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From the time we are schoolchildren, the notion that we need to be prepared for any emergency has been instilled in us, to help us think through possible problems and have a plan to tackle them if a worst-case scenario actually happened.

You can see this principle in action in senior living communities, which are tasked with not only implementing protocols that keep residents safe, but also in providing training so staff members can be ready to act on those protocols at a moment’s notice.

From fires to hurricanes to power outages, all bases need to be covered in staff training so employees can provide the support residents expect and deserve.

Different communities handle training in different ways, based on factors including geographic location, specific needs of their residents, and even the layout of their buildings. In addition to this, communities are often growing, and the climate and other conditions are changing. There’s no one right way to prepare, but sharing tactics and tips can help spark adjustments and innovations to handle the shifting environment.

To find out what different senior living communities are doing to prepare staff as well as residents for when disaster strikes, we spoke with two organizations that shared the details of the training they provide.


Training that works for new situations

Last year, Texas experienced unprecedented freezing weather and ice. But even though it was something senior living communities had never before faced, the Thrive Senior Living staff had a plan to handle it.

Thrive uses a combination of online modules, in-person training, and drills to focus on giving employees information they need to mobilize quickly in response to any situation that may come up.

Luckily, its communities didn’t have to carry out an evacuation during the freeze. However, it was an all-hands-on-deck event, with employees ready to move no matter what happened thanks to the emergency plan they have in place and the training that has been provided on how to use it.

“They have a binder in place, and everyone’s trained to what’s in this binder—where you would evacuate to, and who you would call for transportation if there is an evacuation,” says Elaine D’Antonio, Thrive’s vice president of clinical and compliance. “That’s very community-specific—it could be evacuating to a hotel, another community, a school gym, or a church.”

But training is also designed to prepare employees for the many different types of needs residents may have in an emergency. Thrive, which has nine communities in four states, provides specific services for memory care, so all employees receive National Institute for Dementia Education (NIDE) training designed to help them work with residents that have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

“It’s a certification that we require for all team members. It’s stated on our website, and believe me, people hold us to it,” D’Antonio says.

“So we have chosen an individual who used to work for Thrive to provide all that training for us. She does four sessions a month and anyone can jump on from the community. What’s really cool about it is it’s not just the experience team, which is how we identify our CNAs, nurses’ aides, and med techs. It’s everybody: We ask the housekeepers, chefs, cooks, servers, everyone to get it, because we’re all at some point coming in contact with a resident with dementia.”

This NIDE training has not only influenced the way employees interact with residents on a regular basis, but also has contributed to the updates that were made to emergency protocols themselves.

“One thing we learned through NIDE training is that green is typically one of the last colors you lose as you’re going through the dementia process,” says Michael Patrick, property experience market lead at Thrive. “With that information, a lot of communities are changing their exit signs to green letters, so that way, in case of emergency, residents are still able to see the signs.”

In addition to receiving instruction after being hired, Thrive employees are required to retake training every year.Because there is so much information for employees to digest, Thrive tempers the need to conduct training in a timely manner with flexibility, so employees don’t feel overwhelmed and don’t forget the information they learned. This has been essential in the level of preparedness that Thrive employees have.

Pushed timelines or overwhelming amounts of training “is not as impactful, or doesn’t stick, or they rush through and don’t retain it,” D’Antonio says.

“We have this expression at Thrive: You have this freedom in the framework of your leadership to say what works best for the community, the clientele, and the team members and their learning styles. So we really do give people the ability to be flexible, but there’s still a cutoff.”


Encouraging a culture of readiness

It always impresses Syndell Lawhon, vice president of wellness at Vitality Living, that team members are always ready to mobilize and to help each other during an emergency.

“The frontline staff and the caregivers are fantastic about loading up their bags and going with the residents to make sure they are taken care of,” she says.

“When you think that they’re probably leaving their home, which could have dam age, and going with the residents because they’re so concerned, it really just warms your heart. Consistently, every time, they show up and do what needs to be done to take care of residents,” Lawhon says.

There’s a lot of prep work that’s done. We’re always watching the weather, so we can call the staff and say, ‘Hey, are you willing to come in and stay in case other people can’t get in?’ during the heat of the storm and hands down, they always respond. It’s just really an amazing group of people.”

It is also a reflection of a training program that prepares the staff to rise to the occasion. Vitality offers online training tailored toward assisted living communities and focused on helping employees understand what they need to know during an emergency, such as the difference between a warning and a watch, strategies for getting residents away from windows and into secure spaces in the building, or ways to evacuate behind fire doors.

Although most of the modules employees complete are the same from one community to the next, there are some differences, depending on location—Vitality has communities in nine states.

In addition, employees participate in regular drills, which help the provider evaluate the quality of training. These drills also provide a chance to immediately course correct if there are any shortfalls in employee response.

Lawhon explains: “The way training is reinforced is, say you have a fire drill and someone doesn’t respond appropriately, or it takes 15 minutes to get the residents from one section behind the three-hour firewall. we would do on-the-spot training, and then quickly after that follow up with another drill to see, ‘Hey, did we do better?’”

Doing better with training is consistently a priority. Whether in response to industry changes, updates to regulations, or lessons learned after a real evacuation, the organization strives to keep the training fresh and relevant. Training has also become more efficient through using online modules for required annual training.

“I think the online version has helped quite a bit, because it’s very consistent, it’s delivered in a way people are used to receiving information now, and people can do it at their own pace,” says Lawhon.

“There are real-life scenarios in the videos and examples. I think it’s a very good platform—rather than having someone standing there with a script that they’ve read for the past five years, telling you the same thing. It’s much more engaging.”


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