we envision, knowing that there is care and assistance available if and when required.

Can you please share briefily Attendo Finland’s journey throughout the first 6 months of COVID-19?

COVID-19 -work started with a call from Martin Tivéus in early March 2020. He was about to have a discussion with a contagious disease specialist and wanted to give us a heads-up for the probable drastic decisions thereafter. He hinted COVID-19 might bring some tough times in the near future. We in Finland were a couple of weeks behind Sweden’s COVID-19 situation so we didn’t feel too alarmed at that time.

However, within the space of a day, the decision was made. Attendo, in all Nordic countries we operate in, would strongly recommend avoiding visits in our care homes to ensure the safety of our customers and employees. In Finland, we had not yet experienced any widespread cases, but we were extremely grateful for the lead-time from Sweden. In this respect, Attendo Finland was able to act fast.

The Finnish government took actions quite quickly. A few days after Attendo Finland’s strong recommendations, our government locked down all care units that provide services for people within the high-risk demographics.

In addition to the lockdown, Attendo Finland introduced new instructions. Employee health controls became a regular part of workplace protocol, as well as the use of PPE and masks.

Thanks to our great and dedicated staff and quick reactions to the pandemic, we have had a coronavirus infection in only a few units. During spring 2020 only 40 customers out of 10 000 residents were infected with COVID-19. We have learned quite a bit from those cases: for example that COVID-19 can be carried without symptoms. Upon learning this in the early stages of the pandemic, we required that all employees wear masks during shifts. We refurnished the common rooms in our facilities, making it easier for residents to maintain safe distances from one another. We also made our cleaning and hygiene procedures COVID-19 compliant. Another major change was that any temporary or part-time team member could only work for one unit instead of working in several Attendo homes.

It was and continues to be a demanding time as we work so closely with a vulnerable population. We have set up “Emergency Response Groups” that make important, quick improvements on a daily basis. We hold “Team Meetings” with all 400 unit managers on a weekly basis, going through operational models, reviewing the use of masks and other key procedures. There is also a smaller 14-15 person “Task Force” that calls each unit to offer assistance, answer questions, and clarify guidelines. Teamwork has been absolutely essential and critical throughout this period to help each other internally, so we can protect our customers and employees. We needed to ensure that our team members could trust the actions taken, rely on us for guidance, and give them the direction they needed, so they could feel confidence in their work and efforts. We needed to really step up as leaders, so we could give them the courage to carry on.

How has COVID-19 impacted professional care opportunities at Attendo Finland?

We actually noticed that there is a renewed interest in human-to-human care again. People are talking about the’ important work of nurses and how they have done so much to protect the elderly. This has touched people’s hearts. During spring 2020, we actually received over 1000 applications to join our organization. Some of these applicants, especially physiotherapists, were of course really applicable for our efforts to keep our ageing population healthy and strong. It actually created a new network of people in which care could be applied in new and exciting ways.

Do you have any message to Finnish nurses as they continue to address COVID-19 into the fall/winter?

I’d like to thank every nurse working in Finland for the incredible efforts you have made throughout this exceptional year. You have kept us safe and calm under such stressful circumstances. You are truly the key fighters in this ongoing war against COVID-19. We have seen your contributions and we want others to take note of them as well. You are appreciated for your continuing positive impact on the national health of Finns, and you deserve every opportunity to be seen, heard and celebrated.