David Lynch speaking to a crowd at NCAL Day 2021

David Lynch of the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center gives the keynote address at the 15th Annual NCAL Day. (Credit: AHCA/NCAL)

After a tough year during the pandemic, it’s time to remember the passion that brought individuals into senior living and to create moments and memories that remind everyone how the industry can positively affect lives.

That was the message from David Lynch, practice director for the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, who gave the keynote address Sunday at the 15th Annual NCAL Day in advance of the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living Convention & Expo in the Washington, D.C., area.

Lynch focused on maximizing employee engagement, elevating customer service and evolving brand positioning. He encouraged attendees to focus on their true purpose, stepping out of functionality and moving into purpose-driven work. Specifically, Lynch spoke about the Ritz-Carlton’s key engagement principles of emotional connection, key engagement principles, optimizing interactions, creating a written strategy and delivering a legendary experience.

The company’s credo is that “an organization can never be what the people are not,” he said. That means bringing a community’s culture to life through the actions of employees who are engaging with residents and families. 

“When we focus on engaging customers, we build loyalty,” Lynch said. “Engaged customers have an active relationship with a brand.” 

A brand, he said, is not a logo, but “a story that’s always being told.” Assisted living providers, he said, have opportunities every day to engage with residents and families and to create memories and experiences.

Sharing the Ritz-Carlton’s “journey map,” Lynch said that providers can create processes that create distinct “wow moments.” Like the hospitality industry, the senior living industry has those opportunities at the stages known in the hospitality industry as pre-arrival, booking arrival, greeting, experience, departure and post-departure. 

To successfully create engaged customers requires staying in the moment, Lynch said. Too many times, he added, workers are focused on getting through their to-do lists and therefore miss those opportunities to create memories and moments. 

“We get caught in the weeds of functionality,” Lynch said. “You operate when you turn functionality into purpose.”

He challenged attendees to focus on realigning their purpose by remembering what got them into the senior living business in the first place.

Jan Thayer Pioneer Award

Also during NCAL Day, Ruth Link-Gelles, Ph.D., MPH, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was named the 2021 recipient of the Jan Thayer Pioneer Award. The award recognizes someone who moves the senior care profession forward by challenging the status quo, paving a path and setting an example for everyone else. 

Link-Gelles played a critical role in helping long-term care residents and staff throughout the pandemic by leading the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care program, which organized on-site COVID-19 vaccination clinics.

“She developed this program quickly, and with very few resources, resulting in a tremendously successful, monumental public health program with life-saving results,” new NCAL Executive Director LaShaun Bethea said. “She has also been incredibly supportive of our profession, engaging with the community and always making herself available to state leaders.”

In a video message, Link-Gelles called the program “easily the most impactful thing I’ve ever done.” 

“It was a privilege to work with the wonderful staff at AHCA and NCAL to do our part in improving their lives, particularly in helping residents of assisted living facilities regain some small sense of independence and ability to safely interact within the community,” she said. “I can’t say enough good things about everyone I worked with in the long-term care community.”

CEAL Award for Excellence in Care and Support

The Center for Excellence in Assisted Living also announced that, for the first year for the CEAL Award for Excellence in Care and Support, it was honoring the entire assisted living workforce. The award recognizes the workforce’s “dedication and hard work in providing the highest quality care for residents throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The CEAL board felt it was only right to honor everyone who’s gone above and beyond during the pandemic,” said Doug Pace, director of mission partnerships at the Alzheimer’s Association and vice chair of the CEAL board. All NCAL Day attendees left with certificates of appreciation.

‘Our future is bright’

In remarks before the awards presentation, NCAL Board of Directors Chair Helen Crunk said, “To enter long-term care is a choice. To become so strongly committed and completely in love with your job is an outcome of that choice.”

Although COVID-19 has changed the way the industry serves residents, she said, assisted living has adapted and continues to provide high-quality care.

“I know our future is bright because of each of you and your commitment to working through the hardest times and your true love for this calling,” Crunk told attendees.

The convention starts today and continues through Wednesday.