After facing more than two years of intense challenges, the senior living industry seems to be settling, and positive trends started to emerge throughout 2022. 

For instance, providers are seeing that occupancy is now rising and infectious risks are declining. At the same time, however, these positive signs have been almost neutralized by high operating costs and staffing shortages. To address these obstacles, providers need to have benchmarks that help them accelerate growth and increase length of stay, which will, in turn, drive strong operations, positive ROI and improve resident satisfaction as well as quality of life.

There is a lot of room for improvement, and the first step is to acknowledge that the pursuit of meaning and purpose is a basic human right. Sadly, even before the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report from 2016 showed there is plenty of room for improvement when it comes to making engagement better in senior living. According to the report, long-term care residents are typically receiving only 11 minutes of engagement per day outside of assistance with activities of daily living. Assisted living residents are only receiving 20 minutes of engagement each day. 

Too often in senior living communities, there is a reliance on the 3Bs for engagement (bingo, bible and birthdays). Not to mention the fact that most activity and life enrichment professionals don’t have the tools they need to measure what residents are receiving engagement and when.

According to 2022 data collected from our clients across skilled nursing, assisted living and memory care, residents were receiving, on average, 25.61 minutes of engagement per day (MRD). The good news is that across settings, the MRD increased 19% from January to December 2022. But is 26 minutes of meaningful engagement each day really enough? We also found that:

  • The average number of engagement contacts per resident per day was 0.64. Again, this average increased 33% from January to December 2022 across settings.
  • The total number of hours of engagement provided to residents across care settings was, on average, 28 hours and 24 minutes. There was an increase of 8% from January to December 2022, and the data showed that contact length was longer in assisted living, followed by skilled nursing and then memory care. 

There are three primary challenges that providers and activity and life enrichment professionals in senior living communities are facing that are negatively impacting their average daily engagement time for residents: 

  1. Staffing shortages and need for interdisciplinary work: Currently, there is just one engagement staff member for every sixty residents in senior living communities. On top of that, the average cost to replace an employee in senior care ranges from $3,500-$5,000. Couple that with the latest AHCA survey, which reports 87% of nursing homes are facing moderate to high staffing shortages, and operators are faced with a serious financial hurdle.
  2. Lack of tools and technology: According to a survey conducted by Linked Senior in December 2022, of 161 activity and life enrichment professionals, 35% said that they are currently using paper to track engagement, and 20% indicated that they are not tracking it at all. 
  3. No consistent resident engagement process: The standard for optimizing engagement in senior living communities is to use the APIE process – assess, plan, implement and evaluate 

For senior living providers to offer purposeful engagement to all residents, they need to implement a social prescription model. This includes focusing on the following areas:

  1. Optimize staffing to support residents: Research recommends that in assisted living, there should be one staff person for every 27 residents; in skilled nursing, the ratio should be 1:23, and in memory care, 1:13.
  2. Technology drives person-centered care: When staff use technology to track and measure engagement, they are 162% more likely to report knowing if residents are engaged in programs in real-time and 183% more likely to report they know if programs match resident preferences.
  3. Implement Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Linked Senior believes in the 85/35 rule. Our data shows that a senior living community is appropriately engaging residents when at least 85% of their population is engaged, and each resident in that community is engaged for at least 35 minutes each day. 

You can learn more about how to take your resident engagement to the next level by clicking here.

One tool that you and your team can start using to chart a path forward is to engage in the SWOT process. This is a tool that allows you to identify strengths and weaknesses that are internal to your company and that you have some control over to change. The exercise also allows you to outline opportunities and threats that are external factors to your organization which you have less control over. Click here for a sample SWOT template.

Charles de Vilmorin is the CEO and co-founder of Linked Senior.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.