Assisted living communities can foster good reputations through personal interactions

Assisted living communities were thrust into the national spotlight at the end of July when PBS’ Frontline aired a documentary, “Life and Death in Assisted Living.” Outside of creating a crisis communication plan to react to questions or concerns that arise in such situations, observances such as National Assisted Living Week, which was held Sept. 8‒14 this year, provide a formal opportunity for communities to proactively form or strengthen connections with residents, prospective residents and their families as well as the greater community. And assisted living facilities, of course, can accomplish this goal many ways throughout the year, too.

“The best way for an assisted living residence to demonstrate value is to invite consumers and their families in so that they can experience life in their community,” says Lisa Newcomb, executive director of the 280-member Empire State Association of Assisted Living (ESAAL) of New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo proclaimed the entire month of September as Assisted Living Month. During such visits, Newcomb says, “people can see the level of social activity, join with residents to have a meal, observe staff’s interaction with residents as well as the various kinds of support and assistance that they provide.”

The personal encounter makes a lasting impression, Newcomb says, and is an important addition to a facility’s program of advertising and community events. “[People] know value when they see it, and when the experience is a good one, positive word-of-mouth happens,” she says.

ESAAL member James McPeak, second-generation owner of McPeak’s Assisted Living in Patchogue, N.Y., agrees. “It’s evident when people come here that they are going to be treated like…family,” says McPeak, whose 57-year-old facility has 51 beds, all for private-pay residents.

His smaller operation gives him additional motivation to strive for resident satisfaction, McPeak says. “This has my family name on it, so of course it’s special to me, but I want it to be a special experience for everyone we’re caring for,” he says.

Of course, communities are more likely to leave a good impression if they comply with state and national requirements and make quality care their priority, and in those regards, staff training is key, Newcomb says. “Training should be ongoing, relevant and supportive to the staff person’s job and their personal experience,” she adds.

Quality improvement programs also help communities ensure regulatory compliance and measure resident and staff satisfaction, Newcomb says. “It is a systematic (but does not need to be complicated) review of what is happening, how happy people are, and helps to identify issues before they become big problems,” she adds.

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