Eight months into the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that residents of nursing homes and senior living communities are experiencing rapid declines in physical and cognitive health as a result of growing social isolation. The ever-present threat of the virus means that social engagement has been stifled, and this remains the biggest concern right now after infection control.

Although there are many challenges facing the industry, this time also offers an opportunity for providers to create a fresh blueprint for the future of resident engagement. Preliminary data already shows positive changes happening in communities, and now is a good time for all providers to start incorporating resident engagement improvement processes into their own strategic plans.

Adoption of an interdisciplinary approach 

For more than two decades, proponents of the culture change movement in the senior living industry, such as the Pioneer Network, have pointed to the benefits of an interdisciplinary approach in which all staff members are invested in the health and well-being of residents and contribute to meaningful resident engagement. This model increases staff efficiency, while also optimizing access to purposeful and individualized engagement for all residents. In a recent Linked Senior survey of activity and life enrichment professionals, 54% of 510 respondents reported they are receiving help from other departments in providing resident engagement, an increase of 63% year-over-year. Communities are embracing this type of team work. 

Improved incentives for staff

In another Linked Senior survey from July, activity and life enrichment professionals shared that 89% of engagement was now being conducted through one-on-one activities as opposed to group gatherings, which increases staffing pressure as the efficiencies of group activities are lost. This remains the situation in a majority of communities nationwide, exacerbating staffing shortages that existed prior to the virus. In a series of Linked Senior surveys, the average senior living community shared t would need 1.2 additional FTE to provide the same type of experience as before COVID-19. This means that our industry must find ways to encourage more people to apply for positions. One way to do this is by offering employees access to high-quality training as well as compensation that rewards those who make meaningful and individualized resident engagement a top priority. 

Technology investments

Activity and life enrichment professionals nationwide believe COVID-19 has also brought about needed change in their communities. In October, Linked Senior surveyed 582 of these professionals, and 41% said that the best positive work discovery to come from the pandemic has been the adoption of new products and solutions that assist with resident engagement. In addition, analysis of our Resident Engagement Index Score data shows organizations using electronic tools to gather and store preferences are more likely to build community and groups (63% vs. 84%) and also more likely to use preference information to create individualized plans for each resident (39% versus 83%).

It makes sense that an investment in technology should be a cornerstone of any blueprint for the future of resident engagement. It is critically important that senior living providers invest in technology that helps employees more seamlessly assess, plan, implement and evaluate resident engagement in their communities. 

Linked Senior has found about 91% of resident engagement leaders believe their discipline will come out of this year stronger. For that to happen though, providers must invest in better staffing, accessible tools and data optimization so our industry can efficiently deliver more individualized experiences and build a stronger community that offers meaningful social engagement to every resident. This type of investment has a positive and direct impact on quality of life, clinical and financial outcomes.