When the bold industry leaders at Thrive Senior Living brought me on board last year as chief experience officer, one of my primary goals was and has been to move the company toward a human experience rather than a clinical one for our residents.

One of the ways in which we are shaking up established industry norms is with a new mindset called “Safety Third” that seeks to put decision-making back in the hands of residents while navigating the upsides and downsides to risk.

The concept pushes back against the longstanding medical paradigm, policies and procedures of “surplus safety.” This type of hyper-approach to safety has long prevented residents from enjoying the human right to make their own choices and evaluate their priorities.

At Thrive, we believe our mindset is essential to the industry pillars of privacy, choice and independence, even when family members or caregivers may want residents to choose otherwise.

With “Safety Third,” which rolled out in all our communities this year, we use three filters to prioritize levels of care.

  • The first filter consists of doing more good for residents, families and team members by valuing the desires of individuals first and foremost — particularly as it pertains to the wishes of those in their care.
  • The second filter is the assessment of any barriers that may be hindering that desire — including coaching for teams and families on the importance of dignity and quality of life.
  • Finally, the third filter is that of safety and assessing the upsides and downsides to associated risks.

The ultimate goal is to cultivate happier, more satisfied residents who are able to live fulfilling lives with autonomy, often shattering previous restrictions and limitations imposed around their care. 

Think about it: We all take upsides and downsides to risk every day – it’s part of being human. We can do more good for those we serve if we think beyond simply “safety first.”

If we consider measures of safety above all else, then our residents risk losing their identity and dignity. That’s simply not a risk we are willing to take.

The spirit dies when, for example, we put someone in a wheelchair who doesn’t belong there.

The question is not why we should prioritize a human experience, but rather how we can best educate our teams to push against these long-held clinical measures that threaten to institutionalize America’s population of aging adults.

Since rolling out this new thinking, we have offered panels and question-and-answer sessions to address employee concerns and challenges and considered feedback from our residents, families and team members. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Some things in life just click, and this was one of those human experiences that translates to all of us.

The biggest challenge so far has been unwinding the belief that we, as the decision-makers, know “better” for older adults than they do. People are trained to believe safety trumps choice, yet we all make “Safety Third” choices everyday with how we travel, what we eat and how we behave.

People in healthcare fields such as senior living are trained in a safety-first culture-scape. I get it.

At Thrive, we believe in safety, too; however, we believe first that the agency of choice resides with the residents themselves or — in the case of memory impairment — the family and team that supports them. The deeper we know the people we serve, the better we can support choice.

With this mindset, we’ve created a policy that allows us to do more good for people that we otherwise might have refused. We already have been able to accommodate residents with atypical health problems or living situations who otherwise have struggled to find a place to live, simply by prioritizing human desires, navigating through barriers and assessing risks.