The pursuit of purpose is a basic human right. Older adults in senior living and long-term care communities deserve to experience meaningful engagement every day.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded in the past six months, the community lockdowns and physical distancing measures have increased social isolation resulting in a devastating impact on the physical, mental and cognitive well-being of residents. Although we are living through distressing and unprecedented times, the pandemic offers an incredible opportunity to rebuild the field of resident engagement so that it is stronger than ever moving forward.
Current data on resident engagement supports the idea that the field is in a position to be improved immensely. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Linked Senior of 583 activity professionals showed that activity departments are now getting twice the amount of support from other departments in their community, from 33% before the pandemic to now 69%! This remarkable change may indicate that the universal worker model, a key part of the culture change movement led by the Pioneer Network for years, is finally gaining significant support.
The survey also suggests increased optimism from activity and life enrichment professionals, 93% of whom believe that resident engagement programs will come out of this pandemic either the same or stronger. Although these are encouraging data points, in order to drastically improve resident engagement the senior living industry must systematically measure their efforts because they can only improve resident engagement when they start measuring it.
To accomplish this, the #ActivitiesStrong initiative, led by Linked Senior, the National Association of Activity Professionals (NAAP) and the National Certification Council for Activity Professionals (NCCAP), has released the first of its kind Resident Engagement Index Score (REIS) assessment tool. Using a research and data based approach, this tool lets senior living providers measure and manage resident engagement strategies by assessing their current abilities and setting goals to improve resident engagement.
The tool can be used to identify areas for improvement or to celebrate current successes. The REIS is an evidence-based tool created with input from NAAP, NCCAP, Dr. Katy Abbott, MGS (Preference Based Living/Miami University, Ohio), Pamela Gauci (George Brown College), Dr. Jenn Taylor, CTRS (University of Wisconsin at La Crosse) and Dr. Kimberly Van Haitsma (Penn State College of Nursing).
More than 500 people and organizations have already used this tool and the initial findings are compelling. The #ActivitiesStrong initiative is working to provide key industry recommendations based on the data and findings.
One of the contributors to the development of the REIS tool, Jenn Taylor, Ph.D., a leader in recreational therapy research, believes that providers need to develop an action plan to improve resident engagement. She believes the REIS tool is the first step of this action plan list for several reasons:
- Consider the REIS the “A” in the acronym APIE, which stands for Assess, Plan, Implement and Evaluate (also known as the Recreational Therapy Process). Similar to the first step in the Recreational Therapy process, the REIS tool allows activity departments to assess themselves so that areas that need improvement can be quickly identified and addressed.
- The tool may help activity and life enrichment professionals identify “opportunity areas,” so they know what to target as they plan their yearly goals or department “treatment plan”.
- It establishes a baseline. Just like a yearly physical exam, the REIS tool can show where your department is now and then when retaken where you are in a year after implementing action steps for improvement.
- The REIS is also a way for communities to celebrate their strengths! It is easy to sometimes focus on the negative or what isn’t happening in our departments. The REIS may help communities evaluate and understand how departments are rockin’ it so that they can also celebrate their success.
We can’t expect staff to provide meaningful and purposeful programming if we aren’t also making consistent and comprehensive data collection with the support of technology a priority. In the resident engagement field today, the majority of communities simply don’t collect data in this way, making it very difficult for them to quickly identify areas they need to improve in order to optimize engagement for every resident. Now is the time to seize on this opportunity to rebuild our field! Use the REIS (a FREE tool) to assess your community and better acknowledge, educate and empower each of your activity and life enrichment professionals.
Jenn Taylor, Ph.D., is a nationally certified recreational therapist who serves diverse populations in public health, parks and recreation, corrections, behavioral health and
long-term care settings. She specialize in community-based action research, which aims to engage faculty and students with community partners in knowledge production, while simultaneously creating lasting change within communities through collaborative research projects.
Charles de Vilmorin is the CEO and co-founder of Linked Senior.