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The only thing certain is change—and senior living is no exception.

The industry has been rapidly shifting throughout its growth. Extraordinary, creative restructurings and new strategies have risen as enthusiastic responses to a multitude of resident choices and changes. Integrating new technologies; bringing in new activities, programs, and food; making rapid discoveries about health, human relationships, and cognition—and putting them into practice for a better quality of life: The past decade has been full of advances.

But the extent of change and uncertainty with which this decade opened is unprecedented, for not only the industry, but also the nation. What do we need to get to 2030? It may start with an increased capacity to thrive under change.

Here, a selection of leaders presents what they’ve learned about managing change, and what they’ll take into the future.

Maureen Allen
President and CEO

“Insight is key”

While attempting to identify growth opportunities in a healthy economy has given way to trying to ensure business survival and resident well-being in light of recent events, obtaining actionable insight is key to overcoming any challenge that they face.

Organizations can generate an abundance of valuable analytics from technology systems they use on a daily basis. For example, by implementing effective business intelligence, data gathering, and data management processes, operators can instantly analyze metrics related to accounting, labor, occupancy, and clinical aspects. Real-time insight shows how to best move forward and mitigate risks within this shifting economic climate. By developing and strengthening these abilities, we’ve found that operators are not only able to better withstand sudden market downturns by having the knowledge to adapt accordingly, but also are prepared to come out stronger and more competitive once economic conditions inevitably improve.

Susan Bogan
Chief customer officer

“Not a time to be silent”

With COVID-19, we’re learning something new every day about how to shift marketing and communication strategies for our clients.

We’re counseling our clients to be flexible and adjust to different approaches to sales and marketing. We believe our audiences understand that communities must change their operational and business strategies during COVID-19, but they expect those communities to create accessible ways to keep the communication lines open.

It’s okay be cautious, but it’s also important to stay connected to your audiences. Now is not a time to be silent.

The best example of success we’re witnessing right now is advancing digital/virtual methods of engagement. The communities using these tools in place of in-person visits are having positive results.

We believe these approaches will continue to increase as we navigate through 2020 and into 2021.

Ray Elliot
Vice president of senior living

“Set your ego aside”

The top things I’ve learned about managing change is to remain humble and trust others. Though we plan and strategize for the future, it never goes exactly according to plan.

As a leader, the best way to navigate the unexpected is to set your ego aside, evaluate the situation on face value, and seek the advice of others to help guide your decisions.

An example of this in action is the recent transition to work-from-home during the coronavirus pandemic. We had never planned for the entire company to be working from home, but in a matter of days, IT had to set up a structure that allowed all employees to connect and work remotely.

For those who had laptops, it was easy. However, for those who connected from personal devices, we were required to change long-standing policies and practices. We had to trust that employees would do their best to find a way to get work done despite the uncertain environment.

All around, the transition has been a huge success, because of the top-to-bottom trust that we will all do our best to do what is right.

“Be transparent”

Jason Hazel, PT, DP
Chief development officer
FOX Rehabilitation

There is no such thing as “over-communication” during change management. Change is uncomfortable for most, and consistent feedback is vital in calming anxiety related to change.
In this time, getting comfortable with new mechanisms of communication that still feel personal has been the primary challenge.

I increased the cadence of recurring calls early on in the outbreak and quickly mandated that cameras be turned on to allow us to still utilize non-verbal communication. It quickly changed our meetings—for the positive.

A key part of change management is transparency. Through uncertain times and/or change, one’s willingness to be vulnerable is powerful. Be transparent with the plan.
The hope is that the plan goes right. If it doesn’t go right, be overtly clear and honest while not casting blame, but coaching. If it does, honor those that did the hard work.
Transparency during times of good or bad will earn trust. Trust is a vitally powerful resource.

Earl Parker
President and COO
Commonwealth Senior Living

“Focus on the fundamentals”

Over many years in the senior living industry, the most important lesson I’ve learned is to focus on the fundamentals. Those of us who work in senior living are called to this profession because we care about people.

In 2019, our company had the opportunity to onboard 10 new communities in 4 states within 90 days. It was a daunting task. However, after numerous sleepless nights, I refocused myself back onto the fundamentals.

Rather than dwelling on answers we didn’t have, we focused on getting to know the individual community teams, residents, and family members, and let them get to know us. Ultimately, the transition of these communities was successful, and we continue to learn more and strengthen our relationships with all involved.

This same approach has served me well during the COVID-19 pandemic. With all of us in uncharted waters, we have focused on our residents, families, and associates with frequent communication and transparency. When confronted with change and uncertainty, focus on the fundamentals.

Kristin Kutac Ward
Solvere Living and Solutions Advisors Group

“Invigorating and exhausting”

Times of change force innovation and offer opportunity. Our company was born 11 years ago, during a time of dramatic change—the Great Recession—which forced us to look at the business differently to experiment with new ideas and tactics.

Today, with the pandemic, we are again rethinking standard strategies and creating new ones. How our industry anticipates change, adapts to it, and integrates the best parts into a future business model will dictate a company’s success or failure.

Speed, resiliency, and stamina are all fundamental components of managing change, as well as being cognizant of the impact it has on teams and morale. It can be invigorating and exhausting at the same time.

It requires a lot of human capital management, strategy, and most of all, communication.

Bob Weir, RPh
Vice president, operations & regulatory support
Guardian Pharmacy Services

“Empower the team”

You must allow team members to deal with change head-on.

As a long-term-care pharmacy veteran, I have worked with companies that prescribe a top-down management approach, where local pharmacies rely on corporate headquarters for direction.

I quickly discovered this is counterproductive when responding to a crisis in real time. That lesson helped me prepare our teams for this pandemic. We developed a COVID-19 task force to provide guidance—not directives—to our people in the field. They are empowered under our local autonomy business model to make decisions necessary to support their customers unique needs.

It is widely successful. For example, early on, when personal protection equipment (PPE) supplies were scarce, our local pharmacy purchasers scoured the country for PPE, allowing many of our assisted living communities to get PPE when others could not.

This pandemic also validated our decision years ago to trust our judgment and become strong advocates for preferred pharmacy in assisted living. The decision was made out of the knowledge that reducing multiple pharmacies in a community could minimize errors. Now we’re seeing this model has helped keep community staff and residents safe during this pandemic, reducing the numbers of people entering the communities and streamlining triage efforts.

Rich Williams
Vice president, senior living
Spring Arbor Senior Living

“Keep staff engaged”

It is no secret that the industry has been facing a staffing crisis for years. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, providers must transform themselves to successfully manage change to address immediate and future demands.

Operators will need to differentiate themselves with a culture that focuses on retention strategies, engaging team members and shaping direct care job quality and satisfaction.

Creative resources that keep staff engaged will likely include the use of technological platforms, as these have a positive impact on resident care and enhance team-member satisfaction.

The COVID-19 crisis has validated technology in meeting both wellness and socialization needs. Interactive communication has been successful through telehealth, wearable devices to monitor vital signs, and smart home technology through video and voice devices to keep residents connected and avoid isolation.

As contact tracing evolves, this would have a significant impact on our industry’s ability to proactively manage exposure on an ongoing basis.

Forward-thinking providers will see the cost-benefit opportunities of investing in technology that will enhance satisfaction for team members and residents while at the same time enabling operators to manage their business more efficiently.


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