BEST OF THE BEST AWARD
Discovery Senior Living
PHOTO: Residents use FlexChoice℠ dollars to access a full menu of a la carte experiences ranging from dining to fitness to recreational activities.
The Argentum Best of the Best Awards recognize innovative programs, products, and services that solve a particular challenge or advance excellence in senior living. For 2022, recipient communities were selected that showcase how problems can be solved with simple solutions or existing technologies, for their unique approach to resident engagement and education, and for improving the resident experience.
Introduced in mid- to late-2021, Discovery Senior Living rolled out FlexChoice℠ in select communities to health residents use existing available services. It provides freedom and flexibility, rather than requiring “bundled” programming such as meal plans and all-inclusive service packages. With three tiers of program options, FlexChoice℠ allows each resident to choose which is best for their specific needs. This new approach is appealing to an incoming generation of residents that place a priority on experiences in addition to security, comfort, and access to health care.
“We know the Boomers are coming and that they want options and customization. We also know they only want to pay for what the use,” said Richard J. Hutchinson, chief executive officer of Discovery Senior Living. “As an industry, it means we have to get away from that ‘silo effect’ where products and services are part of standard, one-size-fits-all packages. That’s senior living, 1.0, and it’s just not the world we’re living in anymore.”
In addition to allowing for a more personalized experience, over time, FlexChoice℠ is expected to provide better visibility and insight regarding consumption patterns at the individual and community level. The infrastructure investment was negligible as the program helps residents optimize existing services offered by their respective communities. The increased efficiency, however, will assist operations in optimizing costs for resources that include labor, food, beverage items, and more as usage patterns are studied.
The program’s adoption rate in pilot communities in Florida, Texas, and elsewhere was 50-70% in the first several months following deployment. Early traction signaled acceptance among the resident population and FlexChoice℠ has been utilized as a selling point by sales team members at the community and corporate levels who use the new tool to convert leads to move-ins.
As the country began to emerge from the pandemic, Belmont Village staff wanted to galvanize a turnaround by doing something big, bold, and fun. They wanted to host a major event to unite staff, family, and residents in a communal enterprise, and the planning committee recognized that food is a vehicle for bringing people together, especially when they share in the preparation of a meal. This led to the creation of a two-month Iron Chef campaign and cook-off competition between five groupings of Belmont regions.
The competition was comprised of three parts: a resident recipe contest, with submissions prepared jointly by a resident and a chef; a staff recipe contest, in which staff prepared their recipe under the food safety guidelines of their chef; and a final event cook-off contest for chefs, which was held in an outdoor pavilion of a designated Belmont Village building and brought competitors from the five regions together in one place. On the day of the competition a panel of judges that included chefs from local restaurants, residents, and corporate staff joined residents and their families for the cook-off event, which was made even more special by the addition of staff and resident decorations. Throughout the campaign the media were continually apprised of the newsworthy elements that abounded.
The campaign was innovative in that it was multi-building contest that required collaboration and brought together team members and staff from multiple locations. Working together to identify logistics and obstacles, and prepare a strategic plan, involved continual program solving and joint effort. Through the during of the campaign, multiple departments found a role for themselves and contributed to the preparation of the contest, which provided a sense of camaraderie.
“I’m grateful for the time I was able to spend with the residents during this experience. I don’t have much exposure to residents in the back of the house and it was great to connect with them throughout the planning process and training leading up to the live competition,” noted a Belmont Village sous chef.
Beyond the feelings of pride and excitement shared by residents and staff, there was also the element and success of extensive media coverage, which reflected a good beginning step in changing perceptions about assisted living — what it is and how it differs from nursing homes.
As noted in their charter, the Brookdale National Advisory Council (NAC) is comprised of residents from Brookdale Independent Living communities throughout the United States. Council members bring unique knowledge of the resident experience to Brookdale senior management and help guide the organization toward its stated mission.
The NAC provides accurate and timely perspectives on their communities and suggestions that help improve and enhance the resident experience. Members must have a positive attitude based on respect, partnership, and collaboration, and must possess an enthusiasm for serving and representing the interests of residents in Brookdale communities across the country. Members service on a voluntary one-year term with no compensation.
By enlisting the help of the NAC, Brookdale ensures management has direct feedback from residents, who leverage their life experience skills, function as a council, and provide suggestions on how the resident experience can be improved. Their feedback was critical during the pandemic.
An added benefit of the program is that by being part of the NAC, members are given a sense of purpose and assurance they are making a real impact with leadership in an organized way. As one council member commented, “I learned so much more about the company that I can now share with my community. I was most impressed with the directors we met and their interest in our opinions. They seemed sincere in efforts to improve marketing and the resident experience.”
Forming a council with residents is best practice that can be replicated in a large or small way. By elevating it to a national level, Brookdale Senior Living has provided their independent living residents with a broad opportunity to service and provider feedback in their role.
The last two years brought about a national discussion of more than just the pandemic. Topics on the minds of many also included conversations about what can be done to eradicate racism and promote inclusion, and it became clear there was a need for diversity training and cultural awareness about schools, organizations, businesses, and senior living communities. Senior Lifestyle Corporation knew this would take time, trial, and error to achieve and implement, but wanted to take the first step in a new direction and identified a starting point be creating the Inspired to Be Better Together Initiative.
Goals for the initiative include leading educational programs that feature diverse people, holidays, and cultures to increase awareness of the people in Senior Lifestyle Corporate communities. An increase in awareness and understanding could lead to increased compassion for others and the overall success of the program. A committee of memory care directors, program directors, and residents was formed, and a meeting was held to share ideas and discuss goals of the initiative, as well as to identify program topics that would draw on the knowledge and experiences of the committee members.
Following additional meetings, feedback and direction from program directors and memory care directors led to the development of a variety of month-long themes that allow staff and residents to learn about and celebrate people and holidays from diverse regions, cultures, and religions. A sample monthly calendar is provided to each community that includes resources, games, celebration ideas, and printable tools that can be used to lead each of the suggested sample programs.
Inspired to Be Better Together is innovative for the senior living industry because the programs being provided, and the topics being discussed, are potentially controversial and not typically found on a senior living program calendar. Senior Lifestyle Corporation wanted to create a space where people from different backgrounds feel represented and worthy of celebration. Identifying an opportunity to make changes to program calendars became a catalyst for change and created an impact in the overall resident experience.
Designed to provide education resources and answers to questions about senior living, caregiving, health, and other topics, Senior Living LIVE! is an engaging digital series with weekly webinar episodes shared online and across social media platforms. Content is available for anyone to view at no cost and The Arbor Company has materials transcribed to allow greater access to the information. In addition, each webinar is captioned to make the content available to as many people as possible, a feature that has been greatly appreciated by the deaf community.
Senior Living LIVE! is indicative of three areas of innovation for the senior living industry. Subject matter experts provide online content that is available to any person seeking information about a ranger of topics, from preventing falls to finding joy. Transcribed episodes allow users to select the best way to engage with the material from among the different options and this accessibility provides greater choice for visual or auditory learners. Senior Living LIVE! also provides the ability for Arbor to connect with different audiences in a safe way, as staff can reach out to residents, families, and business partners around the corner or across the country with ease.
With Senior Living LIVE!, The Arbor Company has created an extensive catalog of forward-thinking and creative digital resources that provide education and solutions instantly to any member of the senior community. One less learned was how to improve and diversify the program to provide greater connection and accessibility during the pandemic by utilizing social media platforms, newsletters, and community dementia training for first responders.
Designed as a blended or hybrid learning model, in which in-person instruction and onboarding activities supplement online components, Benchmark’s Virtual General Orientation Program is offered weekly to new hires in all roles and from across the company. Online instruction is provided by master trainers from Benchmark’s corporate learning and development and mind and memory teams. The virtual element of the program allows learners to share their own experiences and perspectives during interactive chat discussions and the online classes cover important cultural and regulatory content, which is then reinforced with in-person training at each community.
By utilizing a virtual orientation program, Benchmark has allowed communities to reallocate staff time that had been spent planning and delivering live programming in their individual communities. Taking part in the orientation program online also ensures that the content and messaging are consistent across time and location, with regulatory topics covered thoroughly and with adult learning principles in mind as taught by experienced trained professionals. New hires are introduced to the greater company at large, and the online environment provides them with an opportunity to interact and engage with staff from several other communities and states.
The virtual program is working and has been well received by staff. In the words of one human resources director, “The trainers infuse a lot of fun into the session, making these remote classes feel more like in-person. From a recruitment standpoint, having these classes available weekly shortens the turnaround time from interview to orientation and gives us a lot of flexibility in scheduling people.” Another metric of success is that shifting from individualized, community-specific training to a more centralized delivery approach has eliminated redundancies and resulted in an estimated savings of more than 500 hours of supervisor labor time each week.
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