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BTG COVID-19 Ep. 17: Why Overcommunicating Should Be a Top Operational Goal

BTG COVID-19 Ep. 17: Why Overcommunicating Should Be a Top Operational Goal with Austin Steele

This series is designed to provide resources, share the love stories and encourage those who are overseeing the care of aging adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe in you!

Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas on our COVID-19 special series, continuing to bring on thought leaders in the industry to bring you up to date information that can both help you today, educate you and encourage you. So today we’ve got an awesome guest on the program. We’ve got Austin Steele, he’s an RVP of Ops at American senior communities. Welcome to the program.


Austin: Hey, thanks. Appreciate you guys having me.


Lucas: We’re glad that you’re here. So American Senior Communities up in Indiana. We’ve been connected with you via our great friends at NRC. We had a chance to spend some time with you at their conference last year. We both learned a lot and had a great time together and it’s exciting now to bring you on the program, even given the circumstances that we’re in, there’s many challenges out there. And one of the main topics of the reason why we’re reaching out to you is because you guys are doing a great job with communication and we know that via the actual measured feedback that you’re getting. Can you talk to us about how that is transpiring?


Austin: Sure, sure. So, you know, some of the things that we’ve tried to do is we’ve tried to take this kind of proactive approach. I mean, obviously it’s a very challenging time. And so, you know, as we look at the changes that have happened from people being limited to when they could come in certain timeframes to being screened when they were coming in to very quickly and very rapidly to where there’s no visitation and obviously, you know, these are, you know, people’s loved ones that they care for tremendously. And so what we’ve tried to do is we’ve tried to take this proactive approach and very intentional approach about trying to connect with each of our resident family members. We’ve, you know, we have a care companion program and we’ve challenged in each one of those communities that that care companion needs to reach out and be the very intentional with, hey, these are the things that we’re doing. This is how we’re screening people. These are the things that we’re assessing for, you know, talking about temperatures and the things that we’re doing and communicating with our physicians and our nurses, et cetera.


You know, and sometimes this is a nonclinical person that’s, that’s making this phone call. It might be the maintenance guy, you know, but he’s doing his best and at the end of the day, hopefully he has a relationship with that person. And so ultimately we’re trying to explain to them, hry, here is everything that we’re trying to do to make sure that your loved one is cared for the best that that we can. And I think that, you know, being intentional with them has a couple of things. I think that it’s increased our communication with our resident family members. But then I think that it’s also just building trust too because we’re being proactive and trying to say that, hey, we know this is an unsettling time. We know you have a lot of questions and here’s what we’re trying to do. So those are, you know, a little bit of, you know, some of the things that we’re trying to connect with our families on.


Josh: Wow. This is a, I love that you’re doing that. What an awesome example it is to all of us that are listening and kind of learning as we go here. Talk to us a little bit more because the idea of building trust, you know, we’ve said it and we know it’s true. Surveys have even indicated this, that these families that you’re communicating with, they have placed their most valuable asset in our care, in your care. So the transparency of communication through what you refer to as your I think you said companion program to where it sounds like there’s a whole list of people, this is just not tasked with like a nurse or an administrator. It sounds like you’ve got a lot of people involved in this communication. Can you kind of outline what that program looks like? Broadly?


Austin: Sure, sure. So kind of a broad view on that program is each one of our department leaders in our building, you know, they have certain residents that they are to connect with. So, you know, you take a big, you know, a larger amount of people and kind of break it down and each department head then, you know, have somebody that they’re responsible for, they should be checking in on them on a daily basis, you know? So really, you know, the goal is that, you know, a lot of buildings, you know, if you’re in the industry, you have, you know, what you might call your morning meeting or your standup meeting, et cetera, that starts in the morning. You know, and I know that that’s a little bit technical jargon there a little bit, but really, you know, but by that time you should have a good pulse on how your, how, how your resident’s doing, how your companion is doing, you know, how was their day yesterday, you know, what’s going on with them. And then continuing to touch base with them throughout the day. 


And then being intentional about connecting with those families, with those loved ones. So that they know, you know, if somebody is, you know, coming in that the first person that they should be going to is, you know, that care companion, you know, so I reference like a maintenance director. It’s not just the nurse that’s in charge of that resident you know, it goes down to, you know, our environmental folks are the people that work in culinary, it can be somebody in our business office, you know, they’re developing those relationships. They have those relationships and the family members then hopefully feel comfortable with those people that if there, you know, is something they can check on them. And then they’re also getting those touch points from that care companion of just saying like, hey, I checked in on mom and dad today and guess what, they’re doing good. They seem to be, they seem to have a good day. You know, here’s what they said that they did yesterday if you haven’t talked to them. 


And just, I think just that overall communication with them I think has encouraged the family members and I think that it is, you know, building trust with them. And we’ve tried to take, you know,  hyperactive, hyperactive approach on this right now that the more that we can communicate, hopefully the better, you know, because at the end of the day, I mean, you hit on it, their most important asset is with us, right? You know, and we’re, and we’re trying to take care of them and they’re not able to come in and see those people. And so we’re trying to make sure that we can communicate what’s going on, how mom or dad is doing, how grandma’s doing. Ultimately then they have a good pulse as to what’s going on, even though they can’t come in.


Josh: Well, kudos to you guys for building out such an exceptional communication platform and being ready to, to have an existing platform to communicate when things like this that you really can’t plan for happen. And then being very intentional through this, and transparent. So another, I think important thing that I’d like you to speak to a little bit is, you know, while a lot of people may think they’re in town like this, you really only hear bad things. We’re actually hearing good things. It sounds like you guys are hearing a ton of good things and that’s feedback. So maybe talk to us about some of your mechanisms for how you’re tracking, how you’re doing and what the outcomes have been through this difficult time.


Austin: Sure. I mean, so, you know, when we talk about, you know, how we’re tracking some of that, we, we use various amounts of platforms. I mean obviously we’ve got great partners with NRC that, you know, they’re reaching out to our resident family members and, you know, we’re getting back, you know, our customer feedback and we’re getting that directly, you know, I mean, you know, we get that information in real time. I mean, so if somebody leaves feedback to us, we’ve got it, you know, in our organization in a matter of minutes. So, you know, that’s really encouraging for us. We get to kind of track that mechanism over our entire company. So we can see the entire portfolio. 


And then, you know, it’s, it’s also been amazing too that, you know, the media although, you know, there’s a lot of scrutiny really there’s been a lot of positive. We’ve seen more and more positive reviews as we’ve moved forward in some of this. And we’re getting, you know, new stories about, you know, how we’re doing communications. And we had, you know, horses that are visiting outside our communities and going door to door or window to window, I guess you know, in our communities and that’s just, you know, new things that are happening that every day that it’s like, wow, we never done that before. And the residents love it, you know, and it’s a new way that we’re, you know, able to connect with residents. So I am encouraged to just know as you look at, you know, in the future, you know, some of the interactions of what you know, of what our, you know, normal day to day looks like obviously will be changed. And I think that there’ll be new ways that we’re connecting with residents as we move forward as well.


Lucas: You know I love hearing that because you know, in these challenging times there’s created a great opportunity to be innovative, which I think that the senior living industry, it is a creative group of people. They are innovative and sometimes gets a little bit of a bad rap that they, you know, not adopting technology and things like that. But right now everybody’s being forced into this funnel to really be creative and come up with these things. So I imagine with all these new creative ideas and all of the great communication, it certainly helps alleviate the anxiety and a lot of the questions that the family members have. But I know that they still do have questions. What are some of the big questions that have bubbled up or come up in your talks with communities and families right now?


Austin: Yeah, no, great. I mean, great question. I mean, we, we have been getting a lot of feedback about, you know, hey, x what exactly are you doing to try to protect, you know, mom and dad or, you know, what are you, what are you doing to protect you know, the residents. And so, you know, we’ve kind of taken an approach of just being very open and very honest with what we, what we’ve done. I mean, we’ve created an entire webpage, you know, dedicated to, you know, what we’re doing from a, you know, a COBIT 19, you know, updates and we’ve got a frequently asked questions section of that website. And then we can also, you know, we can take that, we can share that with our employees. They can share that, you know, with the resident family members. But it also allows, you know, just a venue that if you’re going and you’re trying to find out about, you know, what we’re doing, it’s outlined very clear as to, you know, what we’re doing to try to, you know, protect everybody.


Because, you know, we’re trying to build, you know, trying to build this cocoon around each one of our communities, you know, of just, you know, or a bubble of just saying like, we don’t want, you know, keep it out. And so that’s, you know, that’s the biggest challenge. You know, and, and so we’ve got a lot of questions about, Hey, what are you doing? And so we’re able to answer those. We’ve got a pretty robust system as to what we’re doing. And, you know, increased cleaning and screenings and temperatures and respiratory assessments and all these things that we’re doing for our residents. You know, we’re able to communicate those to our resident family members, you know, and ultimately they’re appreciative of that, you know, but, you know, sometimes if we’re not being proactive, you know, they don’t, they don’t know what we’re doing.


Josh: So, Austin, on a, you know, we’ve talked a lot about the resident, the family communication, the intentionality there in transparency. A lot of questions, I’m sure as yu and these team members are on the front lines, what does, what does it lie communication kind of internally with your team? Keeping them motivated, encouraged them feeling safe? Like what does that look like?


Austin: Yeah, yeah. No. As we looked at, you know, what communication looks like, you know, there is we’re, we’re very fortunate. We’ve got, you know, over 88 communities that we manage pretty much in one geographic state. So, you know, our, our density is, is pretty great. You know, although it stretches this great state of Indiana but we we’ve really, same thing as we’ve increased communication to you know, our, our resident family members. We’ve also increased communication to our, to our teams, you know, so, you know, I’m hosting, you know, daily conference calls actually, you know, same platform that we’re, you know, I’m using the zoom meeting, you know, and we’re seeing face to face because I’m not able to get into the communities as much as what I was. And we’re spending a lot of time making sure that we’re just communicating with them.


And on a daily, on a daily touch point where previously, you know, you may not have that daily you know, zoom meeting, but you’re able to be in the communities more frequently and we have a lot of support system that able to get out there, you know. So it’s also really, I think as an organization, you know, we’ve got, you know, a, a task force that’s in charge of, you know, the, the coven task force. So we’ve done a lot of things internally and we’ve brought a lot of people from our support teams, you know, on board on these different groups. And so it’s been very, very intentional about what we’re doing and then very intentional about making sure that we’re communicating that, you know, to our community leaders because the more that they can be educated, the more that we can share that information with, you know, with our customers or with our residents and with our resident family members.


Josh: I love that. Well, thank you to you and your team for what you’re doing to protect the elders and the families, the intentional communication that’s building that trust. And while this spotlight is thrust on us we really appreciate the healthcare heroes that you guys are and we definitely believe in you all that you’re doing. And thanks for taking time with us today.


Austin: Yeah, no, I really appreciate it and appreciate what you guys are doing too, to just kind of spread that good news. I know that, you know, we’re, we’re out here fighting the good fight and we appreciate you guys.


Lucas: Another great example of some, you know, another, a great operator that is really doing well at this and, and we really do appreciate your time and our thoughts and prayers are with all the operators out there, the people that are on the front lines and, and caring and doing this work. And we know that you’re up to the challenge and doing a great job. Let us know if you need anything and we wish all of our listeners and the Bridge the Gap network a great day. Thanks for listening to Bridge the Gap.

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BTG COVID-19 Ep. 17: Why Overcommunicating Should Be a Top Operational Goal