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

Episode 99: Brian Wynne & Ryan Donohue

NRC Health’s Ryan Donohue and Brian Wynne discuss human understanding and the importance of knowing the data behind the consumer. Recorded in Nashville, Tennessee at the 2019 NRC Health Symposium.

Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. We’re in Nashville, Tennessee on an amazing day at an amazing conference with NRC Health here at the Omni in Nashville, downtown. Incredible energy and a lot of thought leadership going on. We’ve got Brian Wynne and Ryan Donohue on the show today. Welcome gentlemen. 

Brian: Thank you. Thanks for having us. 

Ryan: Yeah, really, really glad that you all are here to join us for this. This is our big annual show. 

Josh: And our first. We’re excited. 

Ryan: Yeah, we want all of our partners here and to experience some really positive energy. Right? 

Brian: I can feel it. 

Lucas: Incredible, incredible. And we’ve had a lot of great conversations already and we’ve been welcomed. I mean just we go to a lot of conferences and we get to experience, uh, what it’s like to go and get set up and meet people and talk with people. And your staff, I mean, you guys are putting on a really remarkable event here.

Josh: I can’t believe it’s our first one and I’m excited about a lot more. Yeah. And I’ll echo what Lucas said, tons of shows and the staff first-class, first-class event. I’m actually really looking forward to learning more about what the show consists of. I think we’re going to talk about that a little bit with you guys. Right. 

Lucas: We want to talk about the goals and the high-level view from what people can experience when they come to an event like this. Brian, we’ve had the fortune of having you on the show once. It’s one of our highest downloaded shows, obviously, cause you’re a super handsome guy.

Josh: It’s the beard. 

Brian: This is a podcast. 

Lucas: I think it was because of Steph and not you. But anyways, I digress but we have not met Ryan before. So Ryan, why don’t you tell us some of your background and your role at NRC, at NRC?

Ryan: Yeah. So today is my NRC Health anniversary, of all days. And the symposium is a wonderful event. It’s our third decade doing it. I have a great role. It’s a fun job. So I help lead up our consumer insights. So we go out and ask people who are both patients or residents or not, what they think about healthcare, what drives their decisions, what they want when they do get into an actual experience. And we get to be in the middle of all that. And it’s a little bit chaotic, but it’s incredible the insights we can pull out and we do that across the country. So to be in the middle of all that is a great honor.

Lucas: That’s great. That’s great.

Josh: Cool. And so I’ve got to unpack something really quickly that you just kind of skipped over I think. 

Ryan: Sure. 

Did you say third decade? 

Ryan: Yes. 

Josh: So this has been going on a long time. This is our first, but you guys been doing this a long time.

Ryan: And before we even did it, there was the Picker Institute, which was really the original, let’s care about the patient, patient-centered care and through a partnership with NRC Health, we took that over about years ago and have been doing this every year since and, and it continues to get bigger and better. It’s sold out this year. So yeah, this symposium’s got a really rich history to it and it’s all been about, it’s not about what we say, it’s about what the patient, the resident, the person who’s receiving care; it’s about what they say.

So cool. Love that. So Brian, tell us a little bit about your role here.

Brian: My role here is to be an ambassador for making connections between really vision-driven, passionate people that are all about making sure that they understand what’s most important to patients those they serve as well as providers and, and what’s important to them and making connections with, I would say like-minded individuals. And that’s my role here. And I can tell you it’s a full dance card, you know, full slate. Everyone is so curious, inquisitive. They want to learn from each other and what couldn’t imagine a better backdrop, better setting for it.

Lucas: And a lot of high level keynote speakers. You’ve got Scott Hamilton, the famous Olympic skater is going to be here at one of the sessions. Then you also have added a senior living track. Talk to us about that.

Brian: Yup. Well, if you don’t mind. 

Ryan: Yes.

Brian: So last year we wanted to bring in a marketing and strategy track as well. So we have patient experience professionals and that’s been the legacy, right? Ryan has spoke to it. 30-some years of that. And then we know that we, that the customer journey, regardless of what part of healthcare you’re a customer of, it’s, it begins well before you’re actually receiving care. And it extends well past, right, especially for your loved ones, family, you know well past the receipt of that care. And so marketing strategy, brand promise, a commitment to the community- those things are very, very big. Want to make sure that they had an opportunity to learn from others, connect with like minded professionals about how do we make sure that the brand promise we make is being fulfilled in the actual experience, right, regardless of care setting. and so senior care is a very natural extension of that. So how can we make sure that throughout the one’s journey, one’s life journey, that we know the most about them, what matters most to them. And so we have professionals from senior care marketing strategy, patient experience, senior leaders, CEOs all here learning together, which is, which is great. And in some cases maybe even meeting each other for the first time, sometimes even in the same organization, which is pretty cool.

Josh: Yeah. Well it’s been fun for us because, you know, being in the senior living world, a lot of times we’re just heavy in the conferences that we attend. It’s only senior living. So here, there’s like a rich diversity. We’ve already noticed even some of our guests that have already been on the show, um, earlier, it’s like the other end of the spectrum. But we’re seeing so many similarities and we’re seeing these two ends of the spectrum kind of starting to all collide and talk about the same things that you guys are talking about. And it seems like NRC is really on the cutting edge of like leading the teams, engaging the teams around that kind of a whole mission and purpose. Right? 

Brian: Right. 

Josh: So really fascinating.

Brian: It’s all about getting closer to those you serve and that’s really at the heart of it. We, NRC, we talk about human understanding and that really just means getting closer to those that provide care, those that receive care and those that perceive received care, right? 

Ryan: And part of the issue is that you think that all those things go together, but as you’re finding as you come here, they can be disparate. And it wasn’t until two years ago that we started adding other tracks to the patient track. And what we found in that process on the inside is that so many of these things are the same. A resident, a patient, whether it’s inpatient, outpatient, senior living, urgent care- they all want convenience. They all want their expectations to be met. They want to be treated as a person. And so our goal is to be at the nexus of that and say we’re all humans. I mean there’s no other way. There’s no, there’s no classification within that. We’re all humans and we all need healthcare. That unites us. And so to be able to unite people here physically is really exciting.

Josh: So talk to us a little bit about the format of Symposium. We’re kind of learning as we go here, day one. Uh, but this is a several day event. I learned, so you have a national event each year, but then you have these regional events. So talk to us a little bit about the difference in the two and what people will experience here and why, why they come here.

Ryan: This is like the launching off point and this particular moment is really exciting cause the kickoff keynote is happening like right now. 

Josh: So we’re missing it is what you’re telling us? 

Ryan: We’re missing it but we can still feel the electricity in the air, right? It’s coming onto the lot. 

Brian: There’s still palpable energy. 

Ryan: It’s in the hallway. And you remember those choose your own adventure books when you’re a kid?

Josh: Right. 

Ryan: It’s a little bit like that. Not only at this event, because again you can go down the marketing track, the senior living track, you can choose between those things if you’re kind of in between those, those worlds as a lot of us are. And then our regional events are something that we’ve continued to promote where we can specialize either featuring a client or featuring an issue like consumerism where we just hold court and for an entire day we tackle that issue from every angle possible. We’re even doing these interactive workshops now that we’ve been a part of where we go out there, there’s no PowerPoint. It’s three or four hours of let’s talk about this, let’s talk about our issues, let’s brainstorm together. We don’t have all the answers. You don’t either. But together we might come up with something. And that’s the idea behind our events.

Josh: I love it. I love it. And there’s so many great thought leaders here, right Lucas? I mean we’ve already had several on our show. 

Lucas: Exactly. Well and so I think this is also a good to bring up your point is you guys have also invited a Bridge the Gap to be here to cover a lot of this because there’s incredible thought leadership, but you’ve also been gracious. You’ve invited us to have our actual own, um, our own thought leadership course tomorrow that we’re going to be speaking for nearly two and a half hours. We’ve got a three-part session, um, on the senior living track and it really does parlay with a lot of things that you just said to unpack a little bit of our talk tomorrow is we’re going to be having a big discussion involving healthcare and senior living and the content that the podcast has curated to help funnel and fuel discussions here at the conference.

Josh: You know, one of the things that we’ve loved about the collaborative partnership with NRC, you guys have been not only open to, but encouraging us to help get people out of the box to disrupt the thinking a little bit. So tomorrow, you know, I was asking, you know, is it okay that we’re not doing a typical, you know, presentation. So a lot of people have experienced our mastermind dinners and things like that. So we’re going to break it down into three sessions, really over a couple of hours, have some fun, uh, have people put their thinking hats on, literally, uh, their rally caps with some trucker hats that we’ve brought. Uh, so it should be a lot of fun. 

Brian: Always a hit, huh? 

Josh: Yeah, absolutely. So, yeah, it’s really exciting. And um, just here in the first day, we can already feel the energy. It’s really cool. 

Lucas: Well, yeah, go ahead.

Brian: Well, can I just say thank you for being here? We value our partnership. This is such a unique opportunity to quite literally bring voice to a lot of thought leaders in the industry that are trying to forgive the pun, bridge the gap between-

Josh: -we welcome the pun. 

Brian: Yeah, I know, between say acute, post-acute, senior living care and all you have is a forum that is popular, listen to, respect it. And so again, you know, to be a part of this event, we, we welcome it. Thank you for being, being a piece of it. This is going to be the lowest rate of session.

Josh: We’re honored. 

Brian: This is going to be the lowest rated session of any of your podcasts. 

Josh: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Well, you know, it’s been interesting as we, you know, I guess 75, 76 episodes in coming into this show have been discovering that our audience is broadening and I think it’s been encouraging to us to know how many, um, people outside of senior living that want to know more about senior living. Maybe they’re at the other end of the continuum, more on the true health care side and they’re wanting to know to use your pun, bridge the gap of, of information, of culture, of collaboration, but it’s also really cool. So, you know, we’ve got this growing audience of people that I think you guys with NRC Talent, you know, I see that all the time and the hashtag and things like that. I think some of the things that you’re doing, some of the things that we’re doing are a little bit out of the box quite honestly. And it’s attracting a whole new group of people to the space, to healthcare in general, to senior living that didn’t even know that senior living was a thing or option. So we’re really excited about some of the cool stuff that you guys are doing there. I don’t know if you guys want to talk about that. I know I’m putting you on the spot.

Ryan: Isn’t that one of the greatest, I would say chasms that we, that we have is cultivating great talent, right? So, so you have to attract it, retain it. Loyalty, just like anything else. We talk about loyalty in business all the time, real loyalty to company. How do you get loyalty to a space and how do you continue to provide career track paths? How do you make sure that you’re connecting to someone’s purpose? That, what you were just referring to that NRC Talent hashtag, it’s a whole bunch of really passionate young millennial folks, which we all don’t understand. I know I get it, but like- 

Brian: -it can be confusing. 

Ryan: They’re really confusing. 

Josh: So what they say about us, too, right? 

Ryan: Yeah. Right. What are we, by the way, we’re about the same age. Don’t worry about it.

Brian: I don’t like where this is going. 

Josh: Yeah, let’s not go there. 

Brian: I don’t like where this is going.

Ryan: It is- man they run, they sprint towards purpose, right? The Pedal for Alzheimer’s– sprint towards that, right? If we have a community fundraiser, something where we can bring together community like community’s a rally point. So how, how can operators use that to, you know, rally their culture or develop a culture around something like that? Like how do we find that? I know it’s not the question that you asked, but it’s something that’s on the mind because I know talent is, talent is the issue for anyone that operates a business. 

Brian: And a lot of that new talent has a huge hunger for purpose. And it’s not the traditional, well here’s our mission, our vision, our values. They want to feel like they’re the fabric of something that’s moving in the right direction. And I think that’s a real challenge to operators.

Josh: Well you know it’s interesting cause one of our guests, that is, has been with you guys as a partner for years was talking and Lucas, don’t let me butcher this because I can’t say it as eloquently as she did and how you were kind of unpacking it for the audience, but she talked about how much of engaging the team, how their focus through the years has, has shifted from just engaging with the resident and being really focused on the resident/patient to being equally as focused, if not more focused on the team engagement, to build a sense of, to use your word, community within that team and the sense of purpose. Because once you capture that, it’s amazing how much the resident and the patient experience and quality improves. And so she was talking about some of the engagement tools that you guys have used and I think she even used the word she exploits you guys because it’s such, some awesome tools. 

Brian: It’s something that we don’t want to be a secret, but we do a lot of workforce engagement and we tie it back to our patient mission and the original dimensions of care, which was from Harvey Picker, which started this. It’s all connected. I’ve got a session tomorrow where we talk about workforce engagement because we have fatigue out there. We have people that are struggling in their mission, within their own work, and we talk about things like you can’t just throw money at people. You give people a 10% increase in salary, creates a 1% increase in their own job satisfaction. So unless you want to give people 1000% raise, which we don’t want to and can’t afford, it’s not the answer. It’s so much more. I came into healthcare for a reason. I did this out of my spirit, not even as a person. How can I tap into that? And day in, day out, how can I continue to be refreshed? And I think that that’s a real challenge in today’s, I think millennials, as much as we can joke about it, they push us to be better in that sense that how can we get beyond just the day to day, the tactics, the stuff that we can drown in really easily and say, what are we really here for? And I think leaders have to have an answer to that.

Josh: So, you know, we’ve talked about that a lot on the show and had several other guests because again, not to make this a millennial discussion, but I think they get a really bad rap. 

Ryan: They do. 

Josh: But I will say I get a lot of opportunities to go into universities. We employee millennials and things like that. And yes, there’s, there’s maybe some communication barriers. There’s some things like that you get to do things differently to communicate to and from. But I will say that from my just limited experience in some of the other folks that I’m hearing, they are some of the most mission-focused, mission-driven people that they’re looking for something that gives them a greater sense of purpose rather than just the job, rather than just showing up. And, but I think oftentimes we do make it more of a wage discussion. So, I mean is that kind of what you guys are hearing too? That we’re kinda missing the boat on that a little?

Brian: Well, I think so. And to exemplify, we had a really great group of interns recently about a dozen interns of the NRC and we make a big deal about them joining us and leaving us, you know, to go back to school, whatnot. We asked them to sort of self-identify what is going to motivate you, like what’s going to make you lean in to what we do at NRC. And they, they bought into that right away. They, I mean, we’re a company about understanding people, knowing people, helping people, that it’s not a hard sell. When we’re thinking about how to incentivize these folks and said, tell us, do you want some commission? Do you want a spiff? You want a trip, whatever? And they came back to us and reproposed, we’d like a group to hit a number in the group to, you know, achieve and, and receive. And, and that’s, and it’s just a different way of thinking like old school guy like me, I’m, you know, I’m like, give me my points. Right? But you know, it’s just a different way of thinking, listening. 

And so how do you, how do you extract that, right? How do you get to that without always having to go and ask and say, design your own compensation structure. Cause that’s not, that’s not feasible in most scenarios. Right? 

Josh: Right.

Ryan: It’s a challenge too, because yes, millennials are huge part of the workforce, right? They’ll be the largest generation here coming up. But you also have Gen Xers, you also have baby boomers. You have to, if you’re a leader of an entire health healthcare organization, you have to fit all those different molds and try to find ways to incentivize. And it’s not a one size fits all. And I think that’s been our approach to workforce engagement, is all of my employees have this monolithic group that if I do one thing, turn one lever, it should create results across that 100%. It’s not the case anymore. 

Josh: Yeah. 

Ryan: And so what our studies have done is tried to dig in on that and say, how can you do this for this? Group that for that and not make them mad at each other in the process and not have, create some tribalism or conflict there. 

I do think in healthcare, one thing is that we do have that overarching mission of we’re helping people, we’re saving lives. In our consumer research, we’ll study electronics, we’ll study hospitality, we’ll study all kinds of retail formats. Sometimes you go into the Apple store and you don’t want to do your job that day and all you’re doing is fixing broken iPhones. Well, we’re fixing people. And so there’s a mission there that’s overarching that I think we should tap into more than we do. And I think that’s a huge piece of what’s happening inside our organizations with our own employees who are easy to go about and sort of go over them and say, we’ve got to worry about the patient or the consumer. A lot of that starts on the inside of the house with the people in front of you. 

Josh: Yeah, I love that. So we’re talking a lot about the team, the personnel, the engagement. But you know, one of the things too, I don’t want to chase a rabbit here too much Lucas, so reel me in if you need to. 

Lucas: I got my eyes on you. 

Brian: The enforcer. 

Josh: So like we talk a lot about changing the public perception and I’ve seen some of the studies and things that you guys have put out about, particularly around senior living division. And then there’s healthcare in senior living and it, and it seemed like just looking at this graph, that senior living, the public perception and the trustworthiness of like how we’re perceived at being trustworthy as an industry is so low and it’s like on this -I wish our audience, we’ve got to find a way to put that graphic up that they’ve produced- to where we’re so low ranking that some organizations even like government was higher ranked than us.

Ryan: Higher trust? 

Josh: Yeah, higher trust and, but they were very low ranked as well. But it looked like, so if, correct me if I’m wrong, but it looked like true healthcare was higher up. So where do you think that disconnect is for our senior living audience? 

Ryan: I know the graph you’re talking about and it was in a white paper years ago. And so part of the issue from the research side of things is it’s so hard to talk about senior living to the general public if they’ve not had a direct experience or had a loved one who has, sometimes we have to use the dreaded phrase nursing home. And when we do that, people conjure up images that are not positive and trust just falls. However, when we say general healthcare or a doctor or a nurse or a pharmacist, you generally see someone in a white coat. Maybe you’re thinking of George Clooney on TV, whatever it might be. And so trust is higher. But with that low trust in nursing homes or senior living, when we go and talk to actual residents through our tools, they’re much, much higher. Once people have had a direct experience, that public perception is just uninitiated and uneducated. And so that’s part of the challenge.

Josh: Okay. Education one-on-one right there. I chased my rabbit. I’m done. I’m done with it, Lucas. 

Lucas: Well, it’s a part of our mission that you’ve uncovered here is that our part, part of our mission is to educate and inform and influence. And a part of that is changing the narrative. And we’ve had many thought leaders on that are a part of this effort, this overall effort to help, um, inspire a new narrative and a new conversation about what senior living actually is. 

Josh: Well, and later in the week while we’re here, we’re actually having a meeting with a meeting of the minds, a little miniature mastermind that includes our partners here at NRC to actually figure out a strategy of how can we with this platform that we’ve created with our audience be a catalyst to help change that public perception because we’re firm believers that if people really knew the love stories, the awesome things that happen every day with the team engagement, with the resident engagement and the engagement between the two, that’s all that needs to be discovered, right?

Lucas: Incredible and, and the stories that are taking place. I’m walking through a senior living community just a couple of weeks ago. I’m walking down the hallway with the executive director and the director of maintenance and a wonderful woman comes by and just asks a very simple question. It was fun to engage with her on her way back to her room and her home. And when she walked away and left, the ED looked at me and said, she is 104 years old. She was one of the last people out of Normandy and she got out on a Rick Shah with her and her cohort there that was there to care for the wounded during that time place. And this is, that just your every day senior living community, somewhere in the middle of Texas. And those stories are behind almost every door in these buildings that are, that they live. 

Brian: Isn’t that probably the answer. And not to oversimplify things, but to publicize those stories, right? You have to have a tool to get the story and then you have to have a mechanism to publicize the story. And that’s, that’s, that’s education. That’s how you educate the masses, the public, care providers, whatever it might be. All of us that are all going to experience this one day. I mean, you know, hopefully. 

Josh: If we live that long. 

Brian: Yeah, I mean it’s Nashville. 

Josh: We’re not aging very well. 

Ryan: But we’re not dreading it cause we know we have the inside scoop and see we can walk the halls. You can walk the halls by part of your job. But what’s powerful in your podcast is this is a new pathway to people that aren’t just hearing it firsthand. And it’s powerful to get those stories out through a new runway of information. I mean that’s what I look at this as. That’s why I always tell people I wish the public could come to these events and see that these disparate parts of healthcare that are just driving them crazy and a source of frustration are together trying to get better, trying to share these stories out cause I think that’s the power and you guys are front and center. 

Brian: You might be onto something. Maybe the public could, should come to these events.

Ryan: Maybe they should.

Brian: Brian- pssh, Brian- Ryan is the new event planner for having the general public to the next. 

Ryan: Oh, no, no, no. 

Brain: You heard it first. 

Ryan: I may not be qualified. 

Lucas: Breaking news. 

Josh: Well, you literally took the words that was the genesis of us starting. We were sitting at a conference and saying, why in the world can there not be some mechanism to tap the public into the thought leadership, into the experience of what you and I, all of us get to experience? And that was our whole why. I mean it was, it could be boiled down to that simple- couple of guys that didn’t even know how to start a podcast and now here we are in a big thanks to our partners that make all of this possible and actually educate us. So I mean, it’s been awesome from my standpoint to be able to, not just at the symposium but to literally link arms and have these conversations all throughout the year to up our IQ to get your human intelligence of what you’re learning and to be able to just then share that in conversations. 

Lucas: So, so powerful. 

Josh: Yeah. Well guys, thanks for joining us. We know your hands are full here at the conference. Y’all got a lot of responsibilities, so thanks for taking time for us. Um, all the beard game. I wish, uh, those listeners that don’t get to see, uh, the two, uh, studly guys in the middle of me and Lucas right now. Um, some good looking dudes. Thanks for joining us. 

Lucas: Lots of beard power. And Brian, congratulations on your son. Got a full ride baseball scholarship to Texas A&M. Huge deal. Congratulations on everything.

Josh: Taught him everything he knows. 

Brian: Thank you very much a lot of catch in the front yard. A lot of catch and now. We can’t play catch anymore. He throws it too hard. 

Josh: Yeah, exactly. That’s scary. 

Lucas: Yeah, no that’s great. That’s great. 

Brian: Thank you. We’ll connect to you guys and connect to information about these events so that our listeners can know more about it.

Lucas: You guys are very engaging. You do well on social media and everything that you’re putting out there so you’re easy to connect to. And thanks to our listeners for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.



Thank you to our supporting partners NRC Health, OneDay, TIS, Morrison Living, Argentum, Solinity, and The Bridge Group Construction.  

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Episode 99: Brian Wynne & Ryan Donohue