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175: Dr. Jennifer Stelter

Dr. Jennifer Stelter, Consultant for LinkedSenior, discusses the purpose of the Resident Engagement Institute (REI) which is to define a new era in resident engagement by establishing tools, methodologies, strategies, and benchmarks that are implementable for senior living operators. The work of the institute will be measurable and quantifiable on satisfaction and health & well-being outcomes.

She is a Clinical Psychologist, certified Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia care trainer, and co-owner of NeuroEssence.

Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap Podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. A very exciting topic on today’s show and a very accomplished guest. I’m very much looking forward to this interview today. We want to welcome Dr. Jennifer Stelter. She’s an upcoming Johns Hopkins Author, and experienced clinical psychologist, a leader in mental health and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care. Welcome to the show doctor.


Jennifer: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it. 


Lucas: And I also want to mention that you are the Program Director at LinkedSenior for a brand new engagement institute. So this is the resident engagement Institute and it’s run by our friends at LinkedSenior. And we’re going to talk about that today. You obviously are very uniquely qualified in this field before we get into that. Would you give us a little bit of your background?


Jennifer: Absolutely, so I am a clinical psychologist and for many years have served individuals who have mental health concerns. And so that’s how I started my career after graduating from my post-doc at Northwestern University here in Chicago. And for me I always thought I would open up a practice and I would have a couch and I would be sitting there helping people with their problems. Right. If you will. And so my track actually didn’t go that way at all. I did have a small private practice with a colleague of mine for a little bit when I graduated from my post-doc. I actually went into senior living right after that. And so I had been in Florida actually in graduate school for my time there obtaining my master’s and my doctorate degree. And when I came back to Illinois where I’m originally from, for my postdoc at Northwestern. And then when I graduated, I applied for a behavioral health director position in a senior living community. And it was actually shocking to me that they had a dedicated program for people with mental health concerns. I wasn’t in the privy that that was what had occurred in nursing homes in skilled nursing specifically. And so I got into senior living that way and just fell in love with the senior population. I hadn’t worked with them in my post-doc as well. But more intimately, of course, when in senior living and from there, I actually quickly moved up in that company to operations and running the eight behavioral health programs within the company’s organization. And then from there I became licensed as a clinical psychologist during that time and decided there was a lot of help that was needed in our organization because we had memory care programs. We had social work programs, we had activity programs. And just the way that the organization at the time was set up there, wasn’t a lot of support for those individuals. And so at that time, I met with the COO and I said, look these individuals need support. And I have every confidence that I can support them. I see the gaps, I see what’s needed and I’d like to be able to help just like I’ve been able to do in the behavioral health program here for the first year that I was in operations. And so he said, sure, make your title, tell me what your job description is and let’s do it. And so we did. And so I was lucky enough to run the operations for those programs within this large organization here in the Midwest. And then from there I took on some other kinds of programs. Like I wasn’t helping manage our psychotropic medication program for the company and some other ancillary kinds of programs related to where we were working, serving kids who had disabilities and things like that. So I was able to get an array of experience in senior living. And so from there I was able to make a lot of changes. So that’s really my journey. And then from there, when I transitioned from that company I had a wide formed a relationship with Charles who’s the CEO of LinkedSenior. And because the last few years that I was with that organization in senior living, we had actually brought on the Linked Senior platform and services. And so he and I actually had talked a lot about the gaps that I saw and where I saw resonant engagement going. And from there we really developed a great relationship. I provide a lot of feedback to him on the platform and where I think it could really help make the healthcare professionals as well as of course activity professionals and those staff and senior living how could make their lives more easier. You know, they’re easier if you will. And after I transitioned she said, you need to come out as a consultant. And I said, absolutely, let’s do this. We’ve got ideas. We’ve got vision. Let’s go ahead and do that. Also in the interim, I opened up my own business called neuro essence. And all of course non-pharmacological love we spread education and tools and support in dementia care and mental health around using non-pharmacological intervention. And so we’re a unique business because we complement so many programs in senior living, as well as hospital settings and psychology settings and things like that because we are all about using alternative tools, if you will. So that’s a kind of long-winded answer to your question about my background.


Lucas: Josh, where do we go from there? I mean, I’m fascinated. So, one of the things that really stands out and I’ll let Josh speak, I’m sure a number of things stood out for him. But just this kind of alternative approach to not using drugs as the primary means of care, and maybe we can get into that a little bit later. That’s probably a rabbit hole that I’m not going to chase right now. Josh, you know, we’re great friends with Charles, and LinkedSenior is doing amazing things in the aging, older adult field. This new program, Regional Resident Engagement Institute, I think, is going to be something that is really going to be valuable to the industry.


Josh: Yeah. I’m actually looking forward to hearing you, Doctor, kind of unpack the vision a little bit more and talk to us a little bit more about how this is actively launching and where you see it going and talk about some of those gaps. I am so excited about it since Charles first told me about it and told me about you, Charles, I have known him for years. He’s always an innovator. He’s always looking to improve the industry and improve resident engagement. So I’m so thankful that you and he have partnered on this. So with that said, I know you kind of weren’t intentionally, you didn’t have senior living on your radar. We’re so glad that you arrived in this space and it sounds like you are too, but this REI, this resident engagement Institute, unpack a little bit more the vision and where you guys are starting and where you hope to take this.


Jennifer: Yeah. I’m going to back up a little bit because I think it’s important to understand why we want to build something like this in the first place. And the reality is when I arrived in senior living and more the behavioral health entity is it’s kind of its own sector in of itself. But then when I had the pleasure and the opportunity to oversee all of the activity directors and the social workers and memory care directors of the company that I was with, I noticed that there were a lot of gaps I wanted to meet. Where I came from and mental health, right, there are benchmarks and standards and requirements and things like that. And it’s not to say in senior living, there’s not, there’s certainly regulation that is required to be followed, but when you dive a little deeper into activity regulation in any state, and even when you look at CMS, which is the kind of federal regulation of everyone’s entity or I know that they’re following and then the states build their own regulation off of that.

There’s really no set standards or requirements. A lot of the language says that you must provide resident engagement through programming and a variety of ways that meets preferences and needs. Okay, got it. Right. You know, but that wasn’t enough. You know, when I was working closely with my activity directors and memory care directors specifically; they had these assessments, mandate assessments that they had to do. Most of them were managing anywhere from if they were a memory care director, maybe 20 to 60 residents and activity directors. You know, sometimes they were managing up to 150 to 200 residents with a team of people. A very small team of people that were there to manage 150 to 200 residents. And so they did all these assessments and then they created this calendar of events and they were doing some one-on-one engagement.

But my thought process was how do you get the assessments? How do you memorize all of those? It’s sure you create care plans and things like that. How do you memorize those to put them into practice? It just was so mind boggling to me how you can memorize all of that. And so, in talking with my directors and looking at how their current processes were, when I had taken over, it was kind of just assumed from what we know about our residents and then made groups out of it. So a lot of it is subjective, right? I take this information, I think about it in my head and I create, right? And Activity Directors love to create, and that’s the beautiful part of who they are. But for me, it was, well, how do you really know you are meeting their preferences and needs? How do you really know that you’re capturing everybody in your entire community when you have 150 to 200 residents, right? How do you know how much you should be engaging them to really make an impact on their brain health and their physical health, and just overall their wellbeing. So that way they can age in a helpful way. The goal is to keep them as independent as possible, no matter where in senior living they’re at, if they’re in independence, if they’re assisted living, and if they’re in memory care, you want to maintain their independence. So for me, it was how do we measure this? So often activities are always seen as, oh it’s nice to have, or activities that are fun, but there’s so much more to that. My specialty is the brain, is to understand the mind and the brain and how they work together. And so for me, it was when you are engaging residents in various ways, you are tapping into different parts of their brains, essentially exercising them. So I explained to my activity directors, think of your brain with dumbbells, and you’re going 1, 2, 3. It’s like, you’re exercising your brain and their brains. And you are allowing their brain to function longer. The brain is the hub to keeping your body alive beside your heart. And so with that said, we need to teach the activities, activity directors that they’re doing so much more than just having fun, fun is a given. It should be fun, it should be nice to have, but there’s so much more. And the more that you engage residents, and I’ve seen it firsthand, they’re going to have better health outcomes. They’re going to have less depression. They’re going to maintain their cognitive score longer, or their cognition, they are going to have less falls because they’re more engaged, which results in potentially less psychotropic medication to be used, less hospital visits. So we talk about a return on investment for a lot of our operators. This resident engagement is a key to that because the more residents are engaged, the less time that they have to sit in their room, less time they have to not use their brain. So with that said, resident engagement is a key to a lot of indicators that nurses are more concerned about, that operators are concerned about. So, the issue is that we said there’s no benchmarks, there’s no trend analysis. People aren’t necessarily measuring what’s going on.


And so let’s have an entity that can do part of that. Also, what we had thought about is how great it would be if we could take the assessment information, generate it, and have a system that says to the activity professional, okay, this is your level of functioning of your resident based on your assessment information. And from there, this is the programming that would be best suited for that based on research, based on empirical data that supports that if you do this with your resident, you’re going to see better health outcomes. And so we’re calling that, social prescription. So the resident engagement Institute is going to support this entity of social prescription. And so from there, there are other reasons for the resident engagement Institute. We know pre pandemic that unfortunately, because the activity departments and enrichment departments are nice to have or they’re fun, not a lot of money is thrown into that from the operators, because to the operators defense, they don’t see a lot of how it’s a return on investment. And so we hope that the resident engagement Institute, number one, we can show that to them, but number two, that we can support the activity professionals more. So there’s not a lot of money there. A lot of small operating systems in senior living don’t have the money to pay for consultants and things like that. Some of the larger operators do have VPs of activities, or they have VPs of memory care. So we hope through the resident engagement Institute that we can also support the activity professionals and provide consultative services that’s affordable. We’re kind of right now, I’m talking to and interviewing some faculty that are experts in the field that would be willing to come on and provide their consultative services through this entity. So, part of the Institute is to do that as well. I think the other process too, is that they’re post pandemic now. A lot of senior living entities are feeling the kind of financial burden of what has occurred. And so they are pulling money from departments and unfortunately activities are one of them. And so again, they actually did professionals not having a lot of money. We hope that we can also be a resource to them to help them think about staffing and help them think about how they can best meet the needs of their residents, without having to pay these very large fees, if you will. So, the other thing too is the education component of it, right? We are big on education and that’s my passion is to educate. And so I think that’s why Charles and I aligned so well. And why he wanted me to become the leader of this Institute is because I love to educate on dementia care and resident engagement and non-pharmacological approaches and alternative methods. And so from there, we want to provide a lot of education again, that can get pricey. And so we want to be able to offer that to our customers, our activity professionals and our staff at an affordable rate. So that way they don’t have to pay these large consultant fees. So we’re really excited about the resident engagement Institute, because where kind of vision division came from and where we want it to go. 


Josh: Well, this is long overdue in our industry, as you touched on in every sector of operations there are no widely accepted, I would say best practices. And obviously these minimum standards outlined in the various states that regulate the senior living industry are just that, they’re the minimum standards. And I think there’s a lot of organizations doing amazing things that are cutting edge, but then there’s a lot of organizations that maybe they don’t have access to the education, the budgets and things like that. I think in many ways, this will be a very specific approach that can help not only your clients, hopefully in the future, even be shared with the industry at events and things like that to help raise the bar and set a quality standard without that having to be necessarily imposed on through a regulatory. It’s always better if the operators, the communities and the private sector can be an example to others rather than it having to be forced in a minimum standard format, so grateful and thankful for that. How can you talk to us a little bit more as this is launching? And it’s also new, how if our listeners are out there wondering how they get involved in this? How do they become part of this? How do they access this? Can you tell us a little bit about that?


Jennifer: Sure. So, the resident engagement Institute is going to be available to LinkedSenior customers. And so simply of course, as we roll into our June summit, which we’re very excited about.  We will be talking more about the resident engagement Institute and how individuals can get involved and become a part of the Institute. So, it is primary access or exclusive access, I should say to our customers here at LinkedSenior. So, with that said there’ll be more information that’s going to roll out as to how they can enroll in and all of that. And to your point before, I just want to say that we really want to create a new era in resident engagement. And a lot of it is about rallying with the activity professionals and the therapists out there to be able to say, let’s do this together, let’s create these benchmarks together. You know, we’ll give you the education, we’ll help you with that. We’re going to do a lot of research in the resident engagement Institute too. Charles is a big researcher and I have a research background. And so, we want to provide the data to say, this is why we’re creating these benchmarks and let’s rally together and do this together. So we’re hoping more people will become LinkedSenior customers, and we’ll see the benefit of what we’re doing, because if you can have a platform that can make your life easier by making your role more efficient and effective through the platform and through our vision of being able to assess and then be able to take that information and plan your programming for you, and then be able to deliver that program and implement it. And then to reevaluate to see if your plan is working, if you have a system that can do that for you. I mean, that’s just a no brainer because again, our activity professionals and rec therapists, they’re required to do more with less. So this is the solution to that. And so with that said, it’s something where we hope more people will join the LinkedSenior community, and join our movement together. So that way, of course they can benefit from the resident engagement Institute as well. 


Josh: Well, Lucas, this is really awesome. You know, our friends at LinkedSenior and the movement #activitystrong that our listeners are probably, this year in particular, become very familiar with, they put out so many awesome free resources. As the Doctor mentioned the virtual summit that I think started last year, I was shocked at the free seat use and resources that literally last year, a couple thousand people attended, which is amazing to think of that many people. The one that is right now, happening is literally another couple of thousand people are going to be part of it. And the lineup of speakers, including you, are just amazing. So I know that the industry will be grateful to get this. Lucas, we talk about this all the time. It’s really awesome.


Lucas: Dr. Jennifer Stelter, thank you so much for being on our program today. I know that our listeners are gonna want to connect with you on this. We will make sure that we put all of your information in the show notes to our listeners. You know, you can get a You can get the transcript of this episode, you can get the rerun of this episode. You can go to YouTube, you can go to our social pages, let’s continue the conversation there. Thank you Doctor for being on our show today. 


Jennifer: Thank you. I appreciate it so much. And thanks to all of our listeners for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.


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175: Dr. Jennifer Stelter