In our industry’s ongoing pursuit of excellence in quality of care, we have carefully considered the evolving concept of health as it has broadened into the multidimensional understanding of wellness. We know that for residents to thrive, we not only must prioritize their physical health and safety but also nurture the other facets that are important to a healthy life: mental well-being, social engagement, intellectual stimulation and spirituality. Never has the modern concept of wellness been so tested or so important as during this past year and a half, when the pandemic focused society’s attention on the physical and emotional health of senior residents and their caregivers.

At Vi, a collection of 10 continuing care communities located across the United States, we adopted a companywide commitment to holistic wellness in 2016. It is a comprehensive framework that encompasses our more than 3,000 residents and the 2,900-plus employees who serve them. For Vi residents alone, the program features more than 300 classes and activities each month across all areas of care, from independent living to skilled nursing to long-term care. More than a mission statement or a series of events, Vi’s wellness ideal is a state of mind for residents, staff and corporate team.

Over the past five years, our team has learned a great deal from the development, rollout and ongoing execution of our wellness culture initiative. As we look to the year ahead and the continued evolution of the program, I can share a few of the key learnings and best practices that have contributed to its success. 

Branding a program helps make it official

Formalizing a program with a name and identity — a brand, so to speak — enables residents and staff members to recognize, understand and embrace your wellness commitment. Take a page from your marketing playbook and develop a name, a cohesive concept and a 15-second “elevator pitch” for your wellness program and its benefits. At Vi, we branded our program simply “Living Well.” The concept is clear and straightforward: “a holistic approach to wellness in our communities that encompasses mind, body and spirit.” Our elevator pitch includes examples that paint a picture of what Living Well looks like for residents at Vi communities:

  • Attending university-sponsored lectures
  • Volunteering as a group with a local school
  • Exploring functional fitness with the community’s personal trainer
  • Sampling heart-healthy foods at a live cooking demo
  • Learning a new language
  • Singing with a community musical group or taking in a symphony performance downtown

A branded approach creates a concept that all stakeholders can point to and reference. Without this touchstone, a program risks becoming disjointed and unfocused. 

Every department is a spoke in the wheel

In establishing our wellness culture, we adopted a community-wide approach. It is relatively easy for independent living seniors to engage in active, social experiences. In skilled nursing and long-term care, robust programming becomes more challenging, but it is possible. Every department at Vi, from Food and Beverage and Housekeeping to Resident Services, Nursing and Healthcare Resources, plays a role in ensuring continuity of delivery. All employees are empowered to contribute and are trained in the tenets of our Living Well culture from their first day on the job. It is crucial that everyone understand the role they play so that we can effectively execute on our Living Well promise.

Each month, we do a deep dive on a specific Living Well theme. Our July focus on hydration, for example, featured door-to-door hydration carts with fruit popsicles and smoothies; a mocktail social with fruit-infused water; hydration-themed puzzle packets with limericks, crossword puzzles, Sudoku word searches and brain teasers shared with residents throughout the month; water-themed movies on in-house TV stations; menus featuring high water-content foods; and a pampering spa cart with lip balms, moisturizers and information on skin hydration. Those initiatives touched all areas of care, thanks to cross-department teams, ensuring robust continuity and accessibility for all residents.

Residents, too, are encouraged and inspired to develop programs through their involvement in community clubs and groups. We are proud of our residents, who have a wealth of talent and expertise to share with their friends and neighbors. Often, these programs are derived from a resident’s former profession, hobby or a new passion they have discovered while being a Vi resident.

View residents and staff members as one wellness community

Every day, we look to our employees to deliver exceptional service and quality care to our residents. We believe it is important that team members know they are a valued part of our wellness culture. We have extended Living Well themes to our staff members across all 10 communities and our corporate office, providing tools and content created specifically for employees and encouraging their participation in programs that support the health of mind, body and spirit.

Those tools include an employee benefits newsletter with information that connects to each Living Well monthly theme. For additional, on-demand content, we offer LifeSpeak, an online platform with expert education and advice on issues relevant to employee health and wellness. We have seen encouraging engagement from our employees as they learn how they and their families can benefit from better health. We believe that this one-community approach has positively affected employee wellness and has contributed to our strong employee retention rates. 

During the past two years, COVID created some daunting roadblocks to the continued delivery of Living Well. Guided excursions to the park for memory care residents became guided walks around our community grounds. In-studio fitness classes became in-residence classes via Zoom. Despite such challenges, we continued to develop and deliver new Living Well content, without break, throughout the pandemic. Interestingly, we saw converts to Living Well because of COVID. “We never saw Mr. S. in a balance class before,” became a frequent theme, as residents tried new things and expanded their repertoires, from physical fitness to brain health and socialization. Another silver lining is that resident and staff member feedback about Living Well has never been more positive. It is confirmation that we are on the right track with our wellness culture, and it is inspiration for our team as we plan the way forward.

Randy Richardson is president of Vi, which operates 10 life plan communities across the United States. He is retiring May 31 and until then is serving in an advisory capacity.

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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.