First impressions: Little things can mean a lot

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Lois A. Bowers
Lois A. Bowers

The driving directions told me that the senior living community was up ahead on the left. Sure enough, a sign soon came into view. As I pulled into the property, I wondered what the next couple of days held...

Earlier this year, representatives of the Where You Live Matters campaign approached me with an interesting proposition. Would I like to spend a few days at a senior living community to “live the experience” and see whether, indeed, where seniors live matters, they asked.

The consumer campaign, as you may know, was announced in January by the American Seniors Housing Association to educate older adults and their families about housing options that are available to help them age well. A centerpiece of the effort is a website, which is supplemented by social media efforts on Facebook and Twitter.

Where You Live Matters,
by the numbers

 

The Where You Live Matters website has experienced more than 16,000 sessions, coupled with more than 1,000 downloads and more than 1,600 video views, since its launch.

Additionally, the campaign's Facebook page has received more than 11,000 “likes,” and the Twitter account has almost 800 followers.

About 50 senior living organizations have linked to the Where You Live Matters site from their own websites, according to campaign representatives, and additional communities are using materials from the campaign in their educational efforts.

I gladly accepted the offer. The trip, I thought, would provide a more intensive look at senior living than other visits I had made to communities in the past through my work as a journalist or experiences as a Christmas-caroling youth or relative to older members of my family.

Brookdale Senior Living graciously offered to host me at Brookdale Westlake Village, a continuing care retirement community in Westlake, OH. I wasn't focusing strictly on skilled nursing, but it's worth noting that the community's nursing home component currently has a 4-star overall rating from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and 4.9 stars out of 5 overall from U.S. News & World Report Best Nursing Homes rankings.

The original plan had me spending a night or two at the property, but Westlake Village was at 100% occupancy — a nice situation to be in — so I made two visits on consecutive days and had a follow-up visit or two.

My goal wasn't to assess Brookdale or this specific community, per se; rather, it was to try to look at the senior living experience more broadly, from the perspective of a resident or someone who might benefit from the Where You Live Matters campaign. And because the journey to becoming a resident of a community often starts with an in-person tour, that's where I'll begin in sharing my experience with you.

I'll write more about the people I encountered during my visit in the future. In this column, I'll focus on some of the little things that, as I look back, I see added up to my first impressions of this community.

  • One of the first things I noticed while looking for a parking space was that a couple of slots were reserved for “future residents.” From a marketing perspective, I admired the attempt to put visitors in a positive frame of mind.
  • At the reception desk — off to the side of an attractive lobby area where residents lingered — “Mission Award” cards rested. Brookdale Westlake Village Sales and Marketing Director Susan Uranker-Todd explained to me that residents can use the cards to nominate a staff member “if someone does something above and beyond.” The names of those who have been nominated are entered into a monthly drawing for a prize such as a gift card, Uranker-Todd said, and all those who are nominated are recognized in the departments in which they work. I think it's a nice way to empower residents, build staff pride and foster positive resident-staff relationships, all of which can factor into resident satisfaction and staff retention.
  • Also at the front desk was a list of planned resident activities for the day. This list serves as a reminder for residents while also giving prospective residents and their families a taste of what life in the community might be like for them.
  • The lobby also included a table where people could help themselves to coffee, tea and water — a welcoming touch.
  • The company's mission was prominently displayed, and those who see the plaque could take it as a sign that the community takes its mission seriously.
  • Deeper into the community, banners and postings outside of the dining room informed residents of meal times, the day's menus and a new “Brookdale Minis” program featuring smaller-sized baked goods. This information also would be useful to touring guests.
  • Inside the dining room, each table included a comment card. Of course, such cards are only good if the feedback is taken seriously, and Uranker-Todd told me that the dining services director reads and responds to all of the feedback, positive or negative.
  • Deeper yet into the community, I found a wall of photos of staff members and a wall of resident artwork. They expressed a sense of staff harmony and of beauty and pride, respectively, I thought.

Many of these community features, Brookdale Senior Living Director of Public Relations Kristin Puckett told me, are common throughout Brookdale properties. And some efforts, such as posting dining room hours and menus in assisted living and memory care, may be required under a state's regulations. Others are considered best practices in the industry, she said. But I don't recall seeing some of these things at all other senior living communities that I have visited in the past. Brookdale Westlake Village seemed to implement them well, and they are ideas that would serve other communities well, too.

Please see the accompanying slideshow for photographs and my additional thoughts about the little things that added up to my first impressions of Brookdale Westlake Village.

The online experience

Of course, before even visiting, older adults and their families often visit a community's website. Brookdale was in the process of redesigning its corporate and community websites during the time of my visit. Any consumer looking online for information about Brookdale Westlake Village now will find an attractive site with contact information; a list of amenities; downloadable floor plans for the independent living, assisted living and memory care spaces; descriptions of levels of care; photographs of the community; a list of activities for the day; a sample menu; downloadable activities calendars and menus for all levels of living; a map showing the location of the community, with a feature that allows visitors to plug in an address to see how far away the community is from it; a listing of other Brookdale communities in the area, with a tool that allows visitors to compare the communities to one another; a tool to search for other communities by location and/or level of care; links to Brookdale's corporate social media efforts; and an online form that visitors can complete to be contacted with additional information or to schedule a visit.

All of the community-specific information is supplemented by additional information, common to all Brookdale sites, that is meant to introduce older adults and their families to senior living in general and Brookdale Senior Living in particular.

The site is quite comprehensive and makes a good first impression, too. It's an important presence at a time when, according to a recent ASHA poll, many industry professionals view community websites as their most effective marketing channels. Even single- or multi-site operators with fewer resources than the country's largest senior living provider would benefit from incorporating such elements into their own websites if they haven't already.

I'll share other impressions I gleaned during my visits to Brookdale Westlake Village in the future. In the meantime, remember: Little things can mean a lot.

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight's Senior Living. Contact her at lois.bowers@mcknights.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers.

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