OMAHA, Neb.—Early in March, the 14 senior living communities comprising Heritage Communities based out of Omaha, Nebraska launched the Heritage United initiative. This initiative communicates the collective strength of the team made up of all impacted parties working towards the well-being of residents.
As COVID-19 increasingly became a very real risk to older adults, Heritage Communities, led by the pandemic planning committee, was adhering to the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), state public health agencies, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and infectious disease experts. These protocols included changes that had a direct impact on residents, their family members, and associates (staff).
Associates were being asked to incorporate new changes to their daily routines, both in and outside of their workdays. This included juggling their personal obligations that increased the risk of the virus in their community, implementing new protocols and safety measures while providing uninterrupted compassionate care, finding creative ways to keep residents engaged and connected, donning personal protective equipment, and finding balance between current job role responsibilities while supporting “all hands on deck” projects.
At the same time, changes affecting residents and their family members included residents being asked to remain within their apartments, visitors being limited to essential personnel, smaller size and scope of activities, meals being transitioned from the dining room to apartment delivery, and residents being asked to wear personal protective equipment outside of their apartments.
Each strategy was enacted to limit potential exposure of the virus to residents. The safety and wellness of residents was and remains the organization’s top priority.
“While many of our residents, family members, and associates were very understanding about these changes, we received feedback from some who struggled to understand why all these restrictions and changes were taking place. Although everything we were doing was in the interest of protecting a population that is very vulnerable, we would never want any of those audiences to feel like it’s ‘us against them.’ By listening to the feedback collectively, we realized we could do a better job communicating that we were only going to be successful if we were all in this together: Heritage United,” says Farhan Khan, CEO.
“Through Heritage United, we are working to inform, motivate, encourage, and boost the morale of all members of what is an essential team of our associates, our residents, and their family members.”
The campaign kicked off in early March with a heartfelt video showing the gratitude and respect of Heritage Communities leadership for their residents, their families, and staff. “We heard right away that those we serve found the message to be inspiring, and we knew we were on the right track,” said Khan.
Heritage United was developed to celebrate the associates, who are universally known to be the champions of the organization.
“The term heroes is overused, but in this instance, our associates on the front line are truly unsung heroes. They’re showing up every day, juggling homeschooling for their children, perhaps dealing with the anxiety of caring for their own aging loved one, handling new protocols at work, and trying to feed their families when grocery stores have limited stock.
“There is anxiety and fear outside of their work environment, but every day, they come and provide interrupted compassionate care. You’d never know all they’re dealing with from their dedication and composure. They are strong, and they love their residents. They’re truly the ones who are keeping our residents safe,” said Khan.
Heritage United logo t-shirts were designed and then provided to each of the associates as a display of support.
“The shirts have had a profound impact. They’ve been a welcomed gift to the associates who are excited to wear them. They’re proud to be recognized,” said Khan.
Residents and family have also purchased their own t-shirts. In addition to serving as a colorful sign of their camaraderie, proceeds from the sales of these shirts benefit the Employee Care Fund, a 501 c(3) charity to help associates through difficult financial times.
To date, the Heritage United shirt sale raised over $4,200 for the employee non-profit. Additionally, the company tripled the Employee Care Fund resources from $10,000 to $30,000, knowing more associates may be in need during this time.
Posters, signs, and other forms of communication are displayed throughout the communities to show gratitude and support for the hard-working staff. Heritage Communities is paying all telehealth co-pays for associates who have Heritage benefits, through the end of May.
Additionally, Heritage Communities is preparing to pay bonuses of over $1,000 to qualifying associates working through the COVID-19 crisis. There are weekly video calls in which associates are encouraged to call in and talk with the home office pandemic planning committee about any concerns they may have related to procedural change.
Important team members, including residents’ families, are being kept apprised of COVID-19 updates through a variety of accessible platforms.
“We understand the challenge family members have when they are prohibited from visiting, not to be able to see their loved ones. Our creative associates at the buildings are working on unique ways to connect the residents with their families. This includes visits set up via technology, including FaceTime and Skype, and weather-permitting, through residents’ windows or patios while maintaining social distancing,” said Khan.
“Heritage United has been an effective way of showcasing our common goal, which transcends all team members. It acknowledges that it takes all of us working as a team to continue our care and services and keep our residents safe. The choices each one of these individuals makes has a direct impact on the safety and wellness of our residents. We are proud to stand united alongside the team of residents, families, and associates,” said Khan.
Heritage Communities’ core values have remained unchanged over the years. Compassion, trust, respect, and fun have consistently reflected their guiding principles with the all-encompassing dedication to providing a safe and caring environment for their residents.
What has, in fact, changed, however, is the method for communicating in order to achieve the best results collaboratively.
About Heritage Communities
Established in 2001, Heritage Communities owns and manages 14 senior living communities throughout Nebraska, Iowa, and Arizona. Heritage Communities provides independent living, assisted living and memory support living options for nearly 1,300 residents, and employs approximately 1,000 associates nation-wide. Based out of Omaha, Nebraska, Heritage Communities operates six communities in the Omaha Metropolitan area. For more information on Heritage Communities, please visit heritage-communities.com.
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