Communicating with residents and associates was already a challenge for the senior living industry. But Covid-19 made communication an even bigger challenge — and, an even more important practice — than before the pandemic began.
Providers such as Baltimore-based Brightview Senior Living and Louisville, Kentucky-based Trilogy Health Services have had to think creatively about ways to relay messages to residents, their loved ones and associates.
“We realized quickly that many of the ways we had communicated in the past, and the frequency of that communication with our various constituencies — particularly our associates, residents and families — was going to have to change dramatically,” said Brightview Senior Living CEO Marilynn Duker during a panel discussion at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) Fall Conference, which is being held virtually this week.
But both companies were able to overcome these new challenges by employing unique strategies, such as working with “marketplace chaplains” who hold virtual religious services and counseling sessions, or by using in-house apps and software to help keep track of data and virtually meet.
“Transparency certainly is important any time, but definitely during these times of crisis,” said Leigh Ann Barney, president and CEO of Trilogy Health Services.
To keep up with the rapid pace of information, both Brightview and Trilogy upped their level of communication for residents and families. At the center of many of those efforts was a renewed focus on technology to help people stay connected while the pandemic keeps them physically distanced from one another.
“The pandemic has driven a lot of technological innovation,” Duker said. “And that innovation has happened much more rapidly than it would have pre-pandemic.”
Brightview, for instance, had rolled out Microsoft Teams prior to the pandemic, which proved important in keeping the flow of information moving internally.
“It enabled our regional directors, for example, to stay really connected to their communities — multiple times a day in many cases — at a time when they really were unable to travel to the communities,” Duker said. “Our executive directors used it for their morning stand-ups, especially in the early phases of the pandemic when we were really still somewhat unsure of how the virus was spreading.”
Brightview also began holding bi-weekly virtual town hall meetings with executive directors, and held daily Teams meetings with its operational and clinical leaders. The town halls, in particular, had the benefit of “flattening the organization at a really important time,” as it made it easier for community leaders to share concerns, Duker said.
Brightview also rolled out Microoft’s business intelligence software, Power BI, which gave real-time visibility on the conditions at its 42 communities.
“Having access to all this data meant that all the decision makers were up to speed in real time,” Duker said. “And that others who just wanted to know what was going on could easily see the data without having to reach out, send an email or make a phone call.”
Trilogy also developed a data dashboard using Power BI, which helped keep track of information regarding testing, temperature screenings and Covid-19 outbreaks. The company used that data to create a variety of resources, including a resource page for employees on its intranet.
Trilogy also created a public-facing Covid-19 reporting page on its website, with stats on the company’s total infection counts and positive tests.
“It was a little bit risky to go that route, but it actually gained us a lot of trust from our communities and families,” Barney said. “And, surprisingly, we had some praise from our local media outlets for being transparent.”
Trilogy this year began working with a company called Marketplace Chaplains to provide virtual counseling in its 117 senior housing and care campuses. The chaplains also hold virtual, nondenominational church sessions during weekly services Trilogy calls “Inspired Sundays.”
“They will tailor the messages toward our health care workers or toward the Trilogy family,” Barney said. “It makes it very personal for them.”
The provider additionally overhauled its family call system by adding a mass communication program called Regroup. Although Trilogy still uses its old family call system for feedback, having the mass messaging app handy has made life easier when communicating with families.
Both Brightview and Trilogy have also leaned on using in-house apps to stay connected with families and associates.
Brightview uses BVLink, a branded app powered by tech vendor Dynamic Signal. The app allows instant communication with any employee in the company via video or text.
“We had tremendous adoption, and 93% of our associates signed up for BVLink in just two weeks,” Duker said.
Trilogy, meanwhile, has begun developing a health app for families. Using the app, families can review their loved ones’ temperature checks, weight trends and which services they received on any given day.
“This is something that it’s in a pilot phase, and we’re testing it right now with some of our families,” Barney said. “But we’re really excited to get to a point where we can roll that out company wide.”