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Leigh Ann Barney
President & CEO
Trilogy Health Services, LLC

While the COVID-19 vaccines have given us all a much-needed shot of hope, the reality is that our industry, our employees, and our residents will be recovering from the pandemic’s effects for the foreseeable future.

Just as we rallied to support those we serve in the early days of the pandemic, we need to find ways to continue this support—not only because it’s in our best interest as an industry, but because it’s the right thing to do.

In the beginning stages of the pandemic, we saw people cheering for our front-line workers in the streets and honking at our residents during car parades. And while these were wonderful gestures of love and gratitude, I think that every leader in senior living knew that they were not nearly enough. Our employees and residents needed more from us, and they needed it now.

Understanding family needs

For Trilogy, this is where a strong foundation of employee and resident well-being programming became invaluable. Instead of building these programs from the ground up, we could tweak our existing support systems to address the pandemic’s new set of challenges.

For example, through our non-profit, the Trilogy Foundation, we have always offered our employees financial assistance for crises such as emergency surgery or a natural disaster, but during five weeks

in April and May, when stay-at-home orders were turning the lives of many families upside-down, we also invested $100,000 in food and childcare assistance for our employees.

In much the same way, we built on our existing employee assistance program, BeWell, to provide even more resources for our employees to find emotional and spiritual support. Most notably, we entered into a partnership with Marketplace Chaplains, which allows employees to connect with spiritual leaders and receive counseling, guidance, and comfort. To date, more than 4,000 of our employees have participated in this program.

The pandemic compounded existing hardships for all. One highly concerning aspect was the increased difficulty of getting away from domestic violence situations. Emergency funding made the difference: In 2020, we helped 61 employees escape domestic violence situations by offering emergency financial assistance.

Other families found debt climbing as jobs were lost. To help, we used a partnership with Dave Ramsey’s Smart Dollar program, resulting in employees eliminating $427,257 in debt and adding $242,120 in savings over 2020.

Helping the whole person

As the pandemic has worn on, we have continued to look for ways to double-down on our emotional, spiritual, financial, and physical support programs.

Our residents were at risk for suffering from the effects of social isolation, stress, fear, and loss. Our Life Enrichment and Dining Services teams, which were accustomed to offering both meals and activities in engaging group settings, immediately responded by adapting their services, and in many cases, creating new programming. We now have an entire catalog of activities that can be facilitated in small, socially-distanced groups or during one-on-one interactions.

In instances where quarantine measures have confined residents to their rooms, our teams are delivering what we call “Smile Packets.” These contain a variety of activities designed to bring joy to those in quarantine. Currently, we offer two types of Smile Packets – one each for higher and lower functioning residents. And while the gesture of delivering these packets may seem simple, we’ve seen them bring happy tears to the eyes of some of our residents.

We also altered our theme weeks, which we host once a quarter, where residents gather for a multiple course meal based on a theme. In October, this was “The Orient Express.” Where COVID-19 restrictions applied, we delivered these meals directly to our residents. These included steak filet oscar, and even charcuterie boards.

Smiles and spirituality

Technology has allowed us to bridge the gap between people and create opportunities for fun and positive connections. Using SeniorTV, we are now able to broadcast programming directly into our residents’ apartments at over 100 of our campuses. At one of our communities, in Evansville, Ind., the campus team has regularly hosted a virtual variety show, complete with musical performances by its talented executive director, and even virtual Battleship games.

Campus team members learned to use the video app, OneDay, to create high-quality video messages from smart phones. These messages have been used to connect residents with their loved ones, share stories, collect testimonials, and more.

We are also now streaming spiritual services every Sunday through our program called Inspired Sundays. Many of our residents are deeply religious, and besides the suspension of campus visits, were most affected by their inability to attend church services.

Physical health goals

While the initial shock of the pandemic has worn off for many, we found that continued stay-at-home orders and business closures have made it more challenging for our employees to make healthy lifestyle decisions. But with programs to help make reaching physical health goals easier, we’ve seen employees getting amazing results.

We offered a weight-loss program provider, Noom, to help employees with a BMI of 30.0 or greater change their eating habits for the better, and Virta Health to help those with type 2 diabetes. As of January 2021, we’ve seen 65,588 engagements in Noom. Of the 78 employees who have participated in Virta Health, we’ve seen a 59 percent reduction in insulin medication utilization.

The power of giving back

While philanthropy has always been a part of our company culture, we have found that the pandemic inspired many to do more to help those in need in their communities. Through our MobileServe application, we empowered our employees to give back and to track their volunteer work. From November to December last year, they racked up over 1,700 volunteer hours, making an economic impact of $42,117.

It was amazing and inspiring to see our employees, who were already working long hours in our campuses, take time out of their lives to give back.

I think that every leader in our industry can agree that retaining employees of this caliber is not only key to our survival, but it will also ensure that our residents continue to receive the best care possible from the best people for the job.

This is why investing in the future of these employees is more important now than ever. Our scholarship and student loan repayment programs, combined with our reduced college tuition option offered through Purdue Global, continue to positively affect our retention rates.

Investing in caregivers

On top of this, we’ve made a concerted effort to increase the wages of our hourly employees – especially those who provide direct care and support to our residents.

Through our Quarterly Wage Investments (QWI) program, we give all of our hourly employees a raise every quarter, as opposed to once per year.

For 2020, we increased our QWI beyond our traditional percentage, and provided an extra hourly increase to our certified caregivers.

When combined with adjustments to our SHIP pay scale, these increases will allow us to continue to attract and retain talented, compassionate employees in our markets even now, when recruitment has never been more challenging.

What it really comes down to is this: When our employees know we are invested in their financial well-being and their future, they are more invested in what they do.

At Trilogy, we’ve always said that we treat our residents and employees like family. This past year, COVID-19 asked us to prove it.

I am not going to tell you that it was easy, because nothing about 2020 was easy. But I can tell you that it was worth every ounce of effort.

We survived this past year because we cared for others, and we will thrive in years to come because we will continue to do so.

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