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The senior living industry has a voice. You can hear it on Bridge the Gap podcast!

#ActivitiesStrong 8

Inspiration: The Importance of Mission and Culture in Empowering and Motivating Your Team

As the coronavirus pandemic entered the United States, one life plan community’s mission, culture and training were put to the test, and 75 Park Springs employee heroes rose to the occasion to show that they were willing to sacrifice time with their own families to protect their Park Springs family and ensure their 500+ members continued to receive the level of care and services they deserved.

Not every COO needs to ask their employees to join them in locking in at their workplace 24/7 for 75 days. However, Donna Moore, COO of Isakson Living, which owns and operates Park Springs, works with the inspired team that did just that. The Park Springs heroes included nurses, certified nursing assistants, food and beverage services, environmental services, plant operations and administration. However, titles quickly went out the door as everyone worked together to safeguard the health and happiness of the Park Springs members and to ensure the Park Springs mission of loving and serving their members was fulfilled.

The staff at Park Springs knows, without a doubt, that the top of the organization supports them in making choices to live the mission by loving and serving members every day.

Moore shares lessons on how to create a mission-driven organization with a culture that empowers employees to be their best and provide person-directed care each and every day, even – and maybe especially – in times of crisis.

Listeners will:

  • Learn about the important role mission and culture play in motivating teams.
  • Outline how to build a culture that brings out the best in employees every day, even in times of crisis.
  • Discuss how leadership’s actions speak much louder than words when it comes to mission and culture.

Connect with Donna Moore HERE.

Listen to Donna Moore on BTG Ep. 132 HERE.

Charles:

Welcome everyone. Welcome all of you. Welcome, Donna, COO of Isakson Living. Thank you so much for joining us and being our speaker today. We’re very excited about today’s presentation. Before I get started, I’d like to just share a couple of thoughts and background for everyone to understand what is Activities Strong. I think probably the most important part given today’s presentation, today’s topic, is to share with you that Activities Strong was started last year in the wake of the pandemic. And as you’ve probably all experienced, and we hope that you experience a lot of it, activities and life enrichment and resident engagement has grown to be much more important. And late last year Linked Senior through our Activities Strong initiative in partnership with NAAP and NCAP and Activities Connection. We decided to enter a partnership with Bridge The Gap, and that has allowed us to expand our biweekly webinars and to include a quote unquote executive edition. And the purpose of the, again, the executive edition, it’s still to be very much focused on everything about resident engagement, but to allow us to elevate the discussion with people like Donna, who are COOs of organizations, because these leaders right now understand what resident engagement is about and how important it is for the quality of life of our residents and obviously building better businesses.

 

Charles:

So what I love to do is invite you in, I can thank you for coming today for today’s webinar, inspiration, the the importance of mission and culture, and empowering and motivating your team. Before we get started in the presentation, a little bit of background on the organization and what it is that Activities Strong is about. Myself, as Megan shared, I’m the CEO and co-founder of Linked Senior, probably the most important piece here on the pages. I believe that, old people are cool. And I actually, this is one of the values of our organization Linked Senior, which is again, a resident engagement platform for senior living. So we serve thousands of team members like cube throughout the US and Canada. And essentially we help you do more. We help augment your efforts towards purposeful engagement and building communities. Part of the service or governments, existing team members, part of the service allows engagement to be tracked and measured and optimized.

 

Charles:

And one of the things as a co-founder of the organization that I’m very proud of is allowing you to have more quote, unquote, human touch with your residents. We have a team of customer success managers that beyond the technology provide you with the best practices and best in class education and helping you enhance resident engagement. A lot of our work is measured as I mentioned, but we are the only platform to be evidence-based and very proud of our work. Some of these outcomes are shared here. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out afterwards. As I mentioned, old people are cool, so at Linked Senior, we have very strong values. And let me share just a little bit before we get into today’s presentation. As I mentioned, I do like the fact that all people are cool. This is something that kind of drives Linked Senior for a lot of different reasons.

 

We started this campaign six years ago. Two of them very important, two reasons, very important one is, you know, everybody is cool including the order at all. So it’s important to mention it, but also we’re not big fans of this idea of segregation based on age. So this is just an invitation to talk about all of us fighting this concept of anti ageism, right? This idea of allowing our industry, our society, to be fair. And obviously including the elders that we serve everyday. As I mentioned, Activities Strong was started in the wake of the pandemic. It is open to everyone, all of you and beyond, and the purpose of this, again, in partnership with Activity Connection, NAPP, NCAP and Bridge The Gap is to acknowledge the fantastic work of activity and life enrichment directors. What you do matters, the fact that you show up at work every day and don’t know what share stories of this throughout the pandemic, even if it were even if it was one day is extremely important.

 

Charles:

And so we’re here to acknowledge that, to educate and empower you with better tools. So with that, I’m very excited to be introducing you to a fantastic speaker today, Donna Moore. I thought, you know, the best way to introduce Donna is to go back to what is resident engagement. And I personally love the definition of resident engagement as the process of collaborating with people that live in our communities, our elders, right? So they can live every day with purpose. And I think there’s a number of words that are important in this sentence. You know, I mentioned the word community. They’re not our clients, right? They live in a place that they want to call home and we are the enabler of that. And Donna, in her stories will tell you how her organization is very passionate and motivated towards these ideas. And we are here so they can live each day with purpose. Right? So with that Donna I’d love to again, welcome you today. As I mentioned, Donna Moore is the COO at, is Isakson Living, Donna, maybe to get started. Why don’t I ask you a simple question? What do you love the most about this new living industry today?

 

Donna: 

Well, thank you Charles, for having me on today. It’s a pleasure to be here with you and your co-sponsor Bridge The Gap and with all of these like-minded folks who are activities and engagement professionals. So thank you for that. I guess what I like most about the industry right now, and I’ve only been in it three years, I have an operations background, but what I liked most about the industry and how it’s evolving is the ability to really get to know our members. And as we think about engagement at Isakson Living communities engagement is job one. We stop in the hall and talk to our members. We think that sitting on a couch and holding a hand is more important than anything else we can do in our communities. And I just love that. I come from a corporate background where we’re chasing the quarterly dividend, and I just love that senior living is about bringing your whole self to work and really just engaging with your members or your residents. So I think that’s what I like most about kind of what I’ve seen in the last three years and how things are evolving.

 

Charles:

Thanks so much, Donna, I’ll let you just say next for the next slides and start by presenting your organization. And as we discussed throughout the presentation, we’ll come back to some of the key points afterwards and we’ll have a conversation. You, the audience, anyone on the zoom feel free to drop your questions on the chat when the Q and A will pick them up and have a conversation with Donna, Donna, take it away.

 

Donna:

So as you see from the slide here, I won’t read it to you as the audience, but my background is in operations. I love operations. I love processes. I love fixing things, making sense out of chaos. And as I mentioned, I’ve been with Isakson Living for three years and I feel like this will be my last job. I feel like until they get rid of me, I’m not going to leave. I love this industry. I love the people I work with. I love the people who are drawn to this industry, the nurturing, caring, loving, loving folks in our audience. I wanted to add my six word story because I have started to get into the six word story movement. But my purpose I believe is to lead, but my passion is teaching and I love teaching through stories and storytelling and through examples.

 

Donna:

So that’s what I’d like to do with this audience today. So let me tell you a little bit about Isakson Living. It is a company that was started by Andy Isakson in Atlanta, Georgia. We currently have two communities Park Springs, which is in Stone Mountain, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. It’s 16 years old and it’s our flagship. And then Peachtree Hills, which is in the heart of Atlanta, in an area called Buckhead, which has been open about 18 months. My goal as the COO was to transfer a lot of the practices, really all of the practices, from one community to the other, and also try and bring aspects of the culture from one community to the other. And our mission at all Isakson Living communities is to love and serve members while taking care of the business. We have to do both. If we don’t take care of the business, we can’t take care of members.

 

Donna:

If we don’t have in serve members, we won’t have a business. And that mission is grounded by being a pioneer, being innovative and creative. It’s by working smarter, it’s by being a great place to work. So we can be a great place to live. And doing all four of those goals, those aspirational goals and culture goals, member goals will lead us to taking care of the business. We don’t lead with taking care of the business. We lead with everything else, and that allows us to reach our budget goals. As a life plan community. We have all levels of care from independent living, all the way to skilled nursing. We do call our residents members because this is their home. A resident implies a connotation of old school, senior living communities and not to offend anyone on the call, but we really do think of them as our members.

 

Donna: 

And we do think of them as engaging with us in their communities. And I’ll show you why in just a minute, with a quote from our founder. Our staffing ratios and our high levels of care range from six to one, to nine to one, we believe that that hands-on care allows us to engage with our members. And we’re a little bit unique in that we don’t wear uniforms in our high levels of care. We don’t adhere to schedules. You eat when you want to eat, you rise when you want to rise. We don’t have med carts in the hall because you and I don’t have med carts in our homes. We have lots of color. We have staff pictures. We have member life stories. Because when you know your members and your members know you, you’re able to be with them and they become part of your second family.

 

Donna:

And that’s really the Isakson Living difference. This is a picture of Park Springs. This is our community in Stone Mountain, Georgia. We have 500, I’m sorry. We have 398 homes and over 500 members in all levels of care. We’re on 61 acres of beautiful as I like to call it. And we have the lake in the middle of our campus, but this is just, it’s just a phenomenal place. And our members love living here. We have a direct access to a golf course off to the right of our campus. It is a gated community. And unless I told you it was 16 years old, when you walk through it, you wouldn’t know it. Thank you Alyssa, for that comment. We appreciate that. And now I want to show you a video.

 

Donna:

When I think about what a hero really is, it’s not the general, it’s not the first Lieutenant. It’s the people on the front lines, putting it out there every single day. You work 12, 14, 16 hours a day. You are amazing. We didn’t lock in and give up our families for 11 weeks for us. The motivation behind the lock-in was to keep our members safe. All of our members, we talk about serving our members, but to see it in action, these people volunteered because they wanted to take care of Mr. Joe. They wanted to take care of Ms. Jane, the members that they have built relationships with. It’s real. It’s not just words. We don’t just say it, we were going to live it.

 

Donna: 

So the first story I want to share with you is about that video back in March. Well, February and March of 2020, we started sitting up straight in our chairs and really paying attention to what was going on the west coast up in Oregon and Washington. And we started planning for what if, what if COVID-19 came to Georgia? What if it came to our campus? What would we do? And there really wasn’t a lot of information out at the time and we didn’t know a whole lot about COVID. My best guess was it would sweep across Georgia and two weeks and be done and go on. And I thought, well, you know, one of the things that we do know we can do is we can lock down our campus. Well, lock down sounded really negative to me. So I changed it to lock in and lock in meant that we were going to lock the gate.

 

Donna:

We were going to ask for volunteers to join us in lock in and all of our members and ourselves, our staff, would be locked in the campus for no more than two weeks, outside chance four weeks. And we would weather the storm. And so I asked for volunteers and I got 60 hands go up immediately. And they said, pick me. And that wasn’t because of me, I’m not a great ordered. I’m not the most charismatic person you’re ever going to met. I’m just a girl who’s leading a bunch of folks at Park Springs and Peachtree Hills place. And when I said, I need volunteers, they raised their hand because of our mission of loving and serving members. And we thought that lock-in was the right thing to do. We had to go about figuring out how are we going to do this and how are we going to make it work for everybody?

 

Donna:

When I asked for volunteers, I didn’t know how to make it right for staff. And so, because we put our members first and they serve as our second family, those 60 folks had picked me and I said, I’ll make it right for you. Thank you for volunteering. And at the end of March, we locked in with 60. And by the time we left, 11 weeks later, we had 75 folks and a hundred had cycled through, but 75 folks were on campus for 75 to 77 days. And that is about our mission of loving and serving members. And that is about folks wanting to do something bigger than themselves and having purpose in their work life. And that is very, very motivating. And it comes from the top. And if you look at this picture in the PowerPoint, that’s our CEO and our founder and what I call our chief visionary officer.

 

Donna:

That’s Andy Isakson. He’s my boss and his mom. Andy had a fantastic career in commercial development. But when his mom and his dad aged and they needed higher levels of care, Andy started studying the senior living industry. And his mom moved five times because they would get the call that said, we can’t take care of her anymore. You’ve got to move her to a higher level of care. And Andy said, there’s gotta be a better way. There’s gotta be a better way to take care of seniors. It’s too hard on families. The way we do it now in this industry, there’s gotta be a better way. And Andy said live here or the old model says live here and we’ll take care of you. Andy’s model and the Isakson Living difference says live here and take care of yourself. Be in charge of your own decisions will help facilitate a highly rewarding lifestyle for you.

 

Donna:

And that’s an all level of care. And so it really starts at the top for us. I’ve never known senior living other than under Andy’s leadership. So the way we do it as all I know how to do, I don’t know if that’s a blessing or a curse, but I’m going to take it as a blessing. Because that type of leadership, no matter where it is in the organization, is inspirational. One of the things that we said during lock-in because we all lived together for 77 day, is once you know me, you can’t unknown me. I now have 32 sisters that lived with me in the health center and three brothers.

 

Donna: 

When you go through something like that together, it can’t help but make you stronger and tighter as an organization. That didn’t cause our culture that was as a result of our culture, because that’s who we are and how we take care of people. Here’s some pictures from lock-in on the far left, you see our director of accounting. She’s now our executive assistant director of some shared services. That’s Ginger, she’s in our store with a member. And then the middle picture was very poignant for us because we ran the lock-in during Mother’s Day. And we had to find a way to connect families with moms. And you see on the right side of the slide, the lady in the pink that’s one of our care partners, a CNA, and the woman in blue is one of our members in memory care up behind the fence and her family’s in front.

 

Donna: 

We figured out that if we could get our members that lived in higher levels of care on a porch, that we could facilitate them seeing their families. And this was during the time where you couldn’t intermingle. And we were still in lock-in. So visitors and families didn’t come in and we didn’t come out. And this was what we could do on mother’s day, because family’s important. You see, for all of our attendees that have art programs, you see the last picture there that said that’s in assisted living. We have a fantastic art instructor and her studio is the most popular place on campus for the assisted living crowd, because she gets engagement. She gets that engagement, it doesn’t have to be an event. It just has just to be getting together and doing something purposeful.

 

Donna:

Second message I want to share with you today is build a culture in your organization that brings out the best in employees every day, even in times of crisis. Well, I’ve shared with you the lock-in story, which was in a time of crisis. I want to share the story of this golf cart. As you see in the picture, I call this the story of a landlocked golf cart. This golf cart was in a parking lot. And in front of it was a curb and then woods. And you see over time, we had started stacking wood back there and that golf cart couldn’t get out. It sat back there in that position for over two years. And I had an employee come to me and say, I need a golf cart. Tell me why you need to golf cart. Well, it would make me more efficient and I could get around campus easier.

 

Donna:

And everybody has one. I want one. I said, I’ll make a deal with you. There’s a golf cart. You know which one I’m talking about? It’s the landlock golf cart. If you can get it out, you can have it. And I’ll even pay to repair it. That employee had that golf cart out in 45 minutes. Look at how much wood is surrounding it. He had that golf cart out in 45 minutes. We nicknamed the golf cart, El Guapo, but he had a purpose. He had a drive and he had a motivation to get that golf cart and he repaired it himself. Those are great stories to share. When you have messages of innovation, of tenacity of, candoitness. And we share those stories all the time. I still share the story of the landlord golf cart. And we believe that while we were heroes in lock-in, everyone has an opportunity to be a hero every day in our communities.

 

Donna:

The other thing I want to share with you is that we are intentional about hiring the best. And when I say best, I’m not talking about skills. We screen for skill, but we hire for cultural fit. Are you the kind of person that’s going to be successful here? Are you nurturing? Are you caring? Do you love serving? You may not have served seniors before, but do you have a nature of service? Do you have a heart of compassion? And so we look for your skills. If we need a nurse, you’ve gotta be able to nurse, but we look for your heart too. And that’s really, really important to us for the cultural fit. We also do something when she, you come on called spirit training, and this is what we call drinking our Kool-Aid. And this is how we do what we do on our campuses.

 

Donna:

How we take care of members, members make their own schedule. We don’t have to get folks up at eight o’clock in the morning, so they don’t miss breakfast. If Mr. Jones wants to eat breakfast at 10:00 AM or 2:00 PM, he can, or for dinner, he can eat whatever he wants to eat. When he wants to eat. There’s really no schedule to the day. There’s no uniforms. We believe that medicine cabinets belong in our members rooms, not medicine cards in the hall, and all of that is taught through our spirit training. So my message to you here is be really, really deliberate about the culture you want and find a way to weave it into your organization. Not layer it on, weave it into your orientation, weave it into your training. Be very, very deliberate about your hiring practices and tell stories about the good behaviors you want to see in your new employees and other employees that you have on your campus.

 

Donna:

Here’s a few more pictures from lock-in. I just wanted to show you this, because this is about bringing the best out in employees every day. The picture on the left is our healthcare administrator washing the hair of Ms. Priscilla when we were in lock-in for 11 weeks. The thing that Ms. Priscilla missed the most was her weekly here appointment. And so we truly were working 12, 14, 16 hours a day because we were small, but mighty in numbers. But our health care administrator was going to make sure that we kept Ms. Priscilla’s life in our memory care unit, I’m sorry, she was in long-term care. We were going to keep it as normal as possible. And so when we were dead dog tired at the end of the day, or we just rolled out of bed and we were still tired, she made a point to take Ms.

 

Donna:

Priscilla into the beauty salon, wash and set her hair, sat her under the dryer, teased and combed it out. And they had a good time of it. That is the epitome of engagement for us. That is connecting with the member who has a need and making sure that you can fulfill that need. And for us, we all have titles, but when we were in lock-in, I’m sure that they didn’t know there were some members living in the health center that had no idea what my official title was. They just knew that I was one of the volunteers that came in and fed members and vacuumed halls and did other things. But that is the epitome of what we do at Isakson Living communities. You see me in this middle picture. A wonderful story here. And you see my director of HR behind me.

 

Donna: 

We’re both feeding members. Well, this particular member, I was a little intimidated by her and I wanted to be respectful, but I also wanted to do what I needed to do, which was to help her nourish her body. And she’s in memory care. And she really resisted eating. And I said to her, I said, why don’t we do it together? And you see her hand on my hand, feeding her. She so desperately wanted to have some control over her mealtime experience. And I found a way through her guidance. She let me know that being a team and feeding her together was what she wanted. And she said to me, and she didn’t talk often, but she said to me, we’re a team. And I tell ya, that just moved my heart. And that’s inspirational too. And connecting with her in that way, it wasn’t a task.

 

Donna:

It was an opportunity to engage with her and really understand what her need was in the mealtime. And then I threw in this last picture here on the right, do not walk through the plastic zipper doors. If you cross through these doors, you will be fired. If you think this doesn’t mean you, it does. We became very territorial over our cocoon. We had zipper walls installed in the health center. No one came in, no one went out. We were very protective because we were fighting this common enemy called COVID-19 and we were going to kick it, but there was nothing that was going to stop us. And that’s what I mean by bringing out the best. Even in times of crisis, it’s finding something that unites you in these times. And then my last message to you is how a leader’s actions speak much louder than words.

 

Donna:

And, you know, we all learn this through our careers. There’s nothing unique about that message. But let me tell you how we exemplify it. Living the mission and culture, the story of the 60 volunteers raising their hand. It’s when employees see me rushing through the halls to get to a meeting and I stopped to speak to a member or a stop to speak to an employee. There’s nothing more important than that meeting. And that time in that moment than me stopping to speak and engage. I love to say you got to love them to lead them. And this is about knowing your team, knowing your employees, knowing your members. And so you see in the upper left-hand corner, you that’s me, cause that’s my pink hat again, I wore it all the time in lock in. On Sunday mornings, I would make French toast for the folks, my employees, in the health center.

 

Donna:

And I made a lot of French toast, but it was my love gift. It was my gift of love to them. They enjoyed it. They enjoyed having me do that. I also, you see, in the bottom picture, we were craving seafood and I ordered in a seafood feast. I used Uber eats to squelch that craving for them. Knowing your team members on a personal level, knowing who they are and their children’s names and really loving them, caring about them as a person, not just as an employee. Because we believe in bringing your whole self to work, not leave your baggage at the door. Sometimes your baggage comes in anyway, even when you try and leave it on the door, but it’s saying, you know, are you okay today? Is there anything I can do for you? The story of the book about halfway through lock-in.

 

Donna:

I had to bring together everyone in the health center and there were 34 of us there. And I had to say, COVID is not going away and I need you to stay. But if you have to go, you can go because you gave me what you promised me. And I hate to ask, but I need to ask, can any of you stay because it doesn’t look like we’re getting out of here anytime soon? This was six weeks in folks. And I said, you know what? You don’t have to say it out loud in the meeting. Come see me over the weekend. It was a Friday night. Come see me over the weekend. I’ll be right here. I’m the one in the tent, the community hall. And let me know what your decision is and if you can stay great, and if you have to go, I still love you. And thank you for your service. I said, but what I’m going to do is I’m going to lay my book down over here on the table. And if you know, right now, you gotta go or you can stay write it in my book. Didn’t want to put anybody on the spot.

 

Donna:

But what I found at the end of that meeting is the group disbanded from the meeting and they were kind of mingling and slowly but surely, everyone went and wrote in my book. And I said to my director of HR, this is a good sign or a bad sign. I’m not sure what, but I know these people. And every one of them had written, I’m staying to the end. I’m not going anywhere. I’m with you boss. Thank you for being our leader. I’m staying right here with you. And I mean, it still gives me chill bumps, but in the moment it made me cry. Because again, it’s not about me. It’s about the mission. About they believe that they were doing something bigger than themselves, and that is taking care of people. So as a leader, you gotta know when to lead from the front, when to lead from the middle, when to lead from the rear. Ask them for their opinions.

 

Donna:

The folks that work in the processes every day, know most about how to serve, be bold about being able to lead from the front, be strong enough in yourself to lead from the rear and let others lead. They want to show you what they can do, and they want you to be proud of them. And this is me leading from the front. You see on the left, that’s my zippered wall. I actually moved in the day before the rest of my healthcare team moved in. And so that’s me in the zipper wall before we zipped it, that’s me in the middle picture in my tent. I actually pitched my tent in community hall and brought in an air mattress. You see my chest of drawers in my closet over there on the table, but that was my home away from home and my home office for 11 weeks.

 

Donna:

And then on the top, right, leading from the front, I was the first one to get our vaccine when it came to our campus, because I wanted to show my employees that I won’t ask you to do anything that I’m not willing to do myself. And then in the lower, right, you see my director of HR, she and I were the two that lived in tents in the community hall. And she was actually my very first volunteer to raise the hand. So just very, very proud of this group of folks at Park Springs and what they do every day. I mean, truly every one of them is a hero in some capacity because they believe in what they’re doing. They believe in their purpose and they know that we love them and that they’re just fantastic people who happen to work at Park Springs. Thank you. I’m open for questions.

 

Charles:

Thanks, Donna. This has been an amazing presentation. I had goosebumps as well, just hearing your stories Donna. So thank you so much for sharing them. And I think well you probably saw some of the chat as well. I think we would all agree, Donna, that our industry, this senior living industry need just more leaders like you. And I think you’ve been very humble by saying, the things about you and so on, but I would be surprised if not a lot of our oldest member would not like to have you as their administrator or CEO or leader. So, thank you for sharing that. I love to ask you a few questions. There were some in the in the chat and just as a reminder to everyone, if you want to ask a question to everyone or make a comment, feel free, to select all panelists and attendees so that your question can be seen or ask a question through the Q and A. I’d love to get started Donna with kind of the meat of what you mentioned when you, I know, first of all, I, I do understand the fact that I love the word of the lock-in.

 

Donna:

It’s such a much more positive word than anything else we’ve been using. So, you know, kudos for you and your team for just finding a way to take this word and make it positive. What was some of your concern of your team members and also the family members? I’d love to hear how they reacted in the first few days, I’m sure they have a lot of questions. What was the essence? What was the main concern they have?

 

Donna:

About lock-in? Yes. So you know, on the employee side, the first couple of weeks, we were in shock in lock-in at the first 5, 7, 9 days we were in shock. We had never done anything like that. And we were just kind of learning as we went. How do we do what we do with a limited staff? And I think we were all kind of in shock. We really weren’t used to working 14, 16 hours a day on our feet. So that was a big change. And what we did was we supported each other. If somebody was just too tired to keep on, someone would step up and take care of it. I think with our members, it was originally positioned as two to four weeks in independent living and in our higher levels of care. And we all honestly believed that.

 

Donna:

And still we no longer believe that. And our members, one of the best things that we did for ourself, Charles, is we put together a task force of members who had medical backgrounds. And they help guide us through our 11 weeks on campus and continue to guide us. And, you know, having them involved, which is part of our philosophy, is this is your home. This is your campus, you know, help us and guide us relative to medical issues. We have our medical director on that task force as well. But, you know, I think as time went on, it was, when are we getting out of here? When are we going to be done with this? And so right about that six week mark, when I laid the book on the table, I knew that that was a turning point for us. Just intuitively, is now we gotta be focused on what does phase two look like when we leave here? Let’s start planning phase two.

 

Donna:

So we can all exit and be confident that COVID is not going to overtake us. Cause we don’t want to lose what we just accomplished. So it was about, oh gosh, this is a little foreign. And then it migrated to when are we getting out of here? And what does that look like? There was a lot of support from families outside our campus too. And, you know, they understood what we were doing, but they missed their loved ones. And I get that. I missed mine too. I was only in there for 11 weeks. Some of our members in skilled nursing, didn’t see their families for over a year because of the rules and regulations that we have to live by.

 

charles:

It’s interesting, I remember the last community I visited before COVID it was a community just out of Washington, DC. and I’m used to visiting communities because I love spending time there, but it felt so strange to be behind this kind of a zip wall. Like you said, there’s just behind not inside. And it was very it was, it was a little bit stressful, kind of. It was just, it was weird. That’s probably the best word I would use just weird, and as soon as communities reopened here in Washington, DC, I was lucky. We went on tour with a community, a nonprofit court, a CCRC actually life plan community. Like you called Forest Hills in DC. And when they reopened, they allowed us to be vaccinated as volunteer. And I visited them with my daughters and it was just kind of a, it was a fantastic moment to be back in.

 

Charles:

So that was very cool. You know, one of the things that also really enjoyed hearing you talk about Donna, because we know to best practice about culture change. That’s been promoted by the pioneer network, this idea that, job number one is engagement. Like it’s this idea of interdisciplinary work. You kind of alluded to the fact that when you start, you can’t stop, right. Sometimes there’s this phrase that says what has been seen cannot be unseen. What’s the future for you? Like once you started, like, obviously you can’t stop, but you sometimes maybe you want to go further, right? So what’s the end of the year. What’s next? What’s the next big challenge when it comes to culture change like that?

 

Donna:

You know, you don’t know what you don’t know. We are constantly learning. We are constantly pioneering. One of the things that we’ve started to do this year Charles, is we’ve started doing more focused family education. Because we are so different, because we are, even with our employees, it’s like, you don’t wear scrubs in your higher levels of care. And it’s like, no, no, we don’t because it’s their home. And we don’t wear scrubs in our home. So it’s really focused in on making sure that not only our employees understand our model of care, but the families. Because sometimes what’ll happen is an adult daughter will call and say, well, dad slept until 10:30. He missed breakfast. So it’s helping them understand, knowing that he can have breakfast whenever he wants to have breakfast, he can skip breakfast. He can sleep as long as he wants. So our push in 2021 and in the future will be more on family education about why we’re different, not just that we are, but why we’re different and what we’re trying to accomplish. So we’re always looking for ways to pile in there. And that family education is one example of that.

 

Charles:

The fact that you call residents members is fantastic. Are you going to continue calling your families, families? Or have you thought about another name or another concept for approaching that essential piece of your communities?

 

Donna: 

You know, we are constantly talking about what we do and why we do it and things evolve over time. So who knows. Sometimes we call them our grandparents. Sometimes we tell families that they are a part of our community and our households, and that they are welcome to come and go as they please, I mean, time terms and titles change often. So you never know what’s going to come out next.

 

Charles:

You know, that concept I’ve been in this industry just a little bit more than you Donna. But I think that one thing that you bring and that I keep on hearing is this innovation, right? Like questioning in a very positive way, right? Like questioning to improve and so on and to drive the best of people, the best of our organization. And I think that a lot of it, you actually might be bringing from other industries, right. Because you know, a lot of us, well, I think we would all agree that senior living is slightly slow to adopt certain things, for example. And I’d love to hear from you that has so much experience from other industries. What are the things that you see yourself bringing all the time or that you’d like to share more from other industries to this particular industry?

 

Donna: 

Oh gosh. You know, we’ve done a lot. I love process. And several of my leadership team, my executive director out at Park Springs went through six Sigma green belt and he loved it. And, you know, just sharing those philosophies about how we do what we do and how do you eliminate waste in your processes? And, you know, your process is a really how you deliver service. So that is something that I think I have brought to the table. Just constantly challenging the status quo, being open to different ideas about how people do what they do. I’ve been in several industries and I just think that that philosophy of, can we do it better?

 

Donna:

I think that has just come with me. You know, what I really want to be involved in Charles, and I think we are, we are well on our way at Isakson Living, as a as a community, as a company. I’m starting to see the sea change and senior living in the United States because of what happened on the west coast and because of what happened. And I’ve seen homes with COVID and I, we are starting to see that there are better ways to take care of seniors. I want to ride that wave with those other pioneers, like penny at pioneer network and Josh at Bridge The Gap and Lucas, at Bridge The Gap. And those other folks that are, that are riding that wave of, you know, Jill, who you’ve had on your show before that they get that there’s a different and better way. I want to ride that wave with them. I want to learn from them. I want to be part of implementing change in senior living. I mean, Andy Isakson, he is our chief visionary officer and he sees the way that he has created that in our communities. I just want to be a part of that.

 

Charles:

It’s interesting because you manage again to be so humble, Donna, because you’re part of these leaders in the sense that, I mean, you’ve shown action and words of what a true leader is. You’ve done fantastic work. And I just want to applaud you here. You know, if you, I I’d love if you don’t mind, if we just took a second and pause and also kind of not emphasized, but a lot of our audience members, sorry, our activity and life enrichment directors. And we know that unfortunately historically activity directors are, you know, probably the most valued team members or the people that had the most importance in organizations. Now through COVID we obviously have been shown again, what has been seen cannot be unseen like the importance of activities. Sometimes it’s kind of flipping that. What would be your word of recommendation to like the typical activity or life enrichment director on the zoom today in helping their organization start that change and be part of that change? What would be your word of advice?

 

Donna:

So we are very deliberate in our Isakson Living Communities about recognizing the difference between activities slash events and engagement. And I know your audience today, our audience today, Charles, I know they get this and we’ve got to educate the senior leaders about this difference. And, you know, activities and events are things that you plan. They tend to be big, but engagement is where it’s at. You know, just like we have, or at least in my family, when I raised my family, dinner time was at the table and we all got together and dinner time was sacred. Same thing in an Isakson Living community. Dinner time was sacred and our care partners eat with our members. For our audience today, I would suggest to them, that engagement doesn’t have to cost lots of money. It doesn’t have to be planned. It is spontaneous.

 

Donna:

And it is as simple as sitting on a couch and holding Mrs. Stewart’s hand, or taking a walk with a member or having a nail painting that just springs up spontaneously. Those things are what bring people joy, not that activates and events don’t, but those are things that bring people joy in the quiet moments, in the everyday moments. And if activity directors could help their staff understand that those small moments make the most difference to connect with that member, I think there would be, I mean, they could show just how social their members are. How nurtured and caring and love for their members feel.

 

Charles:

Thanks, Donna. Yeah. I was cycling through everything you just said. There’s just so many questions I have for you, but we were kind of running out of time. You know, the one that you said here, which I think is most important is what you said about inviting or educating or helping other team members. I think that we all agree. Every team member on the floor wants to engage, wants to do the best for our elders, for our members. You know, I personally liked the idea of moving from activities to this concept of CEO as chief engagement officer, right. Activities should be allowing our other care partners or other team members to understand what they can bring. So I really I think you’re bang on, and it is, like you said before, the cost of this is zero, right? It’s just a mind shift and attitude. And I think that if we have more leaders like you leading by example, is that everything becomes a much easier.

 

Donna:

Well, Charles, in that model that you just defined, we all should be CEOs. We all can be chief engagement officers.

 

Charles:

Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for sharing your amazing story. I’m going to share here on the slide on the last slide Donna’s contacts and my contacts if you have any questions. Before we go, I have one last question. Well, first of all, I hope obviously that you’re keeping this book, it’s just kind of an amazing summary of everything that you and your community and the team members have gone through. Where’s the pink hat?

 

Donna:

You know, it said home, I still wear it. It means a lot to me. It means a lot to me. I should’ve brought it. You’re right, Charles, I should have brought it for you at the end.

 

Charles:

Donna, thank you so much, as I mentioned and as you know, kind of echoing first with the audience, we’re saying our industry, the senior living industry, really needs more people like you. So I want to personally thank you for being on the other side of that zip wall. Showing up at work and having your team, lead your team in such amazing and troubling times and kind of, really kind of raising out of, you know, out of this independent. So on top of this industry and trust me, I mean, you are there leading and everybody in the audience agrees through the chat and the comments. I think also Donna, one last thought here is that leaders like you, you keep on saying that you’re trying to innovate. You try to question. I personally like the idea that you can create your own future, right?

 

Charles:

And I think that it is where the leaders like you and with organization like yours, that we collectively can create the future and a better future. I love this idea of not getting back to normal. I love this idea of getting to better normal. And it’s only with leadership like yours, that this can be done. So again, thank you so much, everyone in the audience, please feel free to reach out to Donna, thank you, her on the chats, as many of you have already done Donna, one last final word before I get into my announcements,

 

donna:

If you love them, you can lead them. And they can lead you. And you know, I just, I think that’s the single most, most important thing I do as the COO is taking care of my employees. And thank you too Charles for your leadership.

 

Charles:

Thank you so much, Donna. Thank you so much. And thank you, Christina. I know you’re offline by listening and helping us with this presentation today. Again, everyone welcome and thank you for coming to our activities strong webinar today. I just want to show a couple of our upcoming webinars. On Tuesday, August 17th, we will have members of the organization called Christian Horizon Catholic as a as on the corporate team and supports everything related to clinical services and activities, and she’ll be joined by two of our activity directors in different communities, Shannon and Crystal. And they will be talking about something that we’re very passionate about an activities, which is strategies about correlating engagement with clinical outcomes. So that’s an exciting one. And I’m very excited about the one on Tuesday, September 7th, Mallory actually started as an activity director in different communities and then started working with an organization called Frontier Management.

 

Charles:

She applied as an activity director job for a community but the community needed an executive director job and she got convinced to take the job, go through the training. And then she since got promoted throughout this organization. And she’ll be talking about something that I’m personally very passionate about, which is this idea of risk. Like we know we’re very compliance because we are healthcare industry. And sometimes we limit ourselves kind of just by behavior. So matter read through the use of Montessori technique and other technique is going to help us explore. How do we take risks? Obviously, there are the good risks, a little bit what Donna was talking today about, which is innovating to see where our limits and how we can further the life of our residents. So with that, I want to thank everyone for joining us today. Don’t not one last big, thank you for your leadership, your stories, and I can’t wait when you and your organization are going to continue doing thanks again.

 

Outro: 

Thanks for listening to the Activities Strong executive edition series powered by Linked Sr. Find more resources and webinar information @btgvoice.com.

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