By: Sara Kyle, Ph.D & Kelly A. Stranburg M.Ed., CEP, CSCS, CDP

Resident Engagement Experts & Principals at LE3 Solutions.

The Involved Families from Day 1

Just as there are avid activity goers and boisterous resident council members who remind staff of the time and date there are equally passionate family members. But they are smaller in number and a prized gift you can call and depend on in an instant. Everyone in a community knows that the involved family member contributes to the overall culture and often supports staff and residents in a generous and kind manner. The same way a PTA provides educators and the systems of education with an arsenal of assistance the same holds true for family members of senior living that go above and beyond, bestowing benevolence to all in their path.

In a past life, it was not uncommon to beg for family participation in activities, events, volunteerism, family council and even regular visitation. Perhaps that lack of family involvement was because they trusted the day-to-day operations were going well and the community staff was highly capable to deliver on engagement and support when family as absent. Not until there is a deficit or question in mind, do we start to look with a bit more scrutiny and examination to ensure that what is happening is suitable or accurate. Trust is often established on good faith until something poses a threat to that trust. COVID-19 was just that to senior living and family interaction. Abrupt change of processes, interactions and customary practices cause any right-minded individual to ask questions and probe further for details and answers.

What Looks Different Nowadays

While family interaction may look different than what it was in the past, we must accept this new level of concern and attention is just what we need, even if disruptive. The more transparency and advocacy we can garner around senior living, the better off for the entire industry. Sharing processes and procedures, visitation protocols, communication standards and infectious disease numbers is a new ask, but it is the right ask. Albeit, not easy, but the start of a partnership that raises awareness to the unwavering commitment of organizations and staff, the beauty of support and friendship in communal living, and servant hearts sacrificing themselves and loved ones to fulfill the noble calling of their role as a caretaker.

Transparency is Non-negotiable

While this level of transparency has not been asked of us up until now, it is absolutely warranted. This newfound interest increases phone calls, texts, emails, real-time updates via websites, direct messages from executives to families and even doorstep drop-ins, it is all positive. This new layer of accountability with family members is a great reminder that the care and engagement partnership is not only staff to residents.
Care and engagement for residents exists in a myriad of relationships including, and most importantly, their own family members. This slight shift in family participation affords all operators and providers an opportunity. How can we take this increased presence or role and embrace it for the greater good of the community and all its residents? A constructive brainstorming session could result in new volunteer opportunities by family members (once local, state, and federal guidelines permit), mentoring opportunities between family members and staff, and most importantly family member being “ambassadors” out in the greater community touting the value of the senior living setting their loved one resides in.

How to Manage the Influx of Interest

Resources Are Required

The demand for family visits was high through the past year; both in-person and virtually. The burden this created for staff was exorbitant and discovering tools and resources to support these critical interactions emerged and remain top of mind.

Continued use of resident platforms with a family communication component will be critical. As restrictions begin to lift and family visits resume, there is no reason to stop or limit timely communication. Updates via newsletters and social media should continue, including updates on how residents and staff are thriving with the reconnection. . This is a time to ensure the reinvention around resident and family engagement does not cease, instead flourishes and expands.

Tools to Leverage Increased Family & Community Support

1. Consistent and Frequent Communication

Use all tools available to communicate through a variety of methods to family, volunteers and the local community. Once way to easily do this without much friction is to offer up a bit of real estate in your monthly newsletter or publications with a section that emulates a call to action for families.

Plan and strategize what you need and how you would prefer them to be involved. Is there a plan for Mother’s Day or Memorial Day that you can unite efforts and offer a best-case scenario for all involved?

Perhaps it is not an event, rather a May focus for all things engagement. Maybe it is flowers, gardening or getting back outdoors. Partner with families and direct their energy into an orchestrated cause.

2. Social Media

As we emerge from COVID and routine socialization, community engagement and connection resumes, blast those moments through every social media platform. This does not need to be over the top. Start simply with posting smiles of resilience and gratitude.

Interview residents to see what they learned. How their time was best spent. What was difficult? Hearing the residents tell their story can go a long way to rebuild trust, foster community, and highlight the wins and support of the community staff even on the hardest of days. Their story is a teacher and an opportunity to bestow wisdom on others. This recognition may lead you to more interest from multiple parties, some of who may not even have family or friends residing in your community.

3. New Relationships Moving Forward

As we look ahead many in your local town may have a new appreciation for what happens inside the walls of senior living. You could find groups of students, volunteers and “friends” of your home will want to connect and/or spend more time on the grounds. The difference here is they have not learned how to adapt and work around the challenges or constraints we encounter during the aging process like hearing impairment, cognitive impairment, and limited mobility. By engaging and participating in outward facing opportunities to educate the greater community of your community; the joys that surround aging (and yes the challenges too), we can now share how communities are embracing and supporting local older adults.

Creativity Crisis

By listening to hundreds of activity professionals on social media posts, we know that management’s ask to solve the hurdles with creativity is often met with opposition because people are just plain tired, worn out, at a loss for new ideas. Finding the minutes and uninterrupted mind space to explore new and exciting activities is non-existent. Most have found themselves filling a role more in line with the universal worker model. This need may not change for quite some time, so it is of sound thought to find a resource to supplement and expand on traditional offerings, infusing the routine offerings with a new level of variety.

We now know we must offer activities on paper, in person, and virtually to meet the various demands and interests of our residents. Illustrate it with high-quality graphics and pepper with world-class partnerships such as museums, aquariums, travel guides, and more–this is elevated content. This is content that will spark interest by many individuals.Eversound’s activity programming emulates just that. It can be the creative solution so many activity professionals are craving. The hard part is done; the research, the compiling, the presentation of it all. Staff will appreciate it. Residents will appreciate it. Families will appreciate it.

Moving Forward – The Bonds That Bind Us

We all know how critical connectedness is for overall well-being and quality of life. Over the past year that seemingly basic principle has been highlighted over and over. It is imperative we take this time to examine how the desires of families and the staff tools and resources we invest in and deploy can come together to enhance many facets of community life. Expanding on how content is utilized to bring people together could be one of many defining factors allowing the community to have additional connections and relationships with families, as opposed to an ongoing list of concerns and complaints. Utilizing resources that promote hearing and thus connectedness can reduce and minimize frustration for both parties, improve confidence in the care you put forth to residents, and ensure enhanced comprehension of conversations. At the end of the day, the simple encounters and constant communication are a lifeline to one’s purpose and overall quality of life.