Let's change 'Activity Director' to 'Chief Experience Officer'

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Anthony Cirillo
Anthony Cirillo
Back in Philadelphia, I was a hospital executive who moonlighted as a musician and singer in bands, casinos and nightclubs. When I tired of the band scene, I was looking for an outlet for my musical talents and that is when I discovered performing in long-term care facilities, something I do to this day.

So it is only natural that over time I have built great relationships with activity directors in long-term care. And I have encountered great ones, good ones and awful ones. You know great ones when you meet them and see them in action.

Great activity professionals had MDS 3.0 nailed before it was ever conceived — because great activity directors know that a great activities program revolves around the needs and wants of the individual. Great activity directors have been person-centered before the term was coined.

What great activity directors do is create experiences for residents, families and staff. And when experiences are great so is the word of mouth that results because of them.

So fast forward to 2007 when I wrote an article called The Chief Experience Officer suggesting that if word of mouth was a hospital's most important marketing tool, then it all started with the experience that patients have with the hospital. I suggested that those experiences should not be left to chance and a hospital should hire a chief experience officer. It turns out the Cleveland Clinic liked that idea and became the first hospital in the country to hire a chief experience officer and start an “Office of Patient Experience.”

Long-term care has been slow in discovering and embracing the concept. Perhaps one way to start is to recognize that you have a chief experience officer in your midst in your activity director.

From my vantage point, I see that often times the activity director is low person on the totem poll in organizations and it is reflective in more than just their salaries. Yet the activity director is the lynchpin in your sales and marketing if you can see the forest through the trees and make that connection.

We need to elevate this profession. Maybe one simple way is to change our perspective and the title of the position. To me an activity director smacks of “The Love Boat.” (I do sing that song in facilities!) But you know what I mean. Let's rename our activity directors and call them chief experience officers. Or if officer is too bold for you right now, start with chief experience director.

Names can often be looked at as fluff. But a significant title change could boost the morale of your activity staff and might even attract more people to the profession. And that in turn will elevate the profession and hopefully the tangible and intangible rewards that go along with it.

That is a Christmas present (“holiday present” for you politically correct folks) that would be welcome.

Anthony Cirillo, FACHE, ABC, president of Fast Forward Consulting, is a sought-after speaker, healthcare expert, elder advocate and blogger. He works with long-term care facilities in the area of resident experience and strategic marketing. Anthony is an expert guide for assisted living for about.com. He is the author of "Who Moved My Dentures?" In his spare time, he entertains residents in assisted living and nursing facilities. For more, go to www.4wardfast.com and www.anthonycirillo.com.

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