In this session from our 18th Annual HJ Sims Late Winter Conference, in February 2021, thought-provoking insight from exceptional leaders across the non-profit and proprietary segments of the senior living industry was shared in an open dialogue. The leaders discussed key developments and current trends influencing their organizations. Highlights include:
- Crisis Management and Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Staffing Changes During and After COVID-19
- The Need for an Open Line of Marketing & Communications
- Social Awareness
Resilience in Crisis/Lessons Learned
The COVID-19 Pandemic has created challenges previously unseen. Suzanne highlighted the importance of adaptability, and maintaining the ability to pivot quickly to rapidly changing circumstances and state guidance. Tom shared that most communities had disaster recovery plans in place, including Pandemic plans, however had focused largely for events such as hurricanes and earthquakes, with less active preparation for a Pandemic event.
Speaking to recovery, David said that while slow, recovery has started. Beyond the vaccines, there are positive signs. For instance, leads, tours and inquiries are increasing. Both Watermark Retirement Communities and HumanGood communities have seen a significant uptick in web traffic. David acknowledged that recovery has been uneven across regions, in part because of differing local rules regarding the closing of campuses due to positive tests among residents or staff.
Staffing Changes During and After COVID
John stated that COVID exacerbated, rather than created, staffing challenges faced by senior living communities. The question facing organizations is how much of the increase in staff expenses is permanent and which will abate as the Pandemic eases. Tom added he does not expect a return to pre-COVID levels, due to the lessons around infection control, greater customer expectations and the need to increase wages to attract and certain staff. John pointed out better wages for front-line health care staff are necessary on an industry-wide basis, otherwise recruitment will become increasingly difficult. Suzanne added increased fees were previously met with strong resistance from residents. During the past budget cycle however, as the majority of fee increases were funding higher staff wages, Aldersgate encountered little to no resistance. Others also indicated their staff appreciation fundraising efforts yielded record results.
Tom discussed Benchmark’s efforts to maintain an open line of communication with their communities, residents and families. In fact, throughout the Pandemic each community has been sending daily communications regarding the status of COVID-19 on campus. John discussed his organization’s efforts to leverage technology, such as tablets, to advance efficiency while improving resident and team member experience.
Suzanne shared that socially distanced marches were organized at Aldersgate, with leadership from staff, following the death of George Floyd. These occurred on and off-campus, were attended by staff and residents, and even those in the skilled nursing facility. John offered that their internal conversations with staff showed that while good intentions were recognized, they are not enough, that people of color and LGBTQIA+ staff are looking for actions and outcomes. Further, it was understood that this is a journey, and these efforts cannot be viewed as short-term programs. Suzanne added they should not be called programs, as programs eventually terminate, and these should be permanent changes. John added that piecemeal or one-off approaches often do more harm than good. David pointed out that Watermark was able to leverage experienced gained through an art/training reach-out effort to the LGBTQIA+ community, called “Not Another Second,” to implement training around race relations.
Panel of Industry Leaders
President & CEO
Chairman & CEO
Watermark Retirement Communities
President & CEO