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

146: Hollie Kemp

Hollie Kemp, Executive VP at Sagely, discusses the real differentiator in life enrichment, what’s broken about how programs are viewed, staffed, funded, and ultimately implemented. We discuss ways that residents respond to activities and just how residents can impact the way communities and teams engage with them.

Connect with Hollie

Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. A very exciting topic and guests on today. I want to welcome Hollie Kemp from Sagely. Welcome to the program.


Hollie: Thank you. Thanks for having me. Yeah, so


Lucas: We had a great pre conversation and I think that the listeners are going to really enjoy this today. And this is something that I think touches all of us that are in the business and senior living about engagement in this time that we’ve witnessed so many seniors being isolated, even in the communities. And so I’m very glad that Josh and I have brought you on today to talk about this topic, because we know that you’re passionate about it. And we know that you’ve got a lot of experience in this realm. So talk to us about your background of getting into senior living and why you’re so passionate about this topic.


Hollie: Yeah, so I started almost 20, actually over 20 years ago, I’m dating myself now, over 20 years ago. I started as a caregiver. I tell people, I thought I was going to be a doctor. So I was a pre-med major and I knew exactly what I was going to do. And then I got into working in a CCRC as a caregiver and my calling found me. So I moved around in that role. I worked in programming, worked in adult day, I worked in the caregiving role and eventually went on to work in divisional roles, corporate roles, national roles, VP roles, and chief roles on the senior living side, as well as executive director role. So I joke with my friends, I’ve played every role except nurse, but I could be one of those on TV.


Lucas: We can tell, I mean you’ve got such a diverse background. And so what sparked you to get more on the technology side? Is it just a real passion for wanting to innovate the space?


Hollie: It is. So I, you know, I felt like in my roles and senior housing, I could have a big impact on the organization I was working for. And that was great, but it was really limited to that organization. Right. And I wanted to have a wider reach and I felt like the engagement space was one that needed to be innovated. And I felt like it was one that maybe with a little bit of extra reach and a wider net, I would be able to influence in a positive direction.


Lucas: You know, Josh, we talk about this topic you know, more this year than probably ever before. Which leads me kinda to my first question and I’m looking forward to hearing kind of you and Josh kind of go back and forth on this, but so what’s the problem with engagement and senior living. And what do you think are some solutions?


Hollie: Yeah, so I’m going to start with what I think is the core driver, and that is just the value that’s placed on engagement in senior housing. And it’s evidenced by how the role is typically structured all the way from the corporate level to the community level. Typically the role is falling under another branch of operations, whether it is actually operations or clinical, sometimes it even falls under dining, but it’s not its own separate department. So oftentimes the initiatives or the focus for that program gets lost in the other initiatives. It’s not a primary focus of a lot of organizations. You don’t see VP level positions often, and you almost never see a chief position. So you don’t necessarily see equal representation at the table for these roles. And I think that’s a really critical part of making sure that the organization is focused on engagement and really moving it forward. So that equal voice would certainly help.


Josh: So, Holly, I totally agree with you being in the space like you have for a while. You know, I, I think it’s this issue that we’ve often talked about and we’ve given it different names through the years; activities and engagement in life enrichment and things like that. But we’re kind of talking about a lot of the same things and you know, you and I were talking a little bit and Lucas before the show started and it’s been a topic that I want to just dig deeper into. So to get your thoughts and you started alluding to really the more strategic side of planning for engagement. And I think that is what has really been lacking because when I try to oversimplify things sometimes when I start problem solving and what I was sharing with you earlier is, you know you look at these communities where residents live and team members work, and you look at what goes into planning and the capital that is invested into those communities. And many times those decisions most often are driven by ownership, right? And the owners are comprised of the real estate developers, the operators and things like that. And it seems like everyone is trying to get scale, whether it’s on the design and development side so that it can be duplicated over and over and over again, or on the operational side so that the different departments and the programs and the systems we can duplicate, you know, at X, Y, and Z company across the country, no matter where they are or what population they’re serving and what market, what community. How does that converge and how do we marry the idea of more personalized attention to our residents with kind of this competing force of trying to get scale and optimization and efficiencies?


Hollie: Yeah. So I think it starts with knowing what your organization’s goals are. So setting real clear goals around recreation, leisure, life enrichment, whatever your group calls it. And not just the typical dimensions of wellness that you might see, right. We see physical and spiritual, and that’s great, but what do you want to get out of those? Like, what are you trying to accomplish? And really what’s the primary focus? What’s your story? What’s your message? And when you know that, then you can take it and say, okay, so that’s what we’re going to scale, right? We’re going to scale that message. That’s what we’re focused on. We’re going to hold our team accountable to it. We’re going to have goals that are measurable associated with it. But with that, I think people get confused. So if we have that, that means we can’t do person centered, or we can’t do person focused, or you know, I don’t have enough staff. I used to hear this lie. I don’t have enough team members. I don’t have enough staff to give every resident their own personal programming track. And I would argue, you can utilize both science and data to really personalize that experience at scale. And so one of the things that I think is really important and I feel it’s the wave of the future in, in truly providing a personalized engagement program is the idea of incorporating psychometrics into what you’re doing. So prior to coming on board with Sagely on the tech side, working on the industry side, I had started to incorporate an assessment called the Nomi assessment. It’s from this company Health Personas. And what they do is they really look at what motivates you, who are you at your core, from a wellbeing perspective. So a lot of us take those assessments right before you get hired into a job. People want to know like, how do I lead you? And what kind of leader are you and how are you going to do in these areas? Well, it’s the same type of science, but it’s applied to really your wellbeing. So in a lot of cases, recreation and leisure. So what it helps me to identify is, you know, Josh really needs physical fitness programs five times a week, and he prefers individual fitness programs. Lucas, you prefer group fitness programs. And if you have an opportunity to participate in those ones, then you’re in good shape. And what that helps me to do is really tailor the calendar. So I don’t have to have programs just for Josh or programs just for Lucas, but I start to see trends. So I have a group of residents that they’re individual contributors or individual participators. And so I can create opportunities for those residents to get that program. And on the flip side, I have this group of residents that’s super competitive and they want to remain physically active. So maybe I’m going to start a volleyball club, or I’m going to start a basketball tournament or something that has that competitive reward type of spirit. And then I can measure my success along the way. So you don’t just take the assessment once you actually take it once. And then we were doing it once a quarter. So what progress are we making and what the assessment allows you to do or psychometrics allows you to do is say, okay, so this is where I want to be versus this is where I’m at. So it’s really powerful, right? So I may really want to be successful in the physical realm, but maybe I just had a surgery and I’m struggling there. So as a program director, activities director, I can say, okay, I need to identify a way to meet that physical desire because it’s impacting Josh’s well-being with these new limitations. So you personalize it, but it’s still an organization-wide approach. So it’s almost like the assessment you do in clinical applied to recreation.


Josh: I love that. So let me just try to summarize some of my thoughts cause I’ve had so many things racing around in my head I want to ask you. But let’s talk about back to kind of where I was going with more of the thinking for those new developers, owners, operators out there that are looking at, okay, how do we design towards this? How do we design towards being flexible for, I think you used the word psychometrics. Did I get that right? Okay. Psychometrics. So is there a way that you can study and design towards trends in populations that you are moving towards? And why I’m asking that is, let’s say I’m going to build a community in such and such market and I’m studying age and income qualifiers and things like that that says, Oh, there’s this type of age and income qualified and this many incidences of Alzheimer’s and such. So there’s all these qualifiers that tell me; Hey, is this a good place to build my community and can I design it in such a way to serve this population? Would you say that there are universal trends that apply to every market that we go in? Or is this something  psychometrics that we should be studying as developers, owners, operators, even in the design standpoint, when we go into a market, when we go into where we’re going to build a community that the physical plant should be designed using psychometrics, or is that way out of line.


Hollie: So I think that physical design not necessarily is applicable to psychometrics, but the physical design does need to be changed if you want to create a vibrant community. And so one of the things I think we really need to think about is a lot of times we have like a multipurpose room or an activity room and I used to tell my designers in past lives, if you have a multipurpose room, it has no purpose at all. And what I mean by that is if you have a multi-purpose room and you do fitness in there, and then you do your lectures in there, and that’s where I do my movies and then it really starts to be a watered down space. And can you really create vibrancy? I’d rather have three dedicated spaces that have a real purpose that I can create programs we were just talking about or use those philosophies to bring that space to life, than one large space that I’m supposed to do everything in. So think about when you walk into a community; typically when you walk in, you see these really grand, big lobbies, beautiful chandeliers and artwork and beautiful desks for the concierge. And where do you usually see the residents sitting to the left or the right in the, in the chairs. Right. And why do you think they do that?

Josh; Are you really asking me that? Or is that something you’re just going to make me feel really bad? So I don’t know. I’m going to give that to Lucas. Why do you think that’s the reason Lucas, I’m going to let you, you give the dumb answer, you give the dumb.

Lucas: The mic’s have been turned. I would say that it’s the area of the highest engagement.


Hollie: It’s the area, right? Where they’re able to interact with the most people, right? It’s the most vibrant area in the community. And where do we talk away the engagement spaces?


Lucas: Down the corridors in the back, long distance from the front door or the patio.

Josh: That guy has been in a community or two, you can tell he’s been in a community. You’re exactly right. I have, I have often wondered, it’s amazing. And I think we as operators sometimes even get frustrated because the residents will move the furniture right to those locations. You have your interior designer that makes it look beautiful, it looks marketable. Like this is what’s going to sell. And then all of a sudden, the residents start moving in and all of the furniture suddenly begins to move to the areas with the highest engagement, you’ve hit on something.


Hollie: Yeah. So it’s kind of funny to me, cause that’s the story, right? That’s what people say. The residents keep moving the furniture and this keeps happening. I’m like, listen to the residents. They’re telling you something, right. They’re telling you, we want to be in it. We want to be in the mix. And I would argue, that’s actually what’s going to sell your community. Cause I’m the flip thing you hear from your sales and marketing team is there’s nothing going on in the community. And I’m like; hmm, there is, you just can’t see it, cause it’s tucked away down on the basement level floor or ground level floor, it’s off down the corridor, It’s behind the door that you can’t even see through. But what if you moved some of that to this place where people could see it. And they said, you know what, when I move into this community, I’m going to live this active, vibrant life. When did that change things from a, I don’t want to move here or I have to have this, or I need this to, I want it. And I think that’s the difference, right? I remember getting into, when I first got into senior housing and there were certain communities I would visit and my husband and I would joke, Oh, that’s mine. Like I’m moving in there. And it was the vibrancy. I can get all that other stuff at home. Honestly, I can call and get home care, I can get help with my meds, I can do all that stuff. But what I can’t get is community, relationship vibrancy. That’s what you guys can offer. But I would argue that your spaces, the way they’re designed today, aren’t set up to create or showcase vibrancy. So when you do that, I think that in and of itself starts to change the narrative and then you bring in the psychometrics and then you start to really personalize the experience.


Josh: So let’s dive just a little bit deeper here in some things, I’d love to know your opinion because my personal opinion is when I look across our industry, the beautiful communities that are being built; big and small, when you really boil it down to amenities and programmings and resonant engagement. So much of it seems very vanilla, right? Or it seems like they’re all saying the exact same thing we do X, Y, and Z. And it seems like there’s not any specificity, maybe is the right word. There’s not any like; Hey, this is what we do, we own this and we’re really proud of this. And I realize we’re oftentimes wanting to keep up with the Joneses. What is your opinion? Is it okay as an organization to pick one or two themes, programs, engagements and say, you know what, we’re going to be the best at this. This is what we really do and don’t feel like you have to be the community that meets everyone’s needs. Or do we still need to say; Hey, you know what, we’re going to be able to find what motivates everyone that comes to our community and we can meet everyone’s needs because I have this kind of conflict going on in my brain that sometimes, maybe we’re a brand that is not for everybody. You know, just like you have retail stores and Lucas is going to go get his cowboy boots and they’re going to appeal to the cowboy boot guys. And Josh is going to be like, nah, I’m going to wear my sneakers. I’m not getting cowboy boots. So can that apply in senior living? Is that okay?


Hollie; Well, it already does. Right? Because the customer doesn’t pick you every time. And they pick what appeals to them and different things appeal to different customers. So you’re not always going to be the right fit for every customer. But what I think happens today and a really good example of this is actually the activity director life enrichment role. We expect that person to be, I call it a generalist. That’s what I’ve kind of coined the position. So it’s a generalist position. So basically I’m asking you to be an excellent event planner or physical fitness expert, a fitness instructor. And I also want you to be an artist, please make sure you’re really good at art. And I also would like to make sure that you’re able to create these amazing trips and treks; so be a travel planner. That’s a really important component of what I need you to do. Oh, and by the way, can you also run these really great lectures because lifelong education is super important.


Josh: Oh, don’t forget a volunteer coordinator. We got to be a volunteer coordinator.


Hollie: Oh yeah cause those are really easy to get. Right? And I chuckle about it because I mean, I’m good at a couple of those things, right? Like there’s a couple of those that’d you want me to be your event planner? Yes. I’m going to knock that one out of the park. I’m going to knock the trips and travel out of the park. But I always, always, always hired a fitness instructor because I had shared with you guys before we got on the podcast that I’m an individual physical fitness person. I’m a runner. I don’t want to run with you. I don’t want to talk with you. I just want to go out and sweat out my stress and then come back and I’m done. So I couldn’t run those programs. And if I did, residents wouldn’t get the benefits. So what I would say is that it’s better to pick a lane or a couple lanes and really be good at them. Like be the expert, be the very best, be able to talk about why you’re the best and really focus on those as an organization. And if you want to still do some of those other things for your residents, maybe you hire outside vendors who come in and do them, but pick your lane and knock that out of the park. Because what typically happens is people try to be good at everything and they end up mediocre at all of it. And mediocre, isn’t going to sell your community.


Josh: You’re exactly right. Well Lucas, I think it’s important for us to take just a pause for a moment for our listeners because I’m sitting here thinking; gosh, do our listeners think that Josh has just beating up on our industry right now? And it’s not the case at all. It’s kind of like, you know what? I am one, so I can talk about it, but don’t let anybody else talk about it. So, the idea is here, we’re talking about challenges, right? I think we’ve got to be asking some of the tough questions that lead to some of the tough conversations that say, you know what, people out there are talking about our industry. And unfortunately the perception outside of our industry oftentimes right now to people that don’t know anything about our industry is that residents are moving in and they’re just sitting in their rooms doing nothing, which is not the case. Quite honestly, in my opinion, it wasn’t even the case completely during COVID. You know, I think that did happen some for a short amount of time. But honestly, these people that we’re talking about, these life engagements, life enrichment activity, people, these operators, the heroes’ task that they are doing for so little is amazing. So what we’re clearly talking about here is how do we better ourselves? And so I think these are very tough conversations. I want to dive a little bit deeper if you don’t mind, because you seem like an expert in psychometrics, which I can barely say much less understand. But tell me more about the motivation. So this is more than just something I like to go do or something that fills my time. What do you really mean when you say understanding what motivates people?

Hollie: Yeah. So before I jump into that, I want to say one thing about life enrichment directors, the reason I’m so passionate about it, and anyone who’s worked for me in past roles knows this is because I truly believe that the life enrichment position is one of the most valuable ones in the organization. And they work so hard and they want to do amazing work. I just think if we came around them and in some organizations, people do come around them, but if you came around them and gave them a little more support and a little more freedom to use their creativity, I truly believe they would deliver and exceed your expectations. But when you set somebody up with the expectation that they’re supposed to deliver, let’s call it nine programs a day, which I’ve seen a lot in my career. So I’m supposed to plan 270 unique exceptional events in one month. That’s a lot to ask of anyone, even an exceptional person, right? So that’s what I try; I’ve always tried to be a voice for a group of people that I think is absolutely amazing and wants to do amazing work, but in a lot of cases, they lack the support, the vision and the resources to actually execute on that. So I just want to say that because they’re my favorite.


Josh: I 100% agree. And I think in general, if you look at whatever you call that department which sometimes it’s not even a department on the budget, it’s a line item. And most of the time, if it is a department, it has two line items, which is typically a salary and a supply budget. And so I think just in that you make a very  valid point to elevate the thought and the planning and the budget of that position into your communities. So don’t escape this question about what do we mean when we talk about what motivates our residents?


Hollie: Yeah, so we all are motivated by different things, right? And so when you take an assessment, psychometrics assessment, like the one that I’ve been referring to it is very similar. And I’m saying this because I think people are used to doing it for their jobs. So, you get the wheel and it’s like; okay, Hollie’s really good at working with people. But if you have or do analysis, it’s like, you’ve got to go all the way around the wheel and it’s really hard. And it’s probably not the best thing, cause I’m a social person. Probably don’t put me in an analyst role, you probably won’t be super satisfied with my results. But if you put me in the social role, you know, the leadership role the taking care of people, I can knock it out of the park. So it’s very similar with the resident piece. So we’re all from a wellbeing perspective, motivated by different things. So some people are motivated by their career success, some people are motivated by being able to physically participate at a high level in different activities and some people are motivated by their social interactions. And in what an assessment like this does is really it extrapolates that information and puts it in a place that you can actually analyze it simply. And then from there say; okay, so this is what motivates you so here are a few things you might want to do for this person. So it kind of provides not just the motivator, but some ideas of what you might want to do. So the example I gave about fitness is a great one. So it might identify that physical capacity or capabilities are super important to you, but it’s going to take it one step further and say, based on some of the other answers, we also know that it’s important to you to have a reward system or a competitive system. And so what that says is, so the suggestion might be the recommendation from the assessment might be, you know, include Josh in group activities, include Josh in activities where he has an opportunity to win or include Josh in opportunities where maybe there’s a prize or a reward associated. So it tells you who you are at your core. This is really important with any sort of intervention, right? And so one of the examples might be, I talk about I’ve given the example of my own father. My father diabetic and if you just said to him like; okay well, you’ve got to stop eating, you’ve got to stop eating sugar foods and carbohydrates because it’s going to be a real problem for your physical body in a couple of years. You’re not getting him to change his habits, not happening. But career success, you know, as a business owner, as an entrepreneur, is super important to him. So if you took it from a different approach and said; Hey, we need to, we need to work on these things, because if you don’t, it’s really going to impact your ability to work every day. He’s going to go, okay, I’m on it. So it’s that kind of thing, understanding who you are, what motivates you and then you can take this really unique approach, even in physical fitness or social opportunities, or you might identify Lucas really doesn’t need any social opportunities. So why am I fighting to get into those programs that have almost no benefit


Josh: That is so false cause Lucas needs all, he needs so much social interaction. It’s just not even funny. So let me just say, I think this is something and our listeners are going to want to connect more about it’s very popular nowadays. We’re  no different. Lucas is the king of the enneagram and breaking me down and telling me how to be better and how to better communicate with him. And he’s really, really good at it. So I could see Lucas like taking ownership of this conversation and taking it to a whole new level. Lucas, do you agree? 


Lucas: Yeah, no, I love this. And  the moment Hollie, you started talking about the wheel and these different sorts of things, Josh, you already knew. You’re a step ahead of me. I’m thinking like; Oh, I wonder what number on the enneagram Hollie is.


Josh: Absolutely. Well, this is awesome information, Hollie. I hate that we don’t have like hours to talk about this. I know our listeners are gonna want to connect with you a lot about these kinds of things. Thank you for your passion. And thanks for this is not an easy conversation to have because we all are in this industry. We have to start looking inwardly and thinking, how do we improve what we’re doing as an organization, as an industry, as individuals. And sometimes that’s a tough conversation to have. And so thank you for not being afraid to spur us out into the area that’s uncomfortable sometimes.


Hollie: Oh, thanks so much. And thanks for giving me the opportunity is something I’m super passionate about. And I have always wanted to help change the lives of seniors and elders. So I really appreciate the opportunity to just talk about it and be a resource. And certainly if I can be a resource to anyone who wants to brainstorm or has questions for their organization, I’m more than happy to do that.


Josh: Well, we’re going to follow up because I know Lucas has already, when he heard psychometrics, he’s already figuring out how to apply this to me.


Hollie: Oh I have the assessment. Do you guys want to take it? I’ll reach out to the group. 


Lucas: We’ll share our results on our social media and let everybody beat up Josh like they always do. So we have been psychoanalyzing just Josh for months and months and months. And he’s about over it.


Hollie: This would be my life. I really liked this one that I’ve you know, of course we’ve all done all these differences, different assessments. But this one I liked because I really feel like even staff members or team members and senior living, sometimes we figured about our own wellbeing. I’m like the worst at this, right? Like all of a sudden I’m like I gained 25 pounds. What happened? Like I haven’t slept in a month; what’s going on? And so what this assessment did was really identify well, what’s going to keep me motivated to take care of my well being because I know I’m best for everybody when I take care of myself, but it’s so easy to forget about it. So this one I actually liked cause it  felt personal. And I joked with the group and I was like, I feel like you’ve called my husband. Did you call my husband? I’m pretty sure that you did and they’re like, no we didn’t call your husband. But it was just super accessible and it made a lot of sense and it’s helped me to really focus. So just real quick, cause I know we don’t have a lot more time, but when I took the assessment, one of the things I was really focusing on was my physical health. I had been traveling a lot prior to Sagely; in senior housing roles, you guys know you travel a lot. And I was traveling 80 to 90% of the time. And you know you don’t eat well, you don’t exercise as well as you should. And I was like, I really need to figure out my physical fitness. So what I identified is I’m an independent person, I’m a runner, but it’s not enough for me as a human being to just say, well, I’m going to run cause I’m going to feel better. Judge me. It’s okay. I get it. But what actually motivates me is like a race. So I have to schedule myself to trade, cause I’m not going to exercise just to exercise. So I will register for like a half marathon, four months down the road, so I have to run three to five times a week cause I won’t fail. I won’t fail at the race. Like I’ve got to finish it. So it was really helpful for me. So I think even folks who are worried about their own wellbeing. It’s not just, it’s not just for the residents kind of for all of us to say, you know, my wellbeing matters. I’m going to prioritize it. I think if we’ve learned one thing this year, I hope it’s that our wellbeing does matter and that we really should prioritize it.


Lucas: Yeah, I love that. And I know our listeners, Josh I think we should tell our listeners that going into, as we round the corner on 2020 and moving into 2021 to our listeners, this is actually an area that Bridge the Gap is going to be focusing more on; resident engagement, activities, this whole kind of narrative that we’ve talked about. Because it’s come to the forefront and you know this massive shutdown and virus and isolation and all that kind of stuff has really brought this area more to the forefront. As you guys have  kind of lamented, that has not been as supported in the industry as maybe it should be. And so to our listeners Bridge the Gap is going to be focusing in on this in a variety of different ways next year. And so we’d love to get your feedback there, be following along at BTGvoice. We’ll also connect with Hollie Kemp of Sagely in the show notes. So you can connect with her great conversation Holly and Josh appreciate it today. And thanks to all of our listeners for listening to another great episode of bridge the gap.


Leave a Comment

146: Hollie Kemp