Employee Spotlight: Tony Sanders

Tony Sanders is Grafton’s Director of Operations and Health Care Risk Management.

Why did you want to work in behavioral healthcare?

I had a close family member that had an intellectual disability, and I was very impressed with the love and care that her family ensured she was provided throughout her life. I was inspired by it and wanted to see if I could help others have the high quality of life that she had.

What is your background?

I’ve spent my entire career at Grafton. I started as a Residential Instructor in 1985 and then had a second job simultaneously as a 1:1 Instructor. That doesn’t happen anymore, but back then it did. I basically worked my way up from there. Jobs I’ve held include:

  • Berryville – Overnight Supervisor, Duty Coordinator, Director
  • Across Grafton – Schoolwide Coordinator, Staffing Administrator/Nutrition Services Administration, Business Development Administrator, Residential Administrator, Regional Director, director of Risk Management, Director of Risk Management/Contracts, Director of Operations for Psychiatric Treatment

And now you’re in a new role?

Yes, I am now Director of Operations and Health Care Risk Management. Grafton is already well ahead of the game when it comes to the safety and wellbeing of our clients and staff. In fact, we’ve won multiple industry awards for safety and risk management around our elimination of restraints and seclusion and our Safety 7 initiative.

For the last 14 years, I’ve focused on making Grafton an even safer environment for employees and clients, so this new position is a good fit for me. I want safety and risk management to continue to be at the forefront of our mind. In my new role, I will be ensuring that Grafton has a process to carefully assess incidents which pose risk to our employees and our clients, determine the underlying cause of those problems, and build action plans that decrease the risk of those problems occurring again.

How are Grafton’s clients unique?

Often times Grafton’s clients are unique because they have more complex behavioral health challenges than others might. Frequently they come to us after being treated at other organizations which were unable to help them. Grafton is unique because we look at each individual’s strengths and how we can focus on those in order to help them versus focusing on their weaknesses. We also look at each client’s past experiences in order to understand them better.

What makes Grafton a special place to work?

There’s a real sense of family and of caring for each other. This goes for the employees and for the children and adults we serve. This was true when I started at Grafton, and has remained true even as the organization has grown. I’m one of the lucky few that was here when our founder, Ruth Birch, still did some trainings and presentations. I still remember her and what she believed in. She was all about the kids and how the staff were being treated. She was a very special lady, and we still practice her philosophy to this day.

What makes Grafton’s approach person-centered?

We truly look at each client as an individual. We look at their past and what they have been through. And we take that information and we remember it every time we interact with them.

In addition, many organizations say they provide holistic treatment, but if you look at the lengths we go to in order to serve our kids, it seems unprecedented. We are flexible and creative and think very far outside the box to treat each individual. Not only are they getting all of the robust services we provide, but if they need another service that’s not readily available with us, we find a way to get it for them.

What does utilizing a trauma informed approach mean to you?

At Grafton, we go to great lengths to understand each individual client, all their experiences and how they’ve gotten to where they are now. Then, when we put their treatment plans together, we take all that information into consideration and develop a plan that is truly unique to them. We never create cookie cutter plans for our clients.

In addition, we have a philosophy of comfort vs. control. We never restrain or seclude our clients as a means to control them because we know this can trigger memories of past trauma. We also know these practices can be harmful to both the clients and our staff, and through our Ukeru program, we have learned that they’re just not necessary and that there is a better way.

Do you have a favorite story from your time at Grafton?

I have so many fond memories and stories that I could share. However, one that sticks out in my mind is from roughly 22 years ago. We had a teenage boy placed at Berryville. He was definitely not on a good path in life. He had committed numerous small infractions before being placed at Grafton out of detention. He struggled with us for a while before we discovered his passion for art. I gave him the opportunity to use his passion and skills and he excelled. He eventually painted the interiors of our (former) quiet rooms at Berryville. His work was absolutely beautiful. Along the way this young man became a model client and grew to appreciate the care/treatment that he was receiving. This was true to such an extent that he actually cried when he finished the program and it was time for him to leave. I like to think that we changed the path he was following and showed him that life had great opportunities for him.

What would you say to someone who is considering working at Grafton?

While it’s not necessarily the easiest job you could have, in the long run it will provide you with a very rewarding career. There are also a lot of opportunities for advancement and professional development. I was raised to believe you should have a meaning in life and help people. Working at Grafton has allowed me to do that.

What would you say to a family considering Grafton for their child?

I’m a parent, and so I understand that it would be really difficult to turn your child over to care outside the home. But Grafton lives up to our reputation, and we truly focus on the needs of your child. Our goal is to make sure your child is getting the care and treatment they need and deserve.

 Would you like to share anything else about Grafton?

I’ve just been very fortunate to spend my career at this organization. I’ve had the opportunity to work in many different facets of the business, from being hands on with clients to working with the executive team making improvements overall. It’s been such a great learning opportunity for me.

I’ve worked with three different CEOs, multiple senior management teams, and all of it has been invigorating and challenging. I’ve had the opportunity to weigh in on how to position the organization for future success and I’ve seen tremendous growth in my time here.

Through it all though I have never forgotten the demands the Direct Service Providers (DSPs) are under. Having experienced being in those roles has helped me understand our workforce and what they endure every day. And as someone in management, I take this into account when making decisions. I value the people in those roles so much. Until you do it, it’s hard to appreciate. Those folks deserve our sincere thanks every day.