Nate HammeAs the COVID-19 public health emergency continues to put a strain on the health care ecosystem—from caring for the sick to coordinating vaccine distribution—health care workers across the continuum of care have shined. But when a caregiver goes above and beyond, it’s important to recognize their efforts in tangible ways. There’s a nonprofit that can help with that—awarding cash to caregivers in recognition of their efforts. 

The Ceca Foundation, so named for Celebrating Caregivers, was founded in 2013 by Matt and Rosemary Lawlor to recognize the efforts of caregivers. The Washington, D.C.-based organization partners with health care providers across the country, having recognized 1,000 caregivers with monetary Ceca Awards. 

Ceca’s caregiver recognition system allows for 360-degree recognition, with nominations originating from clinical and nonclinical frontline workers, patients, residents, management and ultimately anyone who walks through the doors of a Ceca partner facility. You just need a mobile or desktop device to submit a nomination. Every employee who is nominated for a Ceca Award is recognized on an online platform and the CecaTV network, streaming in high-traffic areas of participating health care facilities.   

“At a time when health care workers are facing extreme stress and burnout during their continued commitment to protecting patients from COVID-19, Ceca is an independent, nonprofit program that health care communities can use to lift spirits while elevating the level of care and retaining employees,” said Nate Hamme, Ceca Foundation pesident.

Hamme sat down with HomeCare to discuss why employee recognitions matters, and how you can do it better.

HOMECARE: Why is it important to honor health care workers, not just in times of hardship, but all the time?
NATE HAMME: Even before the pandemic, health care ranked at, or near, the bottom across all industries with feelings of burnout. You can imagine how something as serious as a pandemic requires so much stress and sacrifice from these people and how that impacts their day-to-day work. This program is really founded on the idea that there's huge power in the idea of recognition and that, no matter your role in life, no matter the job that you fill, we all have this fundamental need for appreciation and a feeling of belonging. 

I think one of the best ways to connect people to their work is to highlight for them the ways that they're making a difference. We see the employees in our partner organizations tend to report more consistently that they feel good about the job they're doing, the work they're doing.. We know that we're having an impact in this way.  

It’s self-evident that the need for connection, belonging and appreciation goes up with the level of isolation. Recipients of care in both institutional and at-home settings consistently report high levels of feelings of isolation. Yet we often forget how isolation can affect a caregiver’s judgement, empathy and level of engagement with those they care for. That’s particularly important for home caregivers, who serve alone and with disabled or aging residents who often cannot easily communicate. So how do you build engagement, teamwork and culture when people are working independently in the field? That simple gesture of recognition can mean a lot to a caregiver—whether from a family member or visiting friend, or from a caregiver assuming the next shift, or even a teammate at another location. Unlike some traditional programs based on tenure or professional competency, we try to emphasize the little acts of compassion, like learning a patient’s children’s names, or what they did for a living, or helping them rediscover a favorite song or hobby or place they used to visit.

Our platform allows in-home health care workers, who are reliant on technology to do their jobs, the ability to see names and faces of others doing the same important work using a computer or smartphone. This recognition begets connection, and connection builds community and a sense of belonging.  

HC: How does recognizing the achievements of workers help foster better patient care? 
NH: When staff members at health care organizations see that they're valued for their work, I think it reconnects them in an important way to whatever joy they find in their caregiving profession. As a result, they pay more attention to the physical needs of those they are caring for. Moreover, when they're taking notice of one another, whether it's a peer or somebody in another department, they also feel a stronger sense of belonging—and the idea of teamwork improves. You're doing a job together and it takes a village. 

One interesting thing that we've learned over the years of doing this, is that even among patients and residents, perceived teamwork amongst staff members is a key corollary to patient satisfaction. So, patients feel like they're getting better care and that helps them benefit in terms of getting better or leading a higher quality of life. And, given the state of things in the health care field, there's no better time to be doing this. 

The past year has put a fine point on why this is important. When you look at nursing homes—I know we're talking about homecare specifically—but at nursing homes, turnover is a huge issue, and during the pandemic it increased exponentially. It's been as high as 300% in some places. So you're hiring for the same job over and over again, over the course of even one year.

When you have high turnover, you lose people with institutional expertise and you lose the comradery of people working together. You also lose the feeling that your employer shares the same values you do. You want to remove all of those distractions that you get when you're not working as a team.

HC: How do staff recognitions help with recruiting and retention? How can Ceca help?
NH: You want your employees to be your best recruiters. They say that, when you’re interviewing with an employer, one of the best ways to get a feeling of their culture is to ask someone in the role you’re applying for how they feel about their work day-to-day. I think that's one of the key components of our program is that we really emphasize the employee involvement. Peer-to-peer recognition is incredibly important. You have many more staff members than you have managers or leadership team members. When you have employees who are engaged in recognizing one another, saying thank you to one another, the research shows they have more positive attitudes and they perform at higher levels. But they also have that higher job satisfaction. And that's something that is going to attract people to you as a best-in-class employer. 

We're very proud that our program gets widespread participation amongst staff members. Everybody from the caregivers themselves to the managers, to—in an institutional setting—food services, environmental services—all with this idea that they see these people doing amazing work every day. We try to track this stuff and provide our own metrics. We take the promoter score and flip it on its head. We ask the staff members, “How likely would you be to recommend this place for caregiving to a friend or family member?” We see those numbers go up by 20% amongst those who are being asked whether they recommend their organization as a place to receive care, that they do a good job of fulfilling their mission. So, we get to recognize a lot of great people. We get a lot of great people looking at each other and being thankful for the opportunity to work together. I think that's something that is impactful, but also very fulfilling.

HC: When is the best time for an organization to present employee recognitions? 
NH: So, when you talk about the best time to recognize a member of your team, the right answer is—all the time. One of the things that we've emphasized [with our partners], is that anytime you submit some form of recognition or a nomination for the award, that staff member gets notified immediately, and they get a chance to read it. So you get that immediate positive feedback about something that you may have done. That's first and foremost, but on the award side we emphasize that there should be a regular tempo to things.

You want it to be consistent, you want it to keep happening. This includes not just the act of recognizing one another, but we help organize and coordinate award celebrations for our partners. One of the best ways to provide opportunities to talk about the mission and values of your care organization is to make it somewhat public. You want the entire team to know that you're taking time out to say thank you for the work that's being done. 

HC: What’s next for the Ceca Foundation?
NH: I love what we do. One of the things we're most proud about is that over the course of getting our program up and running—when we were just here in the D.C. area—we had our initial set of partnerships, and they were the ones that encouraged us to grow and to add in new communities. They wanted us to be able to do this at more places because they felt like it made a difference for them. We now have a nationwide presence, and we really want to expand that for health care organizations of all types—hospitals, hospital systems, skilled nursing and nursing home communities, senior living, and homecare. Homecare is one that we're very excited about because it is the direction things are going—to allow people to age in place if they’re able. So we’ve partnered with homecare organizations to help them do more recognition and reward those who are providing exceptional care-at-home for their clients.

We really are looking to increase our impact and be able to give back more to improving the experience for patients and residents. And, do this in a way that's impactful, that helps their organizational goals, and that stays true to their mission and values. Our website,, includes a lot of information that may help people understand our mission better and what it takes to work with us.

We really would love to work with anybody who's ready and able to commit to it. And as a nonprofit, we always appreciate the support of donors. Every cent that gets committed to us by somebody is earmarked specifically for cash awards that go to caregivers. So I think that's something that people can feel really good about contributing to—these deserving nurses and certified nursing assistants, and other health care workers who may be in support roles, like food and dining services. Those things are building us towards being able to do this for more and more organizations and communities across the country. We're passionate about it.