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Insights in Seniors Housing & Care

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By: NIC  |  July 01, 2020

Silver Linings in a Crisis

Seniors Housing

No dining room service. Family visits on Zoom. Routine caregiver tasks transformed into something out of a science fiction movie.

Despite the enormous obstacles, senior living providers have a lot of inspiring and heartwarming stories to share.

Case in point: Police officers and firefighters recently rolled up to Aspired Living of Westmont with horns and sirens blaring to honor the anniversaries of two couples who were married on the exact day 69 years ago. Fellow residents and team members at the assisted living community in suburban Chicago joined in with noisemakers of their own. The mayor of Westmont FaceTimed with the couples offering his well wishes. The staff baked anniversary cakes and gave live piano serenades of old favorites such as “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”

The celebration looked different than traditional anniversary parties because of the COVID-19 lockdown. But it’s just one example of the good things happening at communities upended by the coronavirus. “We’ve never seen anything like this,” said Mike Ulm, vice president of culture and brand loyalty at Pathway to Living, the operator of Aspired Living. “We’re all in this together.”

The pandemic does have some silver linings.

In many cases, the wider community has stepped up to help which has created new and lasting ties. Bonds have been fortified between residents and staff. They’re more like family. And creative approaches have introduced an element of fun.

Above all, corporate culture has been strengthened by a shared mission to keep residents safe, according to senior living providers. Managers can’t say enough good things about the dedication of the frontline staff under stressful circumstances.

“I am so proud of our team members,” said Lori Alford, a co-founder and COO at Houston-based Avanti Senior Living. The company owns and operates assisted living and memory care properties in Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Arizona. She recalls the uncertainty faced by operators at the start of the outbreak. ‘We didn’t know how this would shake out.”

But the Avanti care teams came through, said Alford. In fact, the company has experienced its lowest absentee rate and the least amount of overtime among workers during the lockdown than at any other time in company’s history. “This pandemic has shined a light on our culture,” she said.

To support staffers, Avanti offered them free telehealth services typically only available to residents. “It was a good way to show the team that we wanted to take care of them,” said Alford.

The pandemic has also galvanized the work culture at Avista Senior Living, according to Kris Woolley, founder and CEO at the Mesa, Arizona-based company. “It’s been a scary, uncertain, isolating, frustrating and nerve-racking period of time for everyone,” he admitted. But it’s also united his team to fight a common enemy that they were determined to overcome. “It’s brought out a lot of goodness in us,” said Woolley, noting how the staff stepped up to cover shifts for each other. “We’ve been pleased and comforted to see that humanity come out.”

The Grand at Twin Lakes, an assisted and independent living community in Palatine, Illinois, offered its workers themed goodie bags weekly. The “movie night” bag included chips, popcorn, soda and candy. Executive Director Melissa Cosentino said it’s a small gesture of thanks and commented that the pandemic has brought the staff closer together. “Our culture has only gotten stronger.”

Pathway to Living created an “inspiration team” to boost worker morale. The team developed an ongoing communications program—the “Voice of Viva.” Team members receive encouraging messages three times a week. Sunday’s message is inspirational. Wednesday is humor day. Friday features success videos, such as a family member praising the staff.

Other positive approaches at Pathway include Zoom trivia and Bingo competitions for the staff and thank you stations with giveaways. “We wanted to create a fun, safe way to connect,” said Ulm.

Connections to the wider community have been strengthened too. Avista posted requests on JustServe.org. a website that links volunteers and good causes.  Local volunteers created gift baskets and hand-sewn face masks for the residents and staff at Avista communities.  

While resident safety is the top priority, it feels good to have fun.

During the lockdown, Avista residents made dance videos on the social media platform TikTok. To facilitate visits, window chats positioned resident inside and their loved ones outside. Residents use a telephone to talk to their families. It’s been a great way to show off milestones like a new grandchild or learning to ride a bike.

Outdoor parades have lightened the mood. Motorcycle, antique car and pet parades have been popular. Community groups perform outdoor concerts for residents.

balconybash5GreenFields of Geneva, a life care community near Chicago, held a “balcony bash.” Six different bands were stationed around the property, including an orchestra and Elvis impersonator. Residents received bright yellow “balcony bash” t-shirts to wear while they enjoyed the concert from their patios and balconies. The staff delivered refreshments to the residents’ apartments.

Family drive-bys help everyone feel better. At Avanti’s Houston project, Augusta Pines, a car parade included family, friends and local community groups. Residents came outside to watch a stream of cars decorated for the occasion and filled with smiling and waving loved ones. “It was really cool,” said Alford. “As I was leaving, a resident said the parade was one of the best days of her life.”   

 

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The National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to support access and choice for America’s seniors by providing data, analytics, and connections that bring together investors and providers.

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