Charles de Vilmorin

As the country is planning to reopen after lockdowns due to COVID-19, senior care providers are grasping the implications of this phase for their operations, staff and well-being of residents. An obvious goal is restoring the quality of the experience they provide older adults. To achieve this, the first step is to analyze how COVID-19 has upended how we previously provided resident engagement and understand the current pressure on staff, such as: 

Lack of outside help

Due to contamination risk and associated regulations, visits of any kind are limited in facilities, including outside help such as entertainers, volunteers and clergy members, etc. Activity and life enrichment professionals are now on their own when it comes to providing engagement to residents. In a recent Linked Senior survey, we asked them how many hours per week of outside help did they have prior to COVID-19? 201 respondents shared that prior to COVID-19, they relied on outside help for programming for an average of 48 hours per month.

No group activities

Another major consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic is the implementation of physical distancing measures that greatly limit, and in some cases prohibit, group programming. In light of this, activity professionals must find ways to increase and optimize their one-one-one engagements with residents.

According to our analysis, based on recent Linked Senior survey results (239 respondents on April 14, 2020) the need for physical distancing require teams to work more hours to engage their residents:

  • In skilled nursing, 120 hours each month per facility 
  • In assisted living, 160 more hours each month per community
  • In memory care, 80 hours more each month per community

Limited staffing, increased demand and new responsibilities

Because of outbreaks, increased workload and change in operations staff have been asked to work more and fill in for other departments. On average, that represents 15 more hours per month.

These obstacles have made it impossible for activity and life enrichment professionals in senior living to engage all of their residents. This analysis shows us that our industry needs to increase resident engagement staffing  by at least 1.2 FTE if we want to deliver on the same quality as prior to the COVID-19 outbreak (from a Linked Senior survey with 239 respondents on April 14, 2020). This is an unlikely scenario for most providers. 

Although the obstacles faced by activity professionals right now may seem insurmountable, we need to start rebuilding resident engagement today and there is a roadmap for doing so: 

Acknowledge, educate and empower staff

• Resident engagement is essential for the well-being of our residents

• Increase education flexibility, frequency and opportunities for staff. For example: join Linked Senior on June 23 for the free #ActivitiesStrong Virtual Summit where activity and life enrichment professionals can earn up to 6 CEU credits

• Increase department budgets and digital technology investments

Go back to the basics

• Every resident needs to be engaged with purpose

• 1:1 check-ins and room visits need to be the priority over calendar creation, although calendars remain good for planning purposes

• Focus on quality versus quantity of engagement at all times

Focus on efficiencies

• Emphasize high ROI activities, those that take little research and preparation but offer a high quality of life impact like: music, reminiscing and games

  • Referring to the free resource library that Linked Senior has launched which includes webinar recordings on the topic of meaningful engagement

• Manage staff and residents by providing lists and assignments and ensure that “at risk” and highly social residents are regularly checked on

• Caregivers and other staff outside of the activities department need to engage residents, this must happen in order for meaningful engagement to be available for every resident

I strongly believe these incredibly challenging times provide us with an opportunity to show the amazing work our industry and frontline heroes perform every day and build the resident engagement experience that our residents want and deserve.

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