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A panel discussed resident engagement during the International Council on Active Aging Virtual Conference, Leadership Summit and Expo 2020.

Senior living and care has been one of the industries most disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, creating “radical changes” in resident engagement. But that might not be such a bad thing, according to a presenter at the International Council on Active Aging Virtual Conference, Leadership Summit and Expo 2020.

Charles de Vilmorin, co-founder and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based Linked Senior, a long-term care resident engagement platform, said that COVID-19, in a way, forced the industry to deliver one-on-one programming to assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing residents. This programming, de Vilmorin said, provided residents with the “attention they’ve been craving for years.”

Before the pandemic, assisted living communities were engaging residents 20 minutes per day and skilled nursing facilities spent 11 minutes on resident engagement, deVilmorin said. That engagement consisted of “Bingo, birthdays and Bible,” he added.

And although long-term care was making improvements before the pandemic, the industry still had many areas where it could improve, de Vilmorin said.

Juniper finds a solution

When the pandemic hit and social isolation threatened the health of residents, providers said they didn’t have the staffing to accomplish additional resident engagement, he said. With no outside help due to visitation restrictions and bans on group activities, they were faced with needing to find 224 hours of staffing per month to properly engage with residents, de Vilmorin added.

The solution at Juniper Village at Brookline was training a universal worker. Jill McKenrick, director of community engagement at the State College, PA, continuing care retirement community, said that with only three associates in her activities department, she was faced with making a decision about which of her five cohorts of residents would not have engagement opportunities on a given day.

“I had a really hard time accepting that, to think that there were whole groups of residents who were not going to get engagement opportunities,” Kenrick said.

During the shutdown, she said, she realized that dining and housekeeping employers had a lot of down time. She proposed cross-training them to be universal workers to help with activities and maintain that one-to-one engagement.

“It was one of the best decisions we’ve made,” McKenrick said, adding that it became part of Juniper Communities’ “A Pathway Forward” to a “new normal” during the recovery phase of the pandemic.

“We knew we couldn’t stay on lockdown forever,” McKenrick said. “We noticed a decline in residents. They were not coming out of their rooms, they were sitting more, their physical abilities declined significantly.”

When planning activities, McKenrick said she surveyed residents to determine their priorities. Those priorities were family, exercise, socialization and spiritual opportunities. To address those priorities, Juniper Communities developed a new normal at its senior living communities that included increased virtual programming and events, socially distanced groups and programs, universal worker training, daily family and resident email blasts, family visitation, virtual marketing events and weekly staff testing.

The way to increase resident engagement, de Vilmorin said, is through person-centered care. That means igniting purpose for older adults through engagement activity and technology. Better engagement, he added, leads to higher cognitive function, increases social engagement and increases connections among residents, staff members and the overall community. 

Linked Senior uses a resident engagement index score assessment tool to measure engagement. This tool, he said, allows communities to create goals and celebrate success.

Kenrick said she used the Linked Senior REIS to measure attendance and participation in activities, plan diverse programming and address resident quality of life. She also used the tool to measure clinical outcomes related to diagnosis, cognition and mobility, as well as to address business outcomes, including increased satisfaction, increased move-ins and word-of-mouth referrals. 

Tracking data, she said, allows her to create visualization of her population and demographics, which are key to offering person-centered data-driven programming. Diving into engagement with the assisted living population showed that over two years, the community increased its amount of programming by 145% and increased resident participation in activity to 93% from 65% in the same time period, Kenrick said.

“When you are doing activities that meet resident interests, you are far more likely to get residents engaged,” she said.

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