For all skilled and long-term care operators, COVID-19 was a game-changer. For one particular mid-sized skilled nursing facility in the Midwest, this was no exception. With the first case came fear of the unknown, major operational challenges and, of course, the negative financial impact due to reduced census and increased costs. However, after having stabilized around the new normal, the administrator and their staff realized that, in several ways, COVID-19 has made them stronger.
Through working with this and other facilities across the country, we have identified five areas where COVID-19 provided an opportunity to make operators stronger:
- Stronger teams: Let’s face it, COVID-19 put our leadership skills to test. Many facilities saw their teams come together and develop a stronger connection, which allowed them to cope with the pandemic. This is an opportunity to challenge teams and have them rally around new strategic goals post-COVID, leveraging and sustaining the increased collaboration.
- Rising stars: With teams spread thin many rose to the occasion, displaying leadership which wouldn’t have been noticed under normal circumstances. This is an opportunity to identify great performers, retaining (and rewarding them!) and growing them into the next generation of leaders.
- Increased engagement with families of residents: Many facilities developed creative solutions to replace in-person visits. These solutions helped create stronger bonds between facility and family and for many a new way to engage: social media. This, in turn, has encouraged positive online postings, and in general improving sentiments towards the facility. For example, one facility saw an outpouring of positive postings on social media after they handed out tablets to residents and helped them have video calls with their families and loved ones.
- Relentless focus on operational metrics: With thinning margins, controlling operating costs is a must. Successful operators have kept an eye on the ball and focused on performance metrics daily. While this might seem a distraction, it is preventing damage to the bottom line. It would be foolish not to seize the momentum and continue to track performance at this detailed level going forward. For example, many facilities set up special COVID dashboards (a summary of all metrics they required to track for internal purposes or mandated by the state) — which they now plan to use going forward.
- Creative solutions to operational challenges: With facilities managing COVID-19 came a series of operational challenges: from staffing and PPE shortages to increased state scrutiny the list is endless. However, as part of this process many operators developed new solutions which they can now leverage every day. For example, one operator decided they would outsource all environmental activities due to increased infection control for COVID-19, reducing cost and the “headache factor”. Another operator implemented a new shift rotation to reduce overtime expense — a short term plan which now became permanent.
COVID-19 has impacted all areas of the business. The best way to leverage the positive aspect of it is to take a step back and look at the business from a different perspective. Once you have identified the areas which are working better than before, the challenge is to make those changes permanent. One proven approach is to translate these changes into formal mechanisms (ops and staffing reviews, vendor metrics, goals and compensation, etc. …) that engrain the new way of doing things into the company culture. That way, when we move away from COVID-19, we’ll have a better, stronger and more motivated company.
Robert Segal leads analytics for Yona Solutions, an environmental, dining and analytics provider to the skilled and long term-care industry.