Breakthrough innovations never occur in a vacuum. These changes are rarely achieved by a single person, rarely occur by chance. Rather, innovation occurs through collaborative ideation. As COVID-19 continues to interrupt care at senior living facilities, the value of this practice of collaborative innovation has never been more apparent.
To share some of the unique ways senior living leaders are innovating to manage the unique challenges of COVID-19, Netsmart hosted a Senior Living CEO ExecConnect, a roundtable discussion guided by industry leaders. Topics of conversation ranged from personal protective equipment (PPE) limitations to staffing shortages. While the topics were varied, the theme was singular: in order to combat COVID-19, senior living executives needed to innovate.
As COVID-19 disrupted both care and care delivery, LeadingAge President and CEO Kathy Smith Sloan quickly realized staffing challenges would be a massive stressor for senior living organizations. As COVID-19 cases began to manifest, both residents and staff were infected, reducing workforce. In addition to these reductions, many staff struggled to find adequate childcare as schools closed, which also impacted availability. In addition to these staffing challenges, the nature of COVID-19 changed the way care was delivered, deemphasizing communal atmospheres and demanding isolation. Staff who were able to work were now tasked with more individualized care, leading to clinician exhaustion.
Despite these challenges, Sloan shared that LeadingAge members educated and innovated, creating childcare centers on premises and turning to non-traditional outlets to fill the staffing shortage. LeadingAge partnered with both the hospitality and restaurant industries to ensure that furloughed workers were aware that staff openings existed within LeadingAge’s member communities. LeadingAge developed an online portal specifically for these workers, matching skillsets with jobs via LeadingAge’s online career center. Sloan expressed her awe at the member organizations’ creativity, stating “I'm just amazed at the ingenuity and the creative problem solving our members are doing.”
As the demand for PPE overwhelmed the entire healthcare industry, Presbyterian Homes Chief Financial Officer Nadim Abi-Antoun looked beyond borders to ensure clinical staff had the necessary supplies. “We took a tremendous risk in finding a broker out of Hong Kong that was able to procure pretty much most of the PPE, including N95 masks from China.” This risk ultimately paid off, as 20,000 China-made masks arrived in Illinois.
Given the amount of on-hand inventory, Presbyterian Homes was able to ensure universal mask usage. This abundance of PPE allowed staff to focus on delivering care, rather than worrying about the availability of equipment. For Presbyterian Homes, this innovative measure greatly impacted the way the organization was able to manage care amid COVID-19.
“An ounce of preparation saves a pound of care”
In February, Lutheran Senior Services began exploring mitigation activities. While examining emergency preparedness plans, President Gary Anderson found pandemic policies compiled in 2009. While the policies needed updating, their existence instilled a sense of security, an assurance that structure existed. While these plans were out-of-date, with an innovative approach, Lutheran Senior Services were able to reconceptualize the plans for 2020, ensuring policies and procedures were applicable to the times.
In addition to this strategy, Anderson is working actively on another written document that he hopes will prove to be as beneficial as those pandemic plans from 2009. In order to document the pandemic response for future leaders, Anderson began tracking the activities of the organization’s daily task force in a journal. Anderson hopes that, in the future, the journal will be a repository of lessons learned. For the moment, however, Anderson uses the journal as a reflective tool, an implement that allows a daily assessment of decisions made, of courses of action enacted.
While these three senior living leaders all faced different challenges at their respective organizations, they looked toward collaborative innovation to solve for these issues. As COVID-19 continues to disrupt the activities of daily life, it is important for us all to recall the power of innovation, to remember the benefit of meeting unfamiliar challenges with equally novel solutions.
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