As many senior living operators look to add more healthcare services to their offerings, one regional senior living development and operating company is instituting a new program to help ensure that hospitality doesn’t get lost in the mix.

Vero Beach, FL-based Harbor Retirement Associates has announced plans to train all community executive directors and sales directors, as well as corporate staff, in etiquette, hospitality and image by the end of the year.

“I think we are the first ones in the industry to do something like this,” Gottfried Ernst, the company’s vice president of hospitality, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “We’re pretty excited about it.”

HRA operates 30 communities in seven states. The company focuses on assisted living and memory care but also is involved with independent living and skilled nursing.

“Our executive directors are often times from a clinical background, and they’re great at giving care and caring about someone, but they are sometimes new to the hospitality world and to being a great host during investor lunches, during prospect events and hosting our residents and family members in the community every day,” Ernst said. “So we wanted to come up with a program that equips them to serve the more affluent clientele that we are attracting and who are entering our communities.”

Fifteen executive directors participated in a two-day, mid-March training session that was led by Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach, FL, and author of etiquette books, and Susan Bigsby, a certified image professional who has been a corporate image consultant to companies in the hotel, real estate, financial and other industries as well as associations. The session also included Ernst, Chief Operating Officer Kim Lewis and the company’s regional directors of operations, Ernst said.

“We selected new development executive directors who have a community opening in the next six months” as well as executive directors who were selected at random, Ernst said.

Participants, according to HRA, learned how to be a good host, greet someone, make small talk, remember names, shake hands and make introductions.

Employees learned how to apply what they learned to day-to-day interactions with residents, family members and guests. They also received dining etiquette training and learned more about glassware, cutlery, toasting, table talk and seating etiquette. Both men and women also received tips on how to dress and present themselves professionally, from body language to color choice to, as appropriate, hair and makeup.

“There were a lot of ‘a-ha’ moments throughout this entire training,” Ernst said.

The remaining executive directors and corporate staff, as well as all sales directors, will receive similar training in June, he said. Then, as new communities come online in the future — HRA is partnering on the construction of seven more communities in seven additional states — directors will be trained internally, Ernst added.

“We have a train-the-trainer program set up,” he said. “One of our floating executive directors underwent the training in March, and she will train our future executive directors.” Ernst said he and others will participate in the training as well.

“Our residents, family members and guests are going to experience an unmatched level of hospitality and service in all HRA communities,” Lewis predicted.

Photo: Kristen Dalrick, executive director at HarborChase of Palm Harbor, Palm Harbor, FL, third from left, displays the certificate she earned after undergoing etiquette, hospitality and image training. Pictured with her are, from left: trainer Jacqueline Whitmore, HRA COO Kim Lewis and trainer Susan Bigsby.