The past year has been grueling and heartbreaking as senior living communities have navigated through COVID-19. These communities have been and have felt the repercussions. , but one community that took a pro-active and unprecedented response is in Chicago.
When the pandemic hit and forced lockdowns across the nation, several members of the executive leadership team moved into the community to ease the minds of residents and staff and be on-hand 24/7. Chief Relationship Officer (CRO) Stefanie Dziedzic says, the decision to move in wasn’t hard. “As a single-site community, and a mission-driven organization, we only have to worry about our residents, and not the broader context. So we had the mobility and agility to make decisions that made sense for our organization.”
CEO, Deborah Hart, who lived onsite the longest—March 15 through May 30—said her motivating factor was mitigating fears among residents and staff and “to understand that you can live in a COVID infected world and not necessarily always be sick.” She and other executives worked alongside staff delivering meals and going room to room to check in on residents to make sure they had everything they needed. Hart also did a livestream broadcast three times a day to keep residents updated about any changes taking place and to give them something to look forward to. “They enjoyed the updates and appreciated the extra lengths we were going through to keep them informed,” she notes.
Customer service needs to come first in senior living, even during a pandemic, says COO Paul Zappoli. “Everything starts with hospitality—at the door and on the phone. You need to be kind, cordial, have a smile on your face and it needs to resonate with that person from the get-go. If we’re not doing that then we’re already failing,” he says. “Residents would tell us that they couldn’t wait to hear the knock on the door every day. It’s one of those senses of security. And that feeling that we’re not alone, that there are all of these people here taking care of us on a day-to-day basis was reassuring.”
Hart adds, “That care extended to the staff that serve our residents. They needed to know we had their backs and were here to help at all hours. It’s a balancing act, and something we took very seriously.” The team acknowledges that a lot of decisions were made on the fly as they were receiving new information about the virus on a daily basis, but that ability to adapt made them stronger as an organization.
“We are a community who thinks about the needs of the whole, but we have the flexibility to not be pigeonholed into one way of thinking,” Dziedzic explains. “We have a conversation and note that there’s probably three or four different highways we can take to get to a destination. It doesn’t mean any one of them is better or worse, as long as we all get to the same place in the end.”
That idea of thinking differently and doing things differently is probably what helped us be as nimble and agile as we are.
PIVOTING POST PANDEMIC
“COVID 19 is going to end up changing senior living, but it’s not the only factor,” says Hart. “We’ve actually been seeing it for several years in advance, where the baby boomer generation is looking for a different product than what their parents looked for.”
The biggest change? Technology
“Although technology is going to the impact the way we move forward, we also know the value of human contact, so we have to find a balance between how we can encourage people to stay connected on a one-to-one personal basis and still use technology,” Hart explains.
In addition to keeping residents connected, Montgomery Place has implemented AI technology to keep residents mobile and healthy. During the lockdown, when residents couldn’t leave their apartments, staff noticed mental and physical declines. Natalie Hackett, Director of Rehabilitation Services, took matters into her own hands and went door to door with , a portable assessment tool that measures stability, gait, and balance in older adults. The assessments provided a road map for her to determine which residents need an intervention before a fall happens. She then provided inpatient therapy to help residents regain their strength and improve their mobility.
“VSTBalance really allowed us to check in with residents and monitor how they are and how they’re progressing,” Zappoli notes. “We saw progress when they used VSTBalance and followed the exercises.”
All in all, the executive team said moving into the community was the right thing to do and the shared experience made them appreciate each other in new ways. Dziedzic says, “We were like a family—working together, experiencing the ups and downs of this pandemic, and just having each other’s backs. I look back on it with fondness and a greater respect for my colleagues.”