Inspiring Impact with Denise Koster

Cover art for Inspiring Impact mini-series. Image of Denise Koster

We’re back this year with the Inspiring Impact mini-series, a partnership between HIROC and AdvantAge Ontario to highlight the work of several presenters at their 2022 convention.

Show Summary

When Denise Koster was asked to identify the body of one of her elderly clients 35 years ago, her life and career changed forever. Since then, Denise founded Koster Consulting & Associates in Toronto and has dedicated her life’s work to ensuring elder abuse never happens again with services such as abuse investigations, threat management, and mediation.

Again this year, HIROC and AdvantAge Ontario have come together to produce the Inspiring Impact podcast mini-series. This four-part series highlights several amazing presenters at the 2022 AdvantAge Ontario convention, and explores the innovation and passion at play in the long-term care sector.

In today’s episode, HIROC’s Marc Aiello and Philip De Souza sit down with Denise to talk about the outstanding work she provides for seniors and their families, her session at the convention, and more.

Mentioned in this Episode


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Marc Aiello: Welcome to Inspiring Impact, a special podcast series from HIROC and AdvantAge Ontario. From HIROCs communications and marketing, I'm Marc Aiello, joined by Philip De Souza. In today's episode, we are speaking with Denise Koster. Denise is a specialist in workplace violence and elder abuse, with over 35 years of experience in her field. Denise is also the founder of Koster Consulting & Associates in Toronto, and the author of the book Refusing to Accept the Unacceptable: The Trials, Tribulations, and Triumphs of Workplace Bullying and Harassment.

Hello, Denise, thank you for joining us on Healthcare Change Makers. To begin, could you tell us a bit about yourself, where you work, and what you do?

Denise Koster: Hi Marc. So I'm Denise Koster, and my company is Koster Consulting & Associates that I founded in 1994. So it's been a while. And I really focus on a few areas. I focus on the area of identification, assessment and investigations of not only resident and elder abuse, but also workplace discrimination, harassment, bullying. I also focus on... I'm a certified threat manager, so I help organizations to not only assess, but manage internal or external threats that come to the organization, which unfortunately we're seeing more of with the way the world... The direction it seems to be going in, particularly with COVID.

And I also do provide mediation services, which hopefully that's something that can be before an investigation, as opposed to an investigation actually happening. I always tell people you can learn investigations best practices, but it's probably the last thing you actually want to do because there's usually signs and symptoms that happen prior to an actual event, be it elder abuse to harassment, that should be addressed proactively. But unfortunately that's not always the case.

Marc Aiello: Right. And on top of this outstanding and powerful work that you do for seniors, you'll also be speaking at this year's AdvantAge Ontario convention that's coming up in April. Are you able to share a bit of about the session that you'll be presenting with us?

Denise Koster: So despite policies and legislation, some organizations are, unfortunately, not prepared to apply cultural competencies when they're doing their investigation. And I think the most important thing about being an investigator is the fact that the investigator really needs to make sure that they have emotional intelligence, and they're able to comprehend how a person must feel when they're actually trying to recount details. And that they must have knowledge about the emotional and social impact of trauma that occurs when someone is either a victim of workplace violence or families are involved in a resident abuse case. So hopefully this session will really provide not only best practices to the investigation, but also applying those concepts through a trauma-informed lens.

Marc Aiello: Right. And it sounds like there's going to be a number of really great takeaways from your session. And I just had to ask about investigations and best practices surrounding that, what made you so passionate about this project to the point of where you're presenting at it and you work in it day to day?

Denise Koster: Well, my passion actually began in the 80s. I was a community worker in Inner City, downtown Toronto, and one of my first jobs was in a social service agency working with low income seniors. And I was supposed to be doing needs assessments, but when I was knocking on the doors of elderly clients they were disclosing all sorts of situations of abuse, either by families, neighbors, paid caregivers. I ended up being able to influence my employer and create myself a job, which was the elder abuse worker where I carried a caseload of about 50 or 60 abused elderly in the community. I did that work for about five years.

And four years into my work, I was working with an elderly Indigenous client who was actually murdered by her caregiver. And as a result of that, and me having to identify Norma's body, I basically focused my entire world on ensuring that would never happen again. And unfortunately, in the case of Norma, she was a low income woman that, when she murdered, nobody seemed to care. And I remember way back then, 35 years ago, in my brain, thinking if that was a middle class, Caucasian woman, it would be on the front of the newspapers. So, I really dedicated my entire world to starting networks and educating myself, starting my company. And really, Norma is the reason that I'm talking to you today. She was... Knocking on Norma's door, actually changed my entire direction of my career and my life.

Marc Aiello: Yeah. And it seems not only just your life, but the life of the seniors that you help. Your story about Norma is a very sobering reality of, sometimes, the situations of senior care and what they could become.

Philip De Souza: That's Philip, here. Thank you, Denise, so much for sharing your story about Norma. It really was very touching, and I think a lot of listeners will appreciate that, and we can definitely hear in your voice your passion for supporting seniors every day. I guess my only question is, since we have you and your expertise here. You talk for your session and you talked about how you really help and support those in long-term care with interview techniques, and, of course, understanding the cultural competencies around investigating. And of course, what that points to me is definitely understanding being empathetic. What's one interview technique you see that people often get wrong?

Denise Koster: I think to answer that question is that, when I'm doing any type of investigation training, individuals that are involved in investigation, they want a template. They want something to say, "Tell me exactly every single question that I need to ask, so I cover all my bases." Investigations, you can only go as far as asking the first question, being able to assess a complaint, and to be able to create a interview guidelines in regards to areas of inquiry, as opposed to lists of questions. Every interview is different, such as even the interview that we're having right now, depending on my response, it's going to depend on your next question.

And I think that because everything's supposed to be a quick fix and there's so much going on, and unfortunately, sometimes investigations are seen as an add-on, when actually investigations are a number one job tasks for anyone in HR or in senior administration. And I think that's what they tend to get wrong, is they're so concerned about getting the questions and being fully prepared, when you can never be fully repaired. And I think the other thing is they stop short.

So if there's six people in a room, and they've interviewed five, and one person's on vacation, there's a tendency to say, "Well, five of the people ended up telling us the same thing, so we don't need to speak to the sixth." And I think that all investigations need to be taken to the wall. And if they're not, they're not doing their due diligence. But understanding the amount of time and resources it takes to do an investigation internally, it's extremely difficult, particularly if they have a mandate to do an investigation, but they don't have the funding to be trained to do the investigations.

Philip De Souza: I really value your point about being an active listener. I think that is so critical, and you're absolutely right. It's critical in any role. Your role, and that of the different people who work in long-term care, even my role as a communicator.

Denise Koster: Absolutely.

Philip De Souza: So I'm really glad you pinpointed that. Thank you.

Marc Aiello: Yeah, very powerful. Thank you so much, Denise. You've just listened to our interview with Denise Koster, workplace violence and elder abuse specialist and speaker at this year's AdvantAge Ontario convention. This episode is part of our Inspiring Impact series for 2022 in partnership with AdvantAge Ontario. If you've like what you've heard, please leave us a review, and don't forget to hit the subscribe button so you'll be notified when new episodes are released. For more information about HIROC and to listen to other episodes of Healthcare Change Makers, including the Inspiring Impact series, please visit and favorite the show on your preferred podcasting app. Thank you for listening.

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