A Wisconsin senior living operator is reaching beyond U.S. borders for fresh ideas of how to tackle some of the industry’s biggest challenges, from rehospitalizations to human resources management to marketing, dining and appropriate service mix.

West Allis, WI-based Heritage Senior Living welcomed two master’s degree students from France this year to study and share ideas related to human resources and clinical quality matters.

“There are great things happening throughout the world in terms of senior care. The future of the industry won’t be driven by one country alone; rather, it’s the exchange of ideas between countries, generations and nationalities that will drive advancement and innovation,” Pierre Verger, the company’s chief operating officer, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “Heritage recognized that there is so much we can learn from foreign students, who have different views on the industry and different visions on how to improve it. And there’s so much we can teach them.”

The internship of Anne-Gaelle Lethiais, a nurse studying healthcare and related clinical sciences at Institut d’Administration des Entreprises in Limoges, France, began in March and went through August.

“As a company, we had been examining key quality indicators, including 30-day rehospitalizations. Through this, we identified the communities and individuals who were triggering high for acute care transfers and 30-day readmissions,” Heritage Vice President of Quality and Clinical Operations Jaime Schwingel said.

At Heritage Elm Grove, Lethiais subsequently helped implement eInteract, a platform designed to help prevent unnecessary acute care transfers and provide pathways and tools for direct caregivers to use for early detection of changes in condition, she said.

“Utilizing this application has been a change for our community, so there’s still education to be done on it, but we have already seen a drop in acute care transfers,” Schwingel said. “The next step is to roll it out to other communities.”

Julie Menudier, who is studying healthcare business management at the same school that Lethiais attends, came in March and stayed through August.

“Julie helped with our company-wide initiative of reviewing and organizing employee files, which gave us greater insight into the needs of our employees and the human resources department in general,” Heritage HR Director Cyrille Buisson said. “From her work, we recognized the need to centralize employee files, and we’ve now begun incorporating electronic HR management tools to do just that. With her help, we’ve been able to improve and streamline our HR practices, which are now more suitable for a company of our size.”

Heritage has 15 senior living communities, plus one in development, in Wisconsin. The organization serves more than 2,000 seniors in independent living, assisted living and memory care.

Lethiais’ and Menudier’s visits built on an internship last year during which master’s degree student Etienne Ramet, from the Kedge Business School in Bordeaux, France, spent three months in a marketing internship.

“Etienne completed a broad market analysis, including strength and weakness assessments, to help understand the needs of the residents we serve and how to best evolve our care, services and facilities,” Verger said. “His research helped solidify and further our commitment to prioritize clinical care services in our communities.”

Schwingel added: “Etienne’s work has been a motivating factor in our ongoing efforts to transition from a social model to a medical model, shifting our primary focus to fall more heavily on refining clinical standards, fulfilling medical needs and overseeing delivery of care. From his research, we know that this is what our clientele want and need and that this transition will set us apart in the industry.”

Heritage started the international internship with students from France because of executives’ connections to the country, Verger said.

“The owner of the company has done extensive traveling throughout the world, and I myself came from France,” he said. “So it was a shared understanding of the mind-opening benefits of travel that initially inspired the idea of having international interns come to Heritage. When we started to actually plan for our first intern, my connections with Kedge Business School, as well as the school’s reputation as being one of the best business schools in the world, motivated our selection.”

The company, however, plans to expand internship opportunities beyond French institutions in the future, the COO added.

“We have a great desire to learn how other states and countries operate in terms of senior care and how the ideas and visions of different cultures and generations can be used to improve the industry for the future, not just in terms of care but also hospitality, marketing and more,” Verger said. “We also want to discover the best talent, not just in Wisconsin but throughout the world. For instance, our culinary department is currently contacting culinary schools throughout the country and the world to find an intern who will bring a fresh, new perspective to the department.”