Jaylee Baird headshot
Jaylee Baird, CDP, CALA
Jaylee Baird headshot
Jaylee Baird, CDP, CALA

All senior living communities share a common reality: Residents, and by extension, their loved ones, are at the center of our mission. Serving residents is why so many of us who work in senior living feel called to this field. We are caregivers driven by a desire to serve others.

Of course, this work has ups and downs, with both beautiful moments and challenging conversations. Yet, regardless of the community or the specific set of residents, all senior living teams should share a common mission of serving and supporting our residents.

As executive directors and other community leaders look for ways to serve their residents and foster deeper connections with both residents and their loved ones, they should consider three engagement strategies that have proven highly successful.

Actively listen and communicate

Building trust between a community and its residents is the foundation for long-term success. Trust is especially crucial during times of adversity. As executive directors see daily, senior living communities face a wide array of regulatory requirements, and often those rules are difficult for residents or their loved ones to understand. Do your best to patiently explain the rules that govern your community, and actively listen to any concerns.

Holding frequent care meetings to provide updates and set realistic expectations with the resident and their loved ones are so important. Every outcome you’re tracking together must be accompanied by a conversation. Communicate consistently and frequently.

Listen to what specific residents or their loved ones need and want. Can you do everything? Probably not, but it’s far preferable to listen intently and then discuss the requests. Avoid assumptions as much as possible, and don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions of residents and their loved ones. They’ll appreciate the follow-up questions, because those questions demonstrate that you’re listening and care.

The best way to build trust during those conversations is to be honest when there is a mistake and take credit when everything is going well. What you say matters, as does how you and your team follow through.

Mix it up

A key component of the culture and environment of successful senior living communities is their programming. Senior living teams often get into a routine of daily tasks that need to happen, such as bathing, medication administration, meals and maybe a game of bingo.

If your community has many popular activities, it’s easy to get comfortable and complacent. If your community struggles with activities, then it can seem overwhelming to find what works. In either situation, the solution is the same: Mix it up!

Push your team to develop new activities and events. Keep the schedule interesting and unexpected. If an idea doesn’t work, that’s OK, and you don’t have to do it again. If a new event or program is popular, that’s great, and you can add it to the ongoing mix. Solicit ideas from all team members, too. The activities director doesn’t always have to have the new ideas.

Another great way to mix it up and deepen engagement with residents and their loved ones is to host events and invite families to participate. Individual invitations to loved ones (sent in time to allow them to plan) encourage their attendance and make them feel a part of the community. Have fun!

Our community recently hosted a Hawaiian luau and invited loved ones. Residents were dressed to impress, and our team put much thought into the decorations, music and more. Smiles were everywhere!

Be present

Perhaps the most effective way to deepen engagement with residents and loved ones is both simple and easy to forget: Be present. Remind yourself and your team to see each interaction as an opportunity to build a bond of trust and care.

A great example is to greet each resident and loved one with a sincere smile and ask how you can make their day better. Executive directors should do this every day so it becomes a habit. Model this behavior for your team. It will make a difference.

This small task, if done daily, will help you on difficult days when you aren’t sure how you can force a smile. It will keep you centered on your role and grounded. Most importantly, this action will help create connections and memories for both residents and loved ones, which is the key to optimum engagement.

To me, this work is a ministry, not a job. These strategies help my team and me build deeper connections with residents and their loved ones and keep us focused on our mission to serve.    

Jaylee Baird, CDP, CALA is the executive director of Spring Arbor of Wilmington, a Spring Arbor Senior Living assisted living and memory care community in Wilmington, NC. She has 13 years of experience in leadership positions at senior living communities. She can be contacted at [email protected].

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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