At HEALTHTAC East, “the fun group” as they called themselves, joined forces to discuss all things programming and engagement, and what that has looked like within their communities over the last year and a half. This panel was comprised of, Jodie Audia, VP of Life Enrichment and Cognitive Programming at American House Senior Living, Iyvonne Byers, Chief Financial Officer at Priority Life Care, Sarah Hoit, CEO and Co-founder of Connected Living, and Jean Makesh, Chief Executive Officer at the Lantern Group.
As everyone in senior living witnessed, the isolation that came along with the pandemic was just as detrimental to seniors as the pandemic itself. Audia says, “the most important thing is to recognize the resilience of this generation. They took it like troopers.” The panelists all agree that both staff and residents were quick to adapt and leap over the learning hurdles that came with adjusting to technologies. Hoit and her team at Connected Living have been waiting for senior living to adapt to technology in this way for over a decade now and says “all of the things people weren’t ready for, or stuff that wasn’t being done, suddenly there was a critical need and demand for it.” She believes that if there is a silver lining, it is surely the innovation that washed over the industry and allowed people to become more connected.
At Priority Life Care, Byers was blown away by their communities, “people got so creative even in a time of tragedy.” At their communities they held parades, window visits, and birthday celebrations, amongst other little things to make the residents feel special, engaged. And cared about. Byers goes on to say, “We all now have such an appreciation for that time together that might have been taken advantage of before.” For Makesh, the question was “how I can continue to enable, inspire, and motivate my staff, to breathe life not only into each other, but to the residents as well.” That very question was at the foundation of the Lantern Group’s approach to engagement and programming throughout the pandemic. His team created a hug booth so residents and their families could once again feel physically connected to each other, and touch is directly connected to mental health. The group agreed that essentially, it all boils down to purpose, and creating programming that allows residents to feel that sense of purpose that is easy to lose as we age. Simply put, Audia says, “we tried to make happy happen every day.”
While communities across the country are resuming programming as normal, technology is certainly here to stay in senior living. As Audia noted, “technology was the lifeline that kept everyone together.” Both Byers and Hoit noted that some residents preferred virtual programming, and residents who previously may have skipped out on a group gathering were enthusiastic to join a virtual yoga class. Hoit says “there is an incredible opportunity to continue to engage with technology, every resident is different and has different needs.” Which goes back to the heart of engagement, whether in person or virtual, comes from that place of purpose. Byers encourages staff to “focus on the individual and who they are. We are creating a new business as usual, not the old business as usual.” Her fellow panelists shared this sentiment, discussing how much they have learned and how it has positioned them to create the best and most purposeful lives for their residents.
“A connected life is a happy life,” Hoit says, which couldn’t be truer. Each of these leaders stressed how important it is to connect and engage with residents in a way that is meaningful to them. The more teams can learn about the residents within their communities, the better they are able to serve them and create programs and events that cater to their individual needs and interests. Audia explains, “we have tried to standardize, and it just doesn’t work. It’s about creating lives with purpose; it’s called senior living and we want them to live.”
As we move forward, “the fun group” wants to focus on just that, fun within senior living. As resilient as these seniors have been, everyone is looking forward to being able to connect again in ways they weren’t able to for so long. There have been many lessons learned, and many necessary adaptations that have been made. Byers says it is extremely important to “rebuild that trust” with residents and families, assuring them their loved ones are being cared for and that there is always a window into their life inside their respective communities. Makesh believes the most important thing to encourage moving forward, is each resident’s freedom to thought, and expressing those thoughts, which will surely lead to purposeful programming and deep connections.