Post-acute and long-term care is an increasingly competitive industry. Maintaining a consistently strong skilled resident census may take more than a positive reputation in the community or high marks on the healthcare ratings websites.
A savvy and well-connected administrator can develop key relationships that ensure that a facility isn’t left behind in the pursuit of residents. These five strategies can help you position yourself and your facility as a leader in post-acute and long-term care.
1. Get to know the physicians.
You see their names on the residents’ charts, and occasionally you see them darting in and out of the facility, but how well do you really know your residents’ attending physicians? And when was the last time you visited them in their offices or gave them birthday cards?
Getting to know the doctors is one of the easiest places to start strengthening relationships in the medical community. Gain their trust, and don’t be afraid to ask them how your facility is doing in caring for their patients. Partner with these physicians to improve clinical care and services, and strategize with them on how to increase your skilled nursing census.
One doctor positively described his experience with a nursing facility that understood this principle of customer service, saying, “Every time I visit, I feel like a celebrity. The staff greets me with warm smiles, everyone knows me by name and the administrator always manages to find time to check in with me to see how I’m doing. My charts are quickly arranged for me, my favorite drink—a diet Coke—always magically appears and detailed updates on my patients’ conditions are provided by the nurse supervisor. My visit there is one of the highlights of my week.”
2. Get out into the medical community.
Recent changes with readmission penalties and the development of accountable care organizations have more and more hospital CEOs and directors opening their doors to post-acute and long-term care (LTC) providers. Do the leaders in your market know who you are and how your facility can help them achieve their clinical goals?
As you take a humble approach with these leaders and seek to discover their needs and challenges related to working with skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), you position yourself as a strategic partner and a trusted resource in providing the solutions to their post-acute and LTC needs. Timing is critical in this arena of relationship-building; the local acute-care hospital may not yet be interested in post-acute partnerships or programs designed to reduce readmissions. Be persistent, however, and when the timing is right, your facility will be the first one they call.
Physician medical groups and managed care organizations are other great resources in admitting residents for skilled care. If you’re not in their network or don’t have a current contract, however, the odds are slim that you’ll be caring for their charges anytime soon.
3. Network, network, network.
If yours is like most nursing facilities, you’re visited regularly by healthcare representatives from home health agencies, hospice companies, assisted living facilities and vendors eager for your business.
Many administrators consider these visits distractions, interruptions of more important things they want to accomplish. Viewed in a different light, however, these reps can be a valuable resource in helping you network with key doctors, surgeons and case managers in the medical community.
Consider the following possibilities:
- A wound management product rep who has connections at the acute wound center tips you off that the surgical group is looking for a post-acute partner where it can discharge skilled nursing patients who have continued treatment needs. The rep invites you to the center’s next in-service and introduces you to the team.
- A pharmacy rep who happens to be cousins with your acute hospital’s hard-to-reach CEO tells you he’d be happy to arrange a luncheon and introduce you.
- A well-connected home health rep says she’d be pleased to have you join her the next time she visits the offices of her three busiest internists.
Smart administrators are constantly working to develop the relationships that will lead to their facilities being at the top of the list when it comes time for skilled nursing patients to choose care facilities.
4. Practice what you preach.
Effective community relations and creative marketing strategies will get you only so far if you can’t back them up with consistent, quality care for the residents you are serving. Nothing will destroy a budding professional relationship quicker than an upset resident or family member who tells a doctor or acute hospital about an unsatisfactory experience with your facility.
So stay close to your newly admitted residents and their family members. Visit them daily, and make sure they are satisfied with their care. If they are, then encourage them to share their experiences in writing in notes to the doctor or discharge planner. In cases in which a resident is less than satisfied, work closely with him or her to resolve concerns, and tell the physician of your involvement and commitment to quality patient care.
Also, make sure that everyone who works in your facility understands the importance of a strong resident census and their roles in ensuring resident satisfaction.