Rick Exline headshot
Rick Exline

Des Moines, IA-based LCS, No. 2 on the American Seniors Housing Association and Argentum lists of largest senior living operators for 2020, is rolling out its new EverSafe 360° program this week. Rick Exline, executive vice president/senior managing director of life plan communities for Life Care Services, An LCS Company, took a few minutes to speak with McKnight’s Senior Living about how the company expects the program to grow from a pandemic response to influence company culture and the ways LCS does business on a larger scale.

Q: If you were explaining the EverSafe 360° program to a colleague in the industry in what people might call an elevator speech, how would you describe it?

A: When we were confronted, like all providers, with the pandemic, we responded in all the ways that addressed health and safety and wellness for our residents and staff. It’s obviously something that we hadn’t necessarily anticipated in any way, shape or form but something we responded to in ways that I think our stakeholders were very pleased with. But as a part of that process, we decided early on that we did not want COVID-19 to define us. We wanted to understand the experience and then really focus on how we as an organization could become a better version of ourselves. And so, while many of the responses to COVID-19 have been important topics, like personal protective equipment and air quality and sanitation, we wanted to do something a little bigger and a little bolder that really would go beyond this pandemic and change the way that we care and serve residents and respect and honor employees as a part of our company culture. And so that’s what led to EverSafe 360°. And while a lot of it is based on what we do when there are disruptions in our environment, some of it will be based on programs that are just a new way that we do business. And so while we refer to it as initiatives and programs, our focus here is that it becomes a big part of our culture and really changes the way that we go about doing business.

Q: How did you start the process?

A: As we started the process of considering what EverSafe 360° might look like, we did significant directional research. We conducted surveys of residents, of employees, of our stakeholders, of bond holders with our not-for-profits, our owners, really asking them to provide feedback on how they saw our response to COVID-19 experience. And then from that, we were able to collect areas of focus and need. We were pleased with our survey results — 98% of those folks that we surveyed considered our response to be good or outstanding — but we still felt there was work to do. And so from that, we put together a list of initiatives that we wanted to tackle and a pace and a time that are digestible at the site level.

Q: What are some of the ways you do business that are changing with EverSafe 360°?

A: We’re creating a medical advisory board. We’re in the process of interviewing some of the best minds in terms of gerontologists, epidemiologists, other individuals who know and understand seniors, in particular a focus on a psychosocial perspective. That group is going to be very instrumental in helping us guide the future of how we look at care and safety and wellness in our communities. And it’s going to go beyond the pandemic and think about things in the future, such as fall management or wound care or other ways that we can be of service to seniors.

The second program is what we call Engage, and it’s really designed to support our residents during demanding times of change. This is our version of a resident assistance program, like an employee assistance program. It’s going to be available to our residents, whether they see a need to seek professional counseling, someone to talk to about the ever-changing world that we all live in but in particular the changes that happen to us as we grow older.

The third component is that we’re embracing in a much bolder way our telemedicine initiative. We’re in the process of identifying the providers that we want to work with. We have been in that sector, but we don’t think we’ve maximized the opportunities to do it in the best and right way or to make it available to all residents. Some of our historical telemedicine has been more focused on our care levels, and we’re going to work to expand that.

A fourth component is what we call EverClean 360°. In a partnership with Proctor & Gamble, we’re talking about sanitation and the right cleaning solutions within our communities. We’re using many of their products today, but we’re giving it a little more energy and focus in the area of clean spaces and doing it in such a way that we’re respecting our environment and being very green in our approach.

One of our first efforts will be indoor air quality, and we have a team of individuals that is researching options. We have communities that are already underway in enhancing their HVAC systems to improve air quality. There is a concept called needlepoint bipolar ionization, and we’re very excited about it in terms of its application as well as its historical testing results. Plus UV lighting. There are some other components to that, both within a system and even on what I’ll call a room application.

And then finally, in this first group of initiatives, we’re talking about space management and how we can respect social distancing but find ways to manage and support interaction of our seniors in the community. People enjoy living in senior living because they enjoy the relationships. COVID-19 has disrupted those relationships. So how can we find, even in times of restricted movement, even in times when we’re sheltering in place, ways to keep that relationship link connected?

Q: What are some other changes that might happen in the future?

A: Beyond that, we’re 130 communities, and we’re in 31 states, so we are creating a national emergency response team. We’re going to have individuals who are working in our communities around the country who basically become our version of a SWAT team to go support any community at any time, for any reason. This might be something like a pandemic and they’re short on staff, or it could be wildfires. It can be hurricanes. It can be any kind of disruption in the environment.

We’re also creating a centralized storage program. We’re going to have locations around the country where our communities can go to get certain inventory and supply items. And that would certainly include PPE and also things like satellite radios.

We’re enhancing our community safety committees. We have a council developed for how we can know and understand better the needs of our employees.

We’ve got more initiatives coming in the future. This is relatively new, so many of these initiatives are still in the development and building stage.

Q: There was a task force formed in relation to the program as well. Can you talk a little bit about that?

A: Early on, we created an interdisciplinary task force at LCS from every discipline. We called in our best and brightest people to serve on this task force, and their work has been outstanding in terms of research, really knowing and understanding the residents, our employees, getting “inside the tent,” talking to our operators. We have operators that are on the task force. It’s been a very energized group whose work product has just been “off the charts.”

Q: Is that going to be an ongoing group, or was it just formed for the initial start of the program?

A: We see EverSafe 360° as being an evolution and not a creation. So we see this task force staying in place. We may see some membership change over time, but we want to keep growing and we want to keep getting better. We’re going to capture the experience of this pandemic, and we want to recognize it. Then we want to use it to become a better version of ourselves.

Q: Have you received any feedback from employees or residents or families, or is it too early in the process?

A: About three weeks ago, we did an announcement to all of our employees and to our stakeholders, particularly our board members and our owners, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. They recognize this is something LCS would do to really be thinking above and beyond, responding to what’s happening in the moment but finding ways to grow and learn from that. And so we’re excited about the rollout. We’ve heard many positive things about it, and our stakeholders are taking ownership in it, because through the research they participated in, they had a voice that really led to the creation of many of these initiatives.

Q: When you surveyed various constituencies, were there any surprises in the feedback you received?

A: I wouldn’t say it was a surprise, but I don’t think we can ever overstate the demands of the job in the workplace, in our communities. Somebody made a comment: I have a daughter-in-law who works at a hospital, and she said that when COVID first hit, they would get off their shift and there’d be a line of people out there handing out Visa cards and applauding for them and holding balloons and calling them heroes. That doesn’t happen anymore. But the same people are still going to work. They’re battling every day. They are in a highly infectious environment, and there’s a lot of stress associated with working in senior living during the time of the pandemic. So I don’t know whether it was anything that surprised me, but it’s something that we want to stay focused on in terms of recognizing and supporting the people who are doing so much to care for seniors.