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COVID-19 Series Ep. 2: Evergreen Woods ED Blair Quasnitschka Bridges Social Isolation With Music

Bridge the Gap Senior Living Podcast COVID-19 Series Ep. 2: Evergreen Woods ED Blair Quasnitschka Bridges Social Isolation With Music. 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!

Video of Blair playing “What A Wonderful World:” view here.

Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast with Josh and Lucas on a special series dedicated to the love stories and the challenges of COVID-19. I am so excited. We are so excited to have a great guest on our program today. We want to welcome Blair Quasnitschka. He is an executive director over at Evergree Woods, which is a CCRC up in Connecticut. Blair, welcome to the program.


Blair: Thanks guys. I appreciate being on.


Lucas: So Blair has caught the attention of so many people on social media from some posts, that I mean for senior living have gone viral I would say,  of you playing piano in the court or to the residents that are all spaced out down the hallway. We want to talk about that in the impact, but first just tell us how you guys are doing.


Blair: Yeah, thanks Lucas. I think as a community we’re doing great and this is the type of episode that really has an opportunity to galvanize a community. And I couldn’t be more proud of what we’re coming together to accomplish. We’ve really been, I’d say, in the weeds of it for probably going on a couple of weeks and we’ve made some really drastic decisions and some decisions that I knew would greatly impact people’s lifestyle (and) their day to day operations. But everything has been done in the interest of trying to keep our residents and the team members safe. And I really, I was just telling the team we meet as a sort of a COVID task force every day at 3:00 to download what’s happened throughout the day. Do we need to adjust any measures, any policies? 


And I was just telling them yesterday, I can’t believe that we’re two weeks into this and the lack of criticism or really, you know, any negative feedback to our operation has been great. It shows me that our team has come together and managing it quite well. And I think that speaks to the team members that we have here. The leadership here. What we’ve been receiving from senior living communities are a management company out of Charlotte. The peer group that I work with the other directors has been, has been awesome. Everyone’s sharing ideas and, and doing a lot to support one another. So I think as a community we’re weathering the storm as best as possible. We’ve shut out more or less to the outside world in terms of recreational visitation and, and sort of volunteer. Willful visitation has been shut out for a while now. Internal programming has been curbed, you know group activities and communal dining has stopped. So anything that we’ve had to do to keep people safe, but from that has really spawned some great ideas like the piano in the hallway.


You know, we, it’s something I’ve done for years to take a step out of my office. And you know, how can I put myself in front of residents, in front of team members? We were talking before that you can, you can play Sinatra, you can play Elton John or you can play John Legend and the residents just love live music. So it’s, it’s very calming. It brings people together universally. So I said, look, we’ve got, obviously, the space challenges and the sensitivity to that. So I was talking to Anna Becker and Irene… they work in programming both in independent living and with the health center and said, how could we, how could we work this in? Because every Tuesday I go down to our health center and I play piano for the residents at 1:30. So it’s sort of a standing gig and no matter what, if I ever miss it, they let me hear it. So it was just another Tuesday and I said, okay, let’s work this into our operation safely. So we brought the residents to their doorways, set up the electric piano there in the middle of the hallway and took on  business as usual. And it was just an awesome, awesome feeling and awesome sight that we could, we could deliver some degree of normalcy and some degree of distraction from what I know has been a really trying time for the residents and the team members.


Josh: Oh, I love this story. And you know, Lucas and I kind of fell in love with the whole piano video when you first showed that. And as I’m learning more about this and in this conversation, I love this even more because this is just your regular, what you typically do, but you’ve found a creative way in a tough circumstance to do that. 


You know, a lot of our listeners as we go daily, we’re going to be talking to a lot of different communities, Lucas. And I think one of the interesting things that our listeners will want to know is when you say senior living or healthcare, that can mean a lot of different things because every community is different, right? So tell us a little bit more about your specific community and the operational flow. It sounds like you guys have a great communication method daily with your team. So talk to us a little bit about what that looks like to maybe give our listeners that are in other communities that we can collaborate and share some great ideas.


Blair: Sure. It’s a CCRC, so continuing care retirement community which basically is a campus, mostly independent living. Then we have an assisted living neighborhood, but also our resident services department can provide assistance to residents, independent apartments. So the assisted living floor, is more and its own community in one. But then if residents, if there’s any sort of need or decline where they don’t want to vacate, they’re a part of an independent apartment, they receive services there. And then there’s a 50 bed health center as well. So a little bit over 300 total units on the campus. 


So the best way is communication is key. And that’s going back to how we’ve been talking about trying to keep things normal day to day. I guarantee you if you pull any community’s team members and you say, what’s one thing we could do better? It’s always communicate. That word will come up. If you say, what are three things you can do better operationally, that will come up. No doubt. So we take that very seriously here, especially in a time like this where people need to be informed and, you know. 


So say you asked me, you know, what, what are we doing for our, our team members? The number one thing we can do for them is keep them informed, keep them communicating. And I think that’s a level of support, knowledge, peace of mind that is crucial. So we use two, probably two main major methods for our communication to residents and to team members and families as well. We use Regroup, which we can blast out messages to all of those groups very seamlessly. They’re, they’re all registered in our database, having been on the community members of the community. And then we can associate contacts with each resident from their family. And we can separate what we need to announce just to residents and then what we need to announce emergently, which in a situation like this has been fairly ongoing for the past two weeks. And you push out a Regroup message, which can go out electronically and then also telephonically cause we have some residents who if this comes out in an email, my message perhaps they can’t read it. So we’re able to push that out telephonically as well so they can hear it. And same goes for the staff members and it’s been everything from in the beginning when we were simply curbing some of our programs and trying to limit the large group get togethers. But then it got more serious about, okay now visitation is shut off and now dining is shutoff.


And those are, those are messages that are really important and steps that are taken that are really important to ensure our safety. But it’s, it’s things that family members need to know. I always associate it with, you know, maybe the person that’s here every day, they see our operation, they know what’s going on. But what about the son or daughter that’s in California that has some inherent geographic guilt and they’re not, they can’t be as present. We need to consider that too. And that person needs to know that’s what we’re doing here. And then what are the steps? So you’re cutting off the dining. How are mom and dad still gonna eat? Because within that message it says, okay we are going to still package and deliver the three meals a day. And that goes for independent living as well in the nursing home setting.


That’s sort of par for the course that you deliver the food. But for independent living folks who I’m telling them, look, I can’t tell you, you can’t go outside of here. I can’t tell you can’t get in your car, but I am going to curb the pieces of the operation that we control. So shutting off the dining room, shutting off group programs, but here is what we’re going to do to continue to sustain that degree of psychosocial involvement and get you your necessities. 


So Irene has been our social director and has been great. She came up with these programs that we’re doing in the hallway, calling bingo in the hallway, putting green in the hallway. If residents want to do that,she came up with this programming on the go and it’s all these different ideas: cornhole in the hallways or that you can do or in your apartment. They’ll deliver a tree for your apartment so you can just use it yourself. And it’s things that we can clean and reutilize. And for the other amenities that people need during the day. We have a country store here that I’ve worked with the resident manager and we’re just finalizing a plan where he’s going to place a limited menu. Residents are either going to email or call in their order. And two, I’ve set, I’ve split up the community to our social director and our community events coordinator. They will either email them or call in their order and we will aggregate everything that needs to be ordered, give that to the country store manager who’s a resident. He places the order, we get it in and Monday, Tuesdays staff will package and deliver those orders. And that’s everything from hearing aid batteries to toilet paper and food and you know, a pretty comprehensive menu that he put together that he knows best what residents will need. So it’s all hands on deck and even have residents chipping in on keeping their peers sustainable. It’s a beautiful thing. I could sorta kick it off with this is an opportunity. That is, is obviously daunting, but it allows us to show the best of who we are too.


Josh: Totally agree. Totally agree. And one of the things, Lucas, you and I have talked about that you’ve kind of just described for our listeners that may not work in senior living, may not really understand what senior living team members are committed to. When many of the country’s employers are either closing down or working remotely not going into the office, many of these caregivers and team members have families at home, kids out of school, and they’re having to make the choice: do I stay and take care of my own or do I go in care for those who I have a responsibility for? What has that been like for your team members? Obviously, they’re making the choice to come to work. What’s the morale there?


Blair: Yeah, and I probably get even a little choked up talking about that because I take that decision very seriously personally and I take it seriously for the 200 team members that we have here. Inherently when you get into senior living and senior care you know, weekends don’t count. Holidays don’t count. Storms that close the roads don’t count. You know, when I see on social media, if someone says, you know, it’s the weekend, it’s Friday. We don’t know what Friday means. You know, we continue to staff round the clock. We are immune to those luxuries, I guess you could call it. And God bless the people that sign up for that. It’s a powerful commitment that you make. And, and I don’t take that lightly. 


What I’ve had to do is make provisions on the home front that allow for my two little boys to be looked after. And a lot of that then falls on my wife who has a job herself. And you know, how do we, how do we balance that? And a lot of people that get into this are going to face that decision. All we continue to do is to promote people that we support you and where you have to be. You have to be, our operation is going to continue on because we simply can’t just stop our operation. So hopefully those people can make those provisions. 


There’s even a part in our emergency preparedness manual that says, if we’re ever in defendant place, if an immediate family member has to come with you, you know, to, to sort of set up shop for that. And so we’ve talked about that possibility here and you know, just to remind people, okay, if you need to bring a few days of clothes or toiletries but you know, we have emergency stock of food and one way or another we need the team here. And if that means they got a little one coming with them or our mom, you know, I would say in a situation like this it would be as long as they’re not symptomatic. But it may come to that, that we have to make those calls. So we’re preparing to make those decisions and support our team members in that way. But yeah, it’s if those are brutal decisions that weigh on us the entire time that we’re here, is how my family is at home. So I think now is also the time to recognize not just the people that are coming to work, but the people that are home saying, hey, this is the time where work wins. I know what you gotta do. And that’s, you know, my heart goes out to the people that have to make that decision. It’s not easy.


Lucas: No, no. Josh, this is leadership on display and  I just, it’s tugging our hearts. I know that our audience is right there with you, Blair. We’re so appreciative for you to take time to give this as a value back to an industry and a community that is struggling right now. But it’s really rising to the challenge and us at VTG and all of our friends and partners, we just want you to know that you have our support and that we believe in you in this time. And then if you guys need anything that you can reach out to us, we will stop to no end to leverage our network to, to Lim, not support, but we know that your community is in such great hands with you and we appreciate that. So let’s end on an uplifting note, so to speak. What has been your favorite response back from the piano, a picture and now a video of you playing? I think that’s Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World in the hallway. What’s been your favorite response so far?


Blair: I guess online. I saw an old colleague of mine Marvette Lowery Morris. She said that should be the viral theme song of what, you know, we’re all trying to still create. So I, that was really touching to me that, you know, she would, she would go there with it and if that could if, if it could be that impactful for people that a little bit of music goes a long way. And, to say, despite all this, what a wonderful world that caregivers, the teams programs like yours the service the vendors that we work with, we’re all still, despite this ridiculous pandemic chaos, trying to create that wonderful world for everyone around us, especially our seniors who are most vulnerable. And that’s just, that’s awesome. That’s awesome and kudos to everybody that are, that’s in the fight every day. You all included that are bringing attention to it. Couldn’t appreciate it more.


Lucas: Well, Josh, I’m just glad that we got him beat because Michael Bublé is probably going to be calling Blair to come on tour with him at any moment now.


Blair: Oh, they’re big shoes, big shoes. But hey, whatever we can do.


Josh: Great. Thank you so much for what you’re doing and please please tell your team that we believe in them and so thankful for the sacrifices they’re making every day.


Blair: Thanks so much guys. Take care and be safe


Lucas: And thanks everybody for listening to another awesome episode of Bridge the Gap.

Thanks for listening to this episode of Bridge the Gap podcast, the COVID-19 series. If you are company, community or caregivers are going above and beyond in their daily duties, we want to hear about it. Tag BTG, voice on social media, or send us a message

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  1. […] COVID-19 Series Ep. 2: Evergreen Woods ED Blair Quasnitschka Bridges Social Isolation With Music […]

COVID-19 Series Ep. 2: Evergreen Woods ED Blair Quasnitschka Bridges Social Isolation With Music