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154: Chris Bird

Chris Bird, Chief Operating Officer at LCS, shares how the company rallied around their teams, residents and communities during the pandemic. EverSafe 360⁰ is an innovative program that raises the bar in overall safety and defines how LCS reimagines the way we live and work together and is available as a resource to the industry.

Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. Really excited to have a good friend of ours on the program. The one and only Chris Bird, COO at LCS. Welcome to the program.

Chris: Well, thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate the opportunity to partake of this podcast with all of you.

Lucas: Absolutely. We always love talking to you and so many friends at LCS, what a great organization of great people that have worked in this business and industry for a long time. The industry has for obvious reasons, everybody knows the challenges that we face in 2020, that are actually unique in one sense, but the industry has faced so many different things. The flu, they’ve faced other pandemics neurovirus of every single cold season affects our older adults in these communities. And I have found as many others the senior living industry is really well adapted and prepared for this kind of stuff. We wanted to talk to you specifically about a new program that LCS is rolling out. Would you talk to us about that?

Chris: Yeah, sure. Well, one thing I’ll offer as well as he opened up about how senior operators are adapt to deal with these types of things. I will offer that 2020, the senior living industry banded together like never before. Right? I think all of us as we were dealing with this pandemic, as it was starting to be at the foot of our doorsteps in late February, the first cases in out in Kirkland, Washington, and then as it made its way across the country it was always encouraging to me that every Argenta meeting, Asha meeting a side conversation I had with a different operator, we were all trying to work together to figure out what is going to be our next best steps to help battle this pandemic for both the safety of our residents and our employees. So that to me was one of the better side benefits of not trying to be competitors and out do each other, but how do we partner together to think through how do we make this the best outcome for all the seniors that live in senior housing living communities across America? So it was just a side spot I wanted to get in there. And it’s been fun working with all of our partners.

Lucas: Well and we appreciate that and totally agree. And so this new program that you guys are rolling out, I think it’s called EverSafe 360, is that correct?

Chris: That’s correct. EverSafe 360 is really the brainchild of Rick Exline, you know, veteran of the industry and LCS over 42 years. And as we kept sitting around the table basically every day augmenting our path because it seemed that way in the early stages of the pandemic, we had to think through what we’re going to do to deal with the virus that was having its harsh realities on our world today. But then recognizing that there was going to be other viruses or pandemics that we may have to deal with in the future. I mean, Lucas, you noted that we have had to deal with the swine flu in the past, uh, H1N1. We’ve had other just really bad flu seasons. So rather than just only trying to come up with solutions to deal with COVID-19, we wanted to make sure we’re providing a solution that is a way of how we’re going to operate forever and think about every aspects of our day-to-day operations from dining to everything about our activity programs to telemedicine. It’s advanced us to really have a medical advisory board in place. And then there was like a small piece, one of the sales and marketing leaders within our organization asked the question, we do a great job of employees when they’re dealing with needs for assistance. We have our EAP programs like everybody else does. We’re asking our residents to stay isolated in their own apartments for everybody’s safety, which is the right thing to do as we’ve been trying to go through this issue within the communities, what is their outcome outside of dealing with their families and loved ones? How do we not have a resident assistance program? And that was another aspect of EverSafe 360, very small, it doesn’t seem like a big brain child, but it really does make a whole lot of sense. How do we not have a resident assistance program for all those that may be sitting in this environment, both in a pandemic world and then just even living in a senior living community, sometimes there’s loneliness. So it has really pushed us to think differently of how we’re going to try and meet the needs of our residents day in and day out.

Josh: Wow. So, one of the things I love that we were talking about before the show started Chris was the approach of the 360. And this is really a comprehensive view, not only in dealing with the residents, but your team members as well, all across the country. Can you give us some ingredients that you guys have baked into the cake? You’ve already told us a little bit about the resident assistance program. What are some other things that you guys will be rolling out this year?

Chris: Yeah, all great questions and thanks for bringing them up. But as I think about this in regards to as we’re trying to, again re-engage all the amenities in our communities, all of us probably came out of the gates. I’ll be the first one to admit it. We said, we’re closing down, which we never did. You know, we’re always meeting the needs of our residents. We were just trying to do it in a different way. So as we think about the lifestyle engagement in our communities, how are we going to engage in socially distanced opportunities, even in a world with or without a pandemic. And then as we’re trying to bring those amenities along the way, how do we do it in the right fashion to potentially not invite a virus infected a resident or a person who may be performing or whatever the case may be. So everything around the social amenities in the communities is something that is the aspect of EverSafe 360 that we’re trying to manage in a safe environment. And then as you go down through the dining protocols, there may be a world that we’re going to have a different set up in our dining rooms. And we know that we’ve been hearing from a lot of different operators. Folks who’ve been on a few of your podcasts and others that have been interviewed; is how are we going to have a different delivery system of dining, both in a main dining room set up and now is there going to be the residents who have decided that I have now decided I want to do more select choice dining versus always coming down for one meal a day, two or three meals a day. So that’s an aspect of everything around eversafe 360 that we’re trying to develop for each of our individual communities, almost 140 of them across the country to make sure that we’re meeting the safety needs, plus the nutrition needs of the residents through our dining programs.

Josh: So Chris, as you’re launching this eversafe 360 program, you guys have been working around the clock even since early in the pandemic to kind of develop this and implement this and perfect this. You know, what changes are imminent. It’s always happening around us. And sometimes that has kind of a negative connotation, but are there some key points that you can kind of see that silver lining, so to speak of, these are some things that we’ve had to change, but actually are positive changes for the team or for the residents, or we’re going to come out on the other side, more positive for it.

Chris: Yeah, I’ll touch on two. The first one is really around sales and marketing that everybody’s doing. So it’s not something new for LCS, but I think over the course of time for the last four or five years, we’ve always been mentioning, how are we engaging on the adult child virtually? And we would talk to our sales teams, talk to our executive directors, give guidance and coaching on how to really move that along its way. But this pandemic forced us to really embrace it, like never before. So we have been able to master that just like everybody else says. And I think it’ll be healthy for the senior housing environment because we know our adult child is not always available; who’s the typically the biggest decision maker in this process is not always available to be at our communities from nine to five when we are open for business, if you will. So now it’s pivoted to us to think through how can an adult child be surfing at night, maybe eight, nine, 10 o’clock at night, as they’re trying to think about the needs I have from my mother or my father. And so how can I be able to shop if you will, for senior housing set up my appointment online for senior housing. And to know that tomorrow I’m going to have that virtual call maybe before the hours that I have to go to work as the adult child. And then I really start to engage the process before I ever come and do that virtual, that first in-person visit. So it is really advanced everything that we’ve done, we’ve positioned ourselves differently on the web to try to be able to create that environment for our customer and then really train our sales teams to help guide that process because it’s the initial step that everybody’s looking for as they’re thinking through their needs and senior housing. A second piece that it’s really pushed us forward with is that while LCS has been around for we’ll be celebrating 50 years providing services to seniors, we never had a true medical advisory board in place. We had relationships that others that we could go to, but a part of eversafe 360 is the formation of a medical advisory board with other groups and other leaders from the medical world that can help give us feedback guidance. People we can go out to with a quick question. It’s something that we’re pretty proud of. I’ve seen a few other organizations, the most recent one was I was reading an article from Benchmark and their advisory board with a pretty collaborative group of folks were doing something very similar, but we think that’s going to help give us guidance as we’re always trying to maneuver through the path of needs of residents in today’s pandemic and the future world of tomorrow. So, just two small pieces about this evolution of eversafe 360 that would probably change the way that we think and how we deliver and how we make decisions for the services for our residents, which is what we’re here to serve every day.

Joah: Well thank you for sharing that. And you know, the first one that you mentioned, which is kind of that, that virtual communication platform that we’d been forced as an industry, as providers; when you’re talking to that adult decision maker, that son or daughter. You know it seems like now more than ever, we are in a position as an industry to do some things, to make a really positive impact on changing the perception of senior housing. You know, this past year, Chris, Lucas, we’ve had the spotlight that has really been put on our industry globally. We’ve all had to invest in doing a better job at creating platforms. And Chris, I know your teams you’re leading at a very high level, you get a lot of people that you’re influencing to have the right messaging to that adult consumer out there that maybe they’ve been a little bit jaded because of some of the things that have been negative in the press. But now speaking to our audience, that’s a very diverse group of providers. What are some of the things that you’re sharing with your team that your team is sharing to kind of help change and educate that adult consumer that could maybe help all of us in our messaging?

Chris; Yeah great question Josh, and 2020 has been a trying year in regards to the negative press and some small incident that a local paper or a national paper will pick up on and want to write about. And it’s been a fortunate, we have been trying to leverage our residents as often as possible because they’re quite proud and they also recognize that in their world while it’s not ideal like it was before February of 2020, they still recognize it’s a pretty safe place and we’ve been meeting all their needs along the way. As an example, down in Florida, we’ve had a couple hotspots in regards to media activity. And when an article was written, maybe not with all the facts in place it was amazing to see the numerous number of residents who wrote that editor and then wanted to share their stories and asked us how can they get their story out there because that local paper is just providing one slant of the story, which wasn’t a hundred percent accurate. So in those moments, and as we’re dealing with the customer who may ask a question; I happen to read in the local paper X about your community, what are the facts and fiction? We’ve been able to virtually engage them with a resident or two, nothing that we’ve never done in the past, but it’s always been done in person on a tour, but now, as we’ve been trying to leverage our residents in that virtual environment to sell their story as to why they still love living at that LCS manager owned community and why their loved one should make that choice, know the facts versus the myths. It’s really unfortunate. Some of the stories that are out there in the media that get misrepresented through social media and all the different outlets we have today, right? We all have our mobile phones and devices, and it’s unfortunate sometimes the misinformation that gets scattered and circulated and recirculated. So that’s peace for us with eversafe 360. We try to move forward with and really leveraging that virtual environment.

Josh: Well, so that’s awesome. And Lucas, while I’m hearing Chris talk, the first thing that’s just ringing in my brain is basically, residents or team members have become ambassadors or are equipped to be ambassadors. But, you know before that, it’s not like when the crisis happens, all of a sudden you can ask them to start helping out. And what’s really cool is the quality of care comes first, which is something that our industry is known for. And so laying that foundation of quality care even during the difficult times, that equips us and enables us as providers to be able to immediately have the ambassadors go to work and represent and carry the torch for the, for the industry. I love that.

Chris: Yeah, I mean it’s a basic step, right? You guys, you’ve been in this business a long time. I started back in 1996 at a building called The Parkview in Memphis, Tennessee. And I remember my executive director, Linda Sullivan, who actually works with me today here at LCS. She kept telling me; she goes why are you always trying to close the sale on your own? And I said, what do you mean by that? You know, I was a young, young gentleman, probably was very naive and wasn’t taking her guidance very well. And she said, your residents can help sell this building better than you can. Nobody’s going to trust Chris Bird, but they’ll trust Mr. Jones the hallway to tell his story. And still, as I listened to that, I would start leveraging those residents on those day-to-day tours and it became super easy to advance the sale because they could see the residents who lived there and enjoyed it and I believe them versus the sales guy. Right. And so here we are 25 years later and trying to really encourage that in a virtual environment, especially in a time when the year’s been negative clouds over senior housing, but we’re still meeting the needs of thousands and thousands of residents across the industry providing great outcomes day in and day out, even in a tough pandemic environment. I’m sure all of you with what you do. I know Josh, you’ve got a business and we get resident testimonial letters from families, even after somebody left us. Just even in that environment with COVID-19 your teams were doing amazing work and meeting the needs of my mother or father in their final days. So, and that’s what we’re all here for, and that’s why we’re charged to do it in this way after 25 years, I’ve continued to enjoy this opportunity and provide more outcomes like this for residents across the LCS platform.

Josh: Yeah and well I think it’s just an amazing opportunity we have as I was mentioning earlier now more than ever, I think the crisis, the pandemic, it’s so focused our attention on some areas that quite honestly we should have been investing in it a little bit sooner. And in many of that was in technology and things to help better and more effectively communicate. We heard someone talking earlier even reshaping how we do our team meetings and things like that. And I heard a gentleman and I know Chris, as much as you’ve traveled and you burn up the airways and things like that prior to the pandemic. It’s amazing how effective and how much more frequently now that we’re utilizing tools that we weren’t before that we can actually communicate. We talk a lot about being disconnected, and I get that in the virtual environment, but I heard someone say, you know, I can reach a lot more of my community people and have FaceTime now than I did even a year and a half ago when I was always standing either in a ticket line or a rental car line. And so I’m sure you can relate.

Chris: Yeah, as we’ve embraced everything about the technology and it was pretty funny how simple one of our regional managers realized I can actually do a site visit virtually without actually being at the community and have a very similar interaction. While there’s never going to be a replacement for face-to-face human contact and really being able to deliver messages and hear a message from an executive director. But our regional teams were able just to be with the ED if you will, walking through with a GoPro, as they were just looking at a community, providing feedback as some areas of support. So those are things that we’ll want to continue to harness as we get into 2021. And the vaccines are fully embraced by all of the US which I hope happens. And we’re back to a world of more travel. I don’t want us to forget that we don’t always have to be boots on the ground in a community. We can still leverage the technology that helped us get through 2020 pretty successfully going forward. And those are different aspects of eversafe 360, as we think about how we can leverage people’s time more versus as you noted Josh being stuck in lines at airports and planes and our favorite car rental delivery services that aren’t always as timely as they advertise.

Josh: That’s exactly right.

Lucas: Well, this is a great conversation, and I know that our listeners are gonna want to learn more about this eversafe 360. So we’ll make sure that we connect with them in the show notes. Is LCS, are you rolling out something, some online material or any sort of media stuff that people can keep up with?

Chris: Yeah, it’s been a program that Rick and the team have been working on. There’s almost 30 LCS employees that have been doing this as a side job on top of everything else they do. So we have a big committee helping drive the outcomes of eversafe 360 since the idea was birthed around July of last year. We started dropping some hints about it within our communities. Publicly went with a PR piece in November. And we fully expect to be rolling this out in our communities in February and March. Step-by-step as we’re trying to move through the process of just making it a safer place for our residents, and it’ll have its own piece of the website, it’ll have its front facing aspects of everything we do for the public just to understand. And we’re hopeful that it helps everybody in the LCS communities and others will follow suit. So we can just create better days for residents to senior housing.

Lucas: Yeah, that’s fantastic. I mean it’s kind of the tide that rises all boats. We talk about that often on our program, the industry has this moniker that you know, doing well by doing good and we love that you guys are helping charge that and lead that. Thank you so much. We’ll make sure that we connect with you Chris and LCS and the program within our show notes. Thank you for taking time out today and congratulations on your recent promotion to COO.

Chris: Well, thank you. It’s an honor and a very humbling opportunity. Something I was excited about when it first started with LCS three years ago and just working with Joel and Diane Bridgewater and the other leaders of LCS, it’s been really a great trip for me. So appreciate the comments there.

Lucas: A lot of great leaders in this business Josh, and another great conversation about the things that matter and changing perceptions taking back that narrative and owning our stories here in the senior living industry. Good conversation. Well we’ll put all that in the show notes, you can go to BTGvoice.com to listen to all of our shows, including our Contributor Wednesday series. And thanks to everybody for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.

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154: Chris Bird