Rachel McDermott

Recently, our facility underwent some major changes, including the addition of a wellness center. The focal point of the wellness center was a state-of-the-art therapy pool with underwater treadmill and resistance jets manufactured by HydroWorx. All of these improvements required major capital expenditure. Obviously, it has been imperative that these improvements increase our bottom line — and the sooner the better. We learned many lessons in marketing our new wellness center and took some specific actions that I believe are transferable to almost any organization looking to create a big stir as they roll out their new offerings.  

Here’s what worked for us: 

Being creative. As part of our grand opening, we held an underwater relay marathon in our new therapy pool. We picked a couple of our long-term residents to be involved, then extended it out into the community and even contacted some of the elite running groups in town. The runners loved the idea and a few well-known runners participated. People jogged or walked for as little as five minutes at a time. We involved as many people as possible to hit the 26.2 miles. This event helped us receive much community exposure and helped people associate our facility with health and fitness. Use your creativity to determine how you can “introduce” your new offering to your community. 

Involving the media.  Before the underwater marathon event, we reached out to our local media and told them what we were planning. They were on board — they felt the excitement of the event and came out to support our facility because we involved many people in multiple demographics.  Local TV, radio and newspapers covered the event and this increased our relationship with media decision makers and gave us tremendous exposure among (potential) future residents. When you plan events that benefit the community, media involvement is highly probable.

Giving tours. In order for our new wellness center to be used effectively, we knew education and familiarization of our residents would be an important factor. We scheduled a special day for our assisted living and independent living residents to try the pool and other equipment. We shuttled them to the new facility. We provided a non-threatening environment for them to ask questions and try things out at there own pace with trained staff on hand. This did wonders in encouraging them to participate in the new wellness programs.

Reaching out to local physicians. I personally visited local surgeons and let them know we were putting in a therapy pool with an underwater treadmill — something totally new and unique in our community — and explained its capabilities. The physicians began ordering pool therapy for a few of their patients and saw really great results. More orders came in and from there our therapy practice grew.  This would not have happened, I believe, if personal contact and relationship building were not set as a high-priority.

Encouraging family members’ use.  Not only did we teach, train, and encourage our residents to use the new equipment, but we also encouraged their family members to participate as well! When the family members saw and experienced first-hand the benefits of what we were offering their loved-ones, they also become advocates for our community at a new level. 

Training staff.  This is imperative! Your staff needs to know how to utilize the new investment to benefit the residents. It’s counter-productive to invest in something new without fully training — and receiving full buy-in from — the staff. If they are not comfortable using a certain modality, you can guarantee that no one else will be, either.

Nothing takes off and runs on its own. The right people must be in place to orchestrate relationship building and marketing efforts for a new investment. Community exposure, creativity and training are essential. By developing a well thought-out plan and starting early, you will ensure your new investment will be beneficial to your residents, your community and your bottom line.

Rachel McDermott is the director of rehab for Stonehill Franciscan Services, a faith-based, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) quality retirement and care community serving older adults in and around Dubuque, IA.