Each year, Assisted Living Executive, the flagship magazine of ALFA, recognizes companies who shake up commonly accepted best practices to get even better results with ground-breaking ideas to expand their business, improve service delivery, boost the bottom line, streamline operations, and more.
2009 Best of the Best
If the winning entries
for best practices in this year’s ALFA Best of the Best Awards program are any indication, a bad economy can be a good thing for innovation.
While not every winning entry was born out of financial necessity, one
of the takeaways from this year’s competition is that tight budgets
certainly need not stifle creativity. Some of the best ideas were
notably straightforward and affordable, not to mention duplicable.
“This year, there were a lot of submissions
focused on human relations, such as training initiatives or going the
extra mile to ensure employee support for the direction the company
wanted to take,” says Richard G rimes,
ALFA’s president and CEO. “But all of these entries speak well of the
great desire by so many great companies to be heralded by their own
people as an employer of choice.”
Progress happens to individuals, not
groups. While group exercise
classes respond to the needs of certain populations, some of the
winning best practices go a step further to focus on individualized
assistance—so that a fitness course mimics specific physical challenges
that residents face when out in public.
Takeaway Themes Tended to Recur Among this Year’s 20 Winning Entries:
Successful programs take the time to
listen to employees and ensure their buy-in.
In many winning entries,
companies clearly recognized that companies need to earn employees’
appreciation, as much as the other way around.
Putting seniors’ needs ahead of
marketing self-interest is the best reputation builder of all.
Witness the building of
positive reputations by such indirect means as educating seniors about
non-assisted-living issues on the local TV news show, or designating a
community-level “personal preferences coordinator” to help residents
meet individual goals.
Big benefits can come from small,
affordable changes. Many
en-tries found new ways to save money while expanding their
effectiveness through e-learning initiatives. Even something as
straightforward as a company cookbook can have positive and unplanned
potential. Here are this year’s ALFA 2009 Best of the Best Award
winners—20 in all.
Category: Resident Services
Winner: Benchmark Assisted Living
Arthritis Foundation Partnership
An estimated 70 percent of residents at Benchmark
Assisted Living communities suffer from joint pain. So when the
Massachusetts provider heard that two local Arthritis Foundation
chapters were seeking a partner in a modest proposal to expand the
reach of the Foundation’s nationally acclaimed exercise program, the
company signed on—and then some.
“It started out as a small grant, and then we
realized we had the opportunity through Benchmark University to train
almost every community,” says Andrea
Catizone, vice president of customer experience.
Ultimately, the foundation certified nearly 100
associates in 42 Benchmark communities to teach the six-week course to
Benchmark residents as well as individuals from the community at large.
More than 700 enrollees attended the first session held at the
communities, including 152 nonresidents.
The partnership marked a series of firsts both for
the Arthritis Foundation and for Benchmark. It was the first time the
program was made available on such a wide scale, and at no cost to
participants; the first time the program reached all six New England
states, even areas without a chapter presence; and the first time the
program had been modified—thanks to Benchmark’s expertise— for seniors
In another first, Benchmark dialed up the whole
effort with a little corporate shine, drawing more attention and
attendees with a launch party in each community. “We didn’t just do an
exercise class,” says Catizone. “People from the Arthritis Foundation
came and spoke about it.”
The year-old partnership has garnered several
awards, including the foundation’s top national public health award.
“Benchmark has been a superb partner to work with,” says Susan Nesci,
chief public health and policy officer for the foundation’s Northern
and Southern New England Chapter, one of the chapters involved. “They
Winner: BPM Senior Living
Personal Preferences Program
When every provider offers the same basic services
and the same promise of independence, choice, and dignity, what sets
one community apart from another? BPM Senior Living believes the answer
cannot be found in a marketing brochure, but in tapping each resident’s
BPM has established a full-time Personal
Preference Coordinator (PPC) at each community to root out residents’
preferred routines, hobbies, special dates, meaningful activities, food
choices, and preferences regarding their care. From the day they enter
the community, residents have a designated advocate for their
“druthers.” The PPC is required to gather each resident’s highest
priorities and make them happen, from bathing at an odd hour to
pursuing a favorite hobby.
While many companies use “resident interest” forms
to get to know a new resident and meet their basic preferences, BPM
requires the PPCs to go well beyond that. For example, if making
pottery is a resident’s thing, then BPM will either add it to the
calendar or recommend another outlet, such as a city-sponsored class.
“If it’s at all possible, it needs to happen,” says Kris
Brock, director of health services administration.
PPCs also are held accountable each month for
coordinating a special surprise or “wow moment” for a resident. “What
is a wow moment? It’s not the fact that we had a St. Patrick’s Day
party this month. That’s not a wow moment,” explains Brock.
In one wow moment, a PPC arranged for a miniature
horse to visit the bedside of a hospice resident with dementia who had
been passionate about horses all her life. The resident spent one of
her last days stroking the horse’s nose.
The press was not alerted. “We don’t use these wow
moments for marketing,” says Brock. But such gestures clearly touch
residents, families, and staff, and have enhanced their word-of-mouth
reputation, Brock adds. “Every resident deserves wow moments.”
Winner: Brookdale Senior Living
Clare Bridge Dining Program
Dining with dignity poses a special challenge for
residents with dementia. A typical meal involves many intricate tasks,
including staying focused and engaged.
“It’s a great challenge,” says
Juliet Holt Klinger, director of dementia
care and programs for Brookdale Senior Living. “When it’s not done
correctly, it can contribute to a lot of chaos. The whole day can not
Brookdale recently took a second look at how it
serves meals to residents in its Clare Bridge homes, to better hone the
experience around the needs of its residents, all of whom have
In-house experts on dining services, clinical
issues, and memory care—what Klinger calls the “three-legged stool of
dining”—collaborated to create an innovative assessment, intervention,
and culinary program centered on dementia.
The first change was a shift in mindset. “One challenge
was to get our management team really focused on dining as not just
hospitality,” says Klinger.
Among new goals is a concerted effort to prolong
the use of utensils rather than resorting to finger food. “I really
feel the dignity loss of eating with hands is huge with people,”
Klinger says. Supporting this goal involves using prompting techniques,
personalized assistance, and a dementia-friendly menu drawn from 5,000
pre-tested, fork-friendly recipes.
The dining environment, too, was enhanced for
greater dignity. The wider use of table linens and centerpieces aid
understanding. Residents in wheelchairs are transferred to dining
chairs. Diners receive warm scented washcloths for their hands before
and after all meals. The dining staff was trained to use prompting
techniques, to observe changes, to know when to assist, and to focus on
residents as their primary responsibility. One outcome has been earlier
intervention for residents who need help. If weight loss exceeds three
pounds, it kicks off a series of specific interventions supported by
Winner: Benchmark Assisted Living
Wellesley, MA Sensory
Dining and Bistro Dining programs
For many Benchmark Assisted Living residents,
dining is a big highlight of their day. So why not take that interest
and enjoyment to the next level?
That’s what Chef Guy
Hemond, vice president of dining services, pondered, and
that’s what he did. Hemond made two changes to shake up the dining
program. “It was a matter of giving them something a little exciting on
a daily basis. I come out of a hotel background, and I think residents
deserve it,” he says.
First, he introduced the concept of “Sensory
Dining”—i.e., presenting food with a little more spectacle in order to
stimulate appetites and enhance the dining experience. A chef wearing
her toque might fire up some bananas foster right in the dining room,
or the mouth-watering aroma of sizzling apple wood smoked bacon would
be allowed to waft down the hallways.
Second, Hemond developed “Bistro Dining” to
provide residents with a monthly alternative dining venue, breaking
from everyday routine. The community’s common areas, such as libraries,
are transformed into, say, a mid-winter “Caribbean Cruise,” or a
“Shanghai Noon” Chinese Restaurant.
Both programs have been well accepted. Overall
satisfaction scores for food and dining have increased significantly,
while residents have been known to reschedule medical and beauty parlor
appointments so as not to miss out on special events. Nudging chefs out
from the kitchen also has changed their relationship with residents in
Hemond’s changes initially were met with a little
resistance from dining directors and residents. Soon, however, a
friendly rivalry arose between communities for the most elaborate
with dining directors snapping pictures of smiling chefs and residents
in an effort to one-up each other. “There’s an unspoken competition,”
Hemond admits, “but it’s all for the benefit of the residents.”
Winner: Country Meadows Retirement
Fitness Walking Trail
What do frail seniors have in common with
triathletes? A range of daunting physical challenges to overcome.
According to Kim
Eichinger, Country Meadows’ executive director of
fitness, the analogy is apt, when considering that frail seniors can
benefit from approaching their own physical challenges a bit more like
triathletes. “To improve performance in a particular activity or skill,
you must train by practicing that activity or skill,” she says.
That’s the basic concept behind Country Meadows
Fitness Walking Trail, a portable, flexible indoor fitness course
designed to link functional activities to specific exercises that
simulate the skills needed to accomplish them. As opposed to a general
fitness class, seniors identify specific daily activities that pose a
challenge to them—such as getting in and out of a car—and are able to
address those challenges in a fitness routine.
For seniors accustomed to the handicap-accessible
conveniences and helpful hands available in a senior care setting, the
fitness trail challenges them to maintain their physical independence
in areas where they are lacking. For example, weaving in and out of a
series of cones can help residents maintain their ability to navigate
obstacles in crowded public areas.
Residents appreciate this individualized approach
to exercise, and its practical, real-world applications. Even residents
who normally do not participate in exercise classes have taken to the
fitness trail. “They saw this as a challenge they could relate to,”
The trail is a helpful screening tool that can
lead to surprises. “Residents are experiencing an awareness of where
their deficits are, and it’s driving them to work more to strengthen in
those areas,” Eichinger says. When an Alzheimer’s resident suddenly
dribbles a ball down the length of the room, she adds, the staff, too,
certainly gets a better understanding of that person’s capabilities.
Winner: Brookdale Senior Living
Research shows that people who feel a sense of
purpose, who feel motivated when they get up in the morning, tend to
live longer and enjoy a better quality of life. That’s one reason
activity programming is so important in senior care communities.
Yet bingo games, birthday parties, and other
typical fare can only go so far.
That’s why Brookdale Senior Living created
“Celebrations,” a comprehensive initiative involving a 12-month
calendar of more than 200 ideas to help communities plan activities.
What makes Celebrations unusual is the range and depth of the ideas;
the attention paid to enhancing whole-person wellness (what Brookdale
calls Optimum Life); and the faithful observance of an overall theme.
The annual theme, created by a task force of
associates from across the country, is meant to inspire residents’
curiosity, spirit, and sense of fun.
“Celebrations just brings a completely different
twist” to programming, says Charles
Richardson, director of lifestyles and life enrichment.
“It adds that layer of purposefulness.”
Last year, the theme was “Music of Our Lives.” The
Celebrations calendar recommended, for example, adding “moonshine” to
the menu during Bluegrass Month, a “Dancing With the Stars” movement
activity during Broadway Month, and holding garden activities around
“sowing seeds of life” during the month dedicated to inspirational
music. All year, the communities also offered a drum circle and a
learning experience called “Musicians of Yesterday and Today.”
Celebrations has become the foundation of
programming for Brookdale. “It has been ingrained in the actual fabric
of the communities,” says Richardson. It also can be fun and
motivational for associates. The last time Brookdale unveiled a new
annual theme, the number of associates who called in quickly
overwhelmed the conference line and required opening a second one. Says
Richardson, “If we don’t have our list of suggestions ready, we’ll get
100 e-mails saying, ‘We need this!’”
Winner: The Greens at Cannondale
The Greens at Cannondale has found a creative way
to keep assisted living residents connected to the world outside their
door—by sharing a love of the arts with local teens.
For three years now, The Greens has partnered with
Wilton High School PTA for a competition to design the community’s
annual holiday greeting card. The contest is open to high school
students who wish to pursue a future in art. The residents are the
judges, and the winner receives a $1,000 scholarship. The residents
“love the idea of the scholarship program,” says Eleanora
Tornatore-Mikesh, executive director. The contest also
gives them a sense of ownership, she explains, because “the greeting
cards coming from our home are coming from them.”
In a separate endeavor, The Greens partnered with
the Trackside Teen Center last June to offer the first annual
intergenerational talent show, “Young and Not-So-Young.” Auditions were
held, and participants chosen based on talent—“talent that hadn’t been
tapped into for years,” says Tornatore-Mikesh. Rehearsals took weeks.
Nerves and excitement hit old and young, alike. A local Girl Scout
troop built a handicap access ramp for the stage.
On the day of the event, the stage was set
cabaret-style, and 14- to 16-year-olds took turns in the spotlight with
seniors aged 65 to 101. The audience was treated to singing and
dancing, instrumental solos, a 14-year-old pianist and a 101-year-old
pianist, and life reminiscences.
The whole experience was intense, Tornatore-Mikesh
says, but also well worth it. “We had a huge audience. It was
empowering. The kids were very impressed by what old people could still
do. The residents, themselves, encouraged the kids that they have
Winner: The Orchards at Bartley
Monthly Town Meetings
The day-to-day challenges that The Orchards at
Bartley Assisted Living faces in ensuring its customers are truly
satisfied are not so different from any other senior care provider. But
what the New Jersey community did about residents’ concerns offers a
reminder that sometimes, little ideas can go a long way to prevent
When reviewing its 2007 customer satisfaction
scores, The Orchards realized it needed to improve its performance in
the category of “responsiveness of management.” Yet the reasons for the
low score were unclear. Knowing that customer satisfaction surveys only
provide a general statement about performance, the company thought it
had better go back to residents for clarification before trying to fix
anything. So the company started holding monthly town meetings led by
company CEO Philip Scalo.
The right medicine, of course, was in the
“We always have an open door policy but we really
thought that this would provide a nice, structured, formal way for
residents to communicate what’s on their minds,” says
Sandra Uphold, executive director. As the
town meetings soon revealed, some of residents’ earliest concerns had
less to do with management than with residents’ concerns about each
other. For example, some residents were letting laundry languish in the
Residents clearly have a greater sense of
ownership and satisfaction now that their concerns can be
aired—directly to the CEO, no less—and resolved together. “When they
see a prospective new resident and/or their family touring, they are
eager to tell them how much they love living at The Orchards,” says
Not only did “responsiveness of management” scores
increase dramatically from 77 percent (“excellent/good”) in 2007 to 100
percent last year, but the survey response rate also shot up, from just
31 percent in 2007 to an enviable
Category: Human Resources
Winner: Brightview Senior Living
Human Resources Risk Management
Human resources laws are the backdrop for
literally thousands of interactions that managers have each day with
their subordinates. Mastery of these laws ensures a well treated work
force and lowers the risk of employee-initiated litigation. Yet, too
often, companies assume managers have a better understanding of these
laws than they really do.
“Most companies make an assumption that managers
have this baseline of information, but most people have not been
taught,” says Andrea Griesmar,
Brightview’s director of human resources. “It’s one thing for us in the
HR department to know these things, but we’re not the ones interacting
with associates every day.”
In an effort to “shine as an employer of choice,”
Griesmar explains, Brightview recently introduced an intensive training
program called Human Resources Risk Management. The program was created
specifically for Brightview by an attorney who also is a former HR
executive in health care. Topics range from the role of managers as
agents of the company, to workplace
discrimination, to managing disability issues,
to understanding requests for special accommodation protected by law,
Now the company’s nearly 300 managers, from
frontline supervisors to executives, have been trained on the ins and
outs of HR law. “We were not trying to turn them into attorneys or HR
experts—that’s why you have an HR department—but to recognize when they
need to get help,” Griesmar says.
For their part, managers have expressed gratitude
and even relief for the information. “They were saying things like,
‘Wow, I’ve been a manager in five companies in 20 years and no one ever
taught me this,’” Griesmar adds. Since the training became an ongoing
part of the company’s leadership curriculum, the phones in the HR
department have been “ringing off the hook. Before this, people didn’t
know what they didn’t know. Now we have far more proactive inquiries.”
Winner: Brookdale Senior Living
“The Dollars & Sense Talk
Last year, as the economy turned more and more
sour, dining services executives at Brookdale Senior Living started to
cut back on nonessential travel. Instead, they searched for a less
costly way to stay engaged at the local level at a time when
communities needed their support for using resources wisely.
“We were looking for a way to have a regular
presence in our communities, face-to-face time with line associates,
culinary staff, and executive directors, and at the same time provide
some valuable training and advice,” explains Joska
Hajdu, senior vice president of dining services.
The dining department’s unique solution was to buy
a couple of high-resolution cameras and produce “The Dollars &
Sense Talk Show,” an interactive half-hour talk show broadcast live via
streaming video each Wednesday afternoon. Each show is divided into six
segments, from “Word on the Street” (a lively introductory dialog
between panelists about topics such as how the economy is affecting
food prices) to Kneading Dough (a chef talks about combining food
quality and smart buys) to Hot Dish (a live Q&A with viewers).
Associates in the nearly 600 communities can watch the show over the
Internet, dial a party line to simply listen, or download the show via
podcast. They can call or e-mail with questions.
The show has drawn a loyal audience. About 60-100
callers dial in each week, and another 30-40 callers listen to the recorded
version. Hajdu credits the relaxed format and fun panelists—all from
Brookdale—for encouraging people to call in. The show tends to draw
questions that are foremost on associates’ minds but which likely would
not have been asked during a traditional meeting. “This gives them a
whole other avenue,” Hajdu says.
Winner: Hoffman SummerWood
West Hartford, CT
Waitstaff “Star” Incentive Program
Chronic absences. Tardiness. Internal work
assignments being changed without approval. Non-adherence to the
uniform policy. Not understanding the value of their work. The main
problem with the waitstaff at Hoffman SummerWood assisted living
community was that sometimes they acted like a bunch of teenagers.
Which, frankly, most of them were.
“This department is historically staffed with high
school aged or young college students coming to us with little training
in the workforce,” explains Joan Carney,
executive director. “Our customary response to unsatisfactory work
performances (disciplinary actions) just didn’t seem to work.”
Finally, supervisors met with the waitstaff to
brainstorm ways to turn their individual attitudes and collective
performance around, and a new incentive program was born. “You can
sometimes get caught up in pointing out what hasn’t been done,” says
Carney. “We really wanted them to develop their teamwork and understand
how call-outs affect everyone.”
Through the “Star” incentive program, waitstaff
earn recognition for performing well. Each time they achieve a higher
level of performance, they receive a star on their name badge and a
framed announcement of the promotion is publicly displayed. Honors
range from one burgundy star (for new hires) to five gold stars (for
top performers who have been with the company longest).
The community also redesigned training and
competency requirements. The staff is more closely supervised, and new
hires now shadow an adult supervisor, rather than other waitstaff, when
learning the job. With the earning of each new star comes a small but
valued wage increase.
The “Star” program has led to a significant
reduction in superfluous call-outs, more efficient customer service,
enthusiastic feedback from residents, good work ethics being emulated
by new hires, and no voluntary terminations of employment. Compared to
the previous eight months, the number of disciplinary actions was
reduced by 90 percent.
Winner: Signature Senior Living
Ambassador Partner Program
Azalea Trails Assisted Living and Memory Care
Community opened in Tyler, Texas, a couple years ago with a talented
management team and a growing clientele. The only problem was that it
tended to lose too many caregivers within the first three months of
employment. Despite best efforts to hire and train the right people,
“it wasn’t clicking,” says Sharee
Cummings, vice president of employee partner relations
for Signature Senior Living.
In response, the community’s leadership team
gathered some of the community’s most dedicated caregivers—or “employee
partners”—to help brainstorm solutions. The employee partners’
guidance, in essence, was to let them do the hiring.
The advice made perfect sense. “They know many of
the people coming in. They know their own jobs,” says Cummings. After
being saddled with extra work because of high employee turnover, she
added, stable employees were eager to help. “They were frustrated,
Out of that initial exchange, a new Ambassador
Partner Program was born and quickly spread to other Signature
properties. Senior employee partners were selected to undergo special
training to help interview, screen, and recommend their future
coworkers. Ambassadors also let job candidates shadow them for a day
(pre-hire), and conduct orientation, training, and mentoring of new
The ambassadors’ professionalism and dedication
has been impressive. Cummings credits the new program with cutting
staff turnover at Azalea Trails to 6 percent. Employee and customer
satisfaction survey scores have improved. For Cummings, the most
satisfying result has been its effect on employees in general, many of
whom have applied to become senior care partners and/ or ambassadors.
Winner: Sunrise Senior Living
Gestures of Appreciation
It’s hard to say without sounding corny, but it
also happens to be true: Frontline employees are the heart and soul of
the senior care business. “Nobody amazes me more,” says
Daniel Schwartz, senior vice president of
North America Operations for Sunrise Senior Living. “They are the ones
embodying the mission. They are doing the hard work.”
Sunrise understands, and its annual team member
engagement surveys certainly confirm, that employees need to know they
are genuinely appreciated. While team members know where they stand
with their immediate colleagues and managers, the Sunrise universe is
much larger than that.
“As we’ve gotten bigger, there’s a risk of people
getting disconnected to something other than their own community,”
Schwartz explains. “It would be nice for them to know that the company—
not just their ED—knows and appreciates what they do every day.”
So on four occasions throughout 2008, Sunrise’s
corporate team took the opportunity to thank each of the 32,000 members
on its North American team with a personalized letter of gratitude from
Schwartz, mailed to their home along with a modest gift. The final
expression of what Sunrise calls “Gestures of Appreciation” arrived in
time for Thanksgiving, along with a $20 bonus intended to help team
members buy a turkey or other treat. “As I know many of you give up
time with your families during the holidays to serve our residents, I
sincerely hope this small gesture of our appreciation will help make
your time with your loved ones a little easier, and a little more
special,” said the letter.
Many team members sent thank-you notes of their
own in return. In the case of Thanksgiving, some described how the
small bonus had made a real difference for their family for that
Category: Sales & Marketing
Winner: Emeritus Senior Living
Tinkering with a company’s brand identity can be
tricky. There’s always the prospect of losing sight of what people most
appreciate about you, of experiencing push-back from the field, or of
changes being misunderstood as a marketing gimmick.
Yet establishing a consistent brand is critical,
especially for a large company such as Emeritus Senior Living that has
gone through a recent major acquisition. “We had people who were part
of the same town that didn’t even realize they were part of the same
company,” explains Jayne Sallerson, senior
vice president of marketing.
For its own brand campaign, Emeritus understood
that branding requires a partnership between HR and marketing, because
a company’s culture and employee buy-in are key to its external
reputation. So rather than handing the job to a branding consultant,
Emeritus turned to its employees. The company essentially asked them
what they wanted customers to think of Emeritus. Among the responses,
two words consistently came up:
family and commitment. “That’s how the whole brand promise kind of
evolved,” says Sallerson. “Our promise is that ‘our family is committed
Emeritus developed seven “family values” to help
all employees live by the promise. It took steps to incorporate the
brand in all employee and customer touch points, such as marketing,
training, employee recognition programs, consistent use of the Emeritus
name by communities, etc.
Scardigno, a senior executive
director who came to Emeritus through the merger, praises the company
for improving benefits, actively and repeatedly soliciting ideas for
improvement, and having the CEO recognize individual employees who draw
compliments on the company’s comment line. “It shows me how
committed they are to the employees,”
“I think it’s neat they started with the
employees,” adds Scardigno. “Once they received feedback, they really
gave us all the tools to help us embrace, ‘Our family is committed to
Winner: Five Star Senior Living
Five Star Senior Living
Five Star Senior Living has transformed itself
into a “cookie cutter” operation—with deliciously satisfying results.
What started two years ago as a bright idea for
every Five Star community to develop its own signature bakery item to
use for gifts and marketing giveaways has evolved into a 67-page
cookbook featuring more than 140 carefully tested recipes from most of
the company’s 200 communities nationwide, as well as descriptions of
each participating property. For a company whose many acquisitions have
led to a very diverse portfolio, the cookbook serves to showcase the
unique “flavor” of each individual community, while also promoting the
Five Star brand.
The cookbook took two years to develop and was
released last December, in time for use as a holiday gift and marketing
aid. Since then, each community has found its own way to run with it. A
Colorado community sold books as a fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s
Association, which drew press attention. A Texas community paired the
cookbook with cookie-baking supplies in holiday gift baskets for
important referral sources. A Nebraska community sent the book as a
valentine to each hospital discharge planner, along with a heart-shaped
tin of chocolate truffles they’d made from one of the recipes.
The cookbook has proved a hit. Communities report
winning attention from customers and referral sources, one palate at a
time. One sales director in Texas reported delivering a cookbook along
with a dozen of “Rosie’s Chocolate Decadence” cookies to one of her hot
leads, and walking away with a waiting list check in her pocket.
“We’ve even had chef signings marketed to lead
sources,” says Mary Ellen Greenfield, the
food and dining director who championed the project. “The cookbook
itself is very easy to use, the recipes are clear. I have to say
there’s still more to come with this cookbook.”
Winner: Maristone Senior Living
“On Modern Age”
Maristone Senior Living’s first community won’t
open until this fall, but the young company has gotten a solid head
start in establishing its brand as a caring provider in middle
Tennessee, thanks to a conscious effort to share the spotlight.
For the past year, Maristone CEO
Karen Shayne has educated seniors still
living at home about issues of concern to them through a monthly column
in a senior newspaper and a weekly TV spot aired on WSMV-Channel 4
(NBC). Both the column and the news spot are
called “On Modern Age,” and cover topics such as home health care,
power-of-attorney documents, the importance of keeping a “medical
information sheet” for emergencies, and so on. When the Alzheimer’s
Association held its annual legislative day at the state capitol,
Shayne also interviewed a state senator on camera in support of Silver
Neither opportunity is a paid advertorial. Shayne
performs a needed service, while also taking the opportunity to refer
seniors to the Maristone Web site for links and more information on the
topics she has covered. “We’re really, really about community
involvement,” she says.
Shayne landed the opportunity at Channel 4 by
turning down an invitation to advertise. She instead proposed producing
a short segment on senior-related issues, and the station took her up
on the idea. It helped that Shayne had prior experience in
entertainment and is comfortable in front of a camera, and that the
station was seeking ways to build an audience among seniors. Soon the
one-time gig turned into a longer partnership, and recently moved to
the 6 o’clock news.
Once the time slot changed to 6 o’clock,
Maristone’s phone started ringing “like crazy,” says Shayne, and so the
company’s back-door marketing has started to pay off. “People feel like
you genuinely care, and they call you,” says Shayne. “We haven’t even
opened but we got our first two reservations from ‘On Modern Age.’”
Category: Operations & Technology
Winner: Castle Country Assisted
Castle Rock, CO
Strategic Planning Process
Once upon a time, Castle Country Assisted Living
was struggling in the Colorado market that it served. Two years later,
the small nonprofit operator went from a zero cash reserve to having
$500,000 in the bank. Census rose from 76 percent in 2006 to 100
percent last summer, with a waiting list for all three communities.
Most importantly, its leaders, employees, and residents now share a
clear vision of what Castle is all about, and of where it is
headed—thanks to a map measuring four by eight feet, and the creative
strategic planning process that brought it about.
Unlike some strategy sessions, in which hours of
facilitated brainstorming can lead to a document written after the fact
and stored in a file, Castle relied on an outside-the-box facilitator
to draw out the board of directors’ vision for the company and inscribe
it on the wall. The board’s vision literally took shape before members’
eyes in a way that has kept the elements of their business plan clear,
focused, and sorted into their proper places. Elements range from
practical to-do lists for improving operations and visibility, to
inspirational drawings and motivational phrases that get at the more
intangible goals of defining culture.
“This was not your everyday boring strategic
planning,” says Barbara Dice, executive
director. “You aren’t looking at a Power- Point presentation. You
aren’t writing notes. You can be totally engaged. You’re watching your
ideas come alive.”
Once the board members’ ideas were thus posted,
the mural was laminated to serve double-duty as a historical reference
and as an inspiration for ongoing planning, work development, and
accountability. “Eighty percent of the world’s population are visual
learners, which is what makes this visual process so effective,” Dice
adds. To keep it relevant, the facilitators returned each quarter to
visually document the company’s progress for all to see.
Winner: Country Meadows Retirement
Distance learning/computer training
These days, there are computer programs to
address every major business need, from number crunching to marketing
to tracking resident care. So many jobs are made easier by specialized
software. Except if your job is to teach everyone else how to use the
The technology trainers at Country Meadows
Retirement Communities used to have to drive from one community to the
next in order to train staff. Alternatively, associates would have to
travel to a central location for a group class. Either way involved
considerable hotel and mileage expenses, not to mention having to pull
associates away from their core responsibilities.
Thanks to Deborah
Walmer, director of technology training, and
Steve Roberts, director of information
services, that is no longer the case. Walmer and Roberts helped Country
Meadows implement an e-learning platform, WebEx. Now trainers can lead
a virtual class with students at multiple locations from their office
laptop. Each trainee can interact with the trainer as she walks them
through the steps of using an application. The application appears
simultaneously on all participants’ screens.
Walmer has developed a series of 30- to 40-minute
classes that is available to co-workers right where they work, at a
time that suits their schedule. All classes are saved and archived for
future reference at any time.
This is a good idea for senior living companies,
which typically experience frequent employee turnover. “One of the
least glamorous and most necessary things is repetitively training
people,” says Ted Janeczek, CFO. “This is
so flexible, people can engage themselves in it when they’re free.”
Dave Kraft, director of technology integration,
said the software cost only a few thousand dollars and has paid for
itself already. “It’s a perfect education solution for tight budgetary
times like now. It’s an instant investment in saving money,” he says.
Winner: Pathway Senior Living
Des Plaines, IL
Initially, Pathway Senior Living’s training
programs were home grown. “We had a lot of good material, but found
that it became dated as soon as we printed the binders,” says
Maria Oliva, chief people officer.
There were other challenges, too, familiar to many
providers: bulky binders and human errors that made tracking compliance
onerous; the expense of having night shift employees attend daytime
sessions; inconsistencies from one trainer to the next; and difficulty
coordinating schedules for all involved.
After much research, the Midwestern provider of 10
affordable assisted living communities turned to an outside e-learning
provider whose turnkey comprehensive system featured userfriendly
technology, 24/7 flexibility, and senior care-specific content. But
what makes Pathway an example for other mid-size providers without the
corporate infrastructure to create such a comprehensive program is how
the company made the product its own.
Pathway University set up the program by
customizing the online training platform to its needs and philosophy,
and adding the best of its own training programs. Now executive
directors can track compliance with a touch of a button during state
inspections, and add community-specific content to Pathway University
as needs arise. Compliance across all communities has now reached
nearly 100 percent.
“To go from simply using our system to developing
and implementing their own comprehensive training program and
philosophy is outstanding and shows that they ‘get it’,” says
Sara Mawyer, service delivery manager for
Silverchair Learning Systems. “Training is
not just about maintaining regulatory compliance, although that is
important; training builds morale, improves
service, and shows that an organization is dedicated to its employees
For their part, staff members especially
appreciate the program’s flexibility, including the ability to get
caught up on their training from the comfort of their homes.
Winner: Sunrise Senior Living
Sunrise University: Integrated
For years, Sunrise Senior Living’s signature
training program not only steeped countless new hires in the specifics
of their job, but also grounded them in the company’s resident-centered
philosophy and mission.
Yet the time had come to rethink the content and
how it was being presented. “The content, while fresh and cutting edge
at first, had gotten tired,” says Daniel
Schwartz, senior vice president of North America
Operations. For example, training materials were heavily reliant on a
written format, with too much information presented up front and all at
once for easy absorption.
Sunrise has since taken advantage of current
technology to overhaul training. The main goal was to combine different
types of media to appeal to all different types of learners, and to
make it available in a timely way so that new hires would be able to
get into the substance of their jobs as soon as possible. Or as
Schwartz explains: “How do we make sure they know what they’re doing
before they even touch a resident, and then how do we verify that
they’ve learned it?”
Sunrise University’s Integrated Learning System
offers the convenience and ease of e-learning. But technology is viewed
as a component of an overall holistic approach to ongoing professional
development. Sunrise linked its training system to the payroll system,
to enable automatic prompts for training and professional development
throughout every team member’s career, as well as easy tracking of how
well they did. Certain components of care-giving and Sunrise’s mission
are still viewed as better handled in person.
Orientation training compliance has risen from 25
percent to 90 percent since the inception of the program. The system
also seems to have contributed to a 40 percent decrease in direct care
staff turnover, and initial orientation and training hours have been
reduced by about 50 percent.
Whitney Redding is a contributing writer to
Executive. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact information for members in this article.
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