Guest Columns

Taking a different approach to change

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Randy Bloom, Ph.D.
Randy Bloom, Ph.D.

When we assume we know what our residents and staff want, we will undoubtedly be incorrect. All too often, senior living managers make assumptions based on limited information, the latest trends or static surveys. From there, corporate programs are developed and prescribed policies are implemented — from the top down. A deceptive veneer of change is made while real needs and issues inside each individual community remain unknown and unaddressed.

At Tutera Senior Living & Health Care, we're taking a different approach to culture change with a fundamentally different premise: We can't know for sure what anyone really wants unless we ask — and ask continuously.

As an organization with 47 facilities across 13 states, we can't presume to know what is personally meaningful and important to our residents and staff in Statesboro, GA, or in DeKalb, IL, or even where we are headquartered in Kansas City. The only way we can truly know and respond appropriately to the specific needs and preferences of our residents and staff are to continuously engage each community in the process of the philosophy we call YOUNITE.

Everyone in senior living management seems to agree about the importance of a positive culture. But how to lead and sustain truly meaningful culture change is the real challenge. With dozens of facilities across diverse geographic regions and product lines, we wanted a way to confront the challenges in facilitating person-centered care that is personally meaningful to residents and staff in each of our communities. The ultimate challenge for us — and for many senior living organizations — is that one size does not fit all.

After nearly three years of research and development, we recently introduced

YOUNITE. It's essential to understand that YOUNITE is not a program. Rather, it's a guiding philosophy that inspires choice and autonomy. It offers a framework to depict who we are and how that is expressed as opposed to compliance with specific criteria or predetermined rules.

YOUNITE's only requirement is that each facility regularly meets with residents and staff to identify what's most important to them and create a plan to achieve it. YOUNITE recognizes the simple fact that no one is more knowledgeable about the specific needs of residents and staff than those who live and work in the community. As an integrated, ongoing philosophical framework, YOUNITE has been designed with five focus areas:

  • Resident Choice
  • Community Involvement
  • Staff Appreciation
  • Homelike Environment
  • Dining Experience

YOUNITE is already sparking dozens of new initiatives inspired by Tutera's residents and staff in individual communities across the country — from a new physical therapy partnership with a local grocery store and a revamped communications system to help residents get better rest, to a new motivational break room designed by staff, a completely revamped restaurant-style dining experience, and a new approach to honoring the experience of loss and grief.

The key to any significant and lasting change effort is to find a variety of ways to integrate it into the daily experiences of those who have the most interactions with residents. This past year, we met personally with representatives from all disciplines — including administrators, CNAs, housekeepers and maintenance staff. We believe it's critical they understand the guiding principles of YOUNITE and feel empowered to make decisions consistent with the philosophy. We've also invited third-party vendors for housekeeping, dietary and therapy to engage them in understanding and participating in the intent of YOUNITE.

We're also integrating YOUNITE throughout our operational processes, from orientation to staff evaluations, both in our communities and in our corporate office. The objective is to ensure the YOUNITE philosophy is fundamentally embedded as a way of doing business. This is not a one-time thing. YOUNITE has been specifically designed to guide who we are as we move forward into the future to meet the changing needs of our customers.

Because Tutera has been involved in the acquisition and turnaround of senior living facilities across the country, I've observed hundreds of facility types, from the highest end to more modest options. It's interesting to see that some of the newer, more elegant facilities fail while modest facilities succeed with the highest industry ratings.

I believe that culture change is not about our efforts to expand and improve our facilities. It's ultimately a matter of the personal, attentive interaction among staff, residents and their families to ensure residents are cared for in a manner that is personally meaningful to them.

Although culture change isn't a new concept, it is difficult to execute and sustain. It takes diligence to ensure we are constantly asking, listening and responding to the individual needs and preferences of residents, their families and staff. Yet I believe it is the most significant driver of resident and employee satisfaction. That's why we've developed YOUNITE and are invested in making it a priority that pervades everything we do.

Regardless of many positive outcomes that we expect will correlate to the success of YOUNITE, I am confident that YOUNITE is the right thing to do to support our philosophy of personalized care inspired by our residents, staff and communities. If we can't ever translate results into empirical data, we're willing to take that risk.

Randy Bloom, Ph.D., is the president and chief operating officer at Tutera Senior Living & Health Care.

Guest Columns

Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.