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At the beginning of 2020, Merrill Gardens was excited and


hard at work on a new opportunity: Its new brand for a moderate- priced model. “And then COVID hit,” writes Merrill Gardens president Tana


Gall, in an email interview. “Like a lot of operators, at Merrill we went into all-hands-on-deck mode to support our communities as they were dealing with the virus.” At the beginning of 2021, much has changed, says Gall. The


provider has started applying design changes for better visits and infection safety, for instance. “On the operations side, we now have a playbook if we ever face


a challenge like this again,” Gall writes. “We have also developed new policies and procedures that will serve us well for handling the flu and any other infectious disease outbreaks in the future. “We have also found ways to use technology to keep residents


active and engaged – Google/iPads are tools we will continue to build upon in the future. “On the sales and marketing side, we have gotten smarter about


how we can work with seniors and families remotely. We have learned how to sell when in-person tours aren’t possible.” That’s a lot of change. What hasn’t changed? The enthusiasm about moving forward. “It may have slowed us down a bit, but we have continued


working on our moderate-priced model and we have made great progress toward that launch,” Gall says. “I am excited about our new brand and we will be rolling it out in early 2021. This is a great opportunity for us to offer a product that will serve seniors that don’t feel they can afford today’s senior living options.”


Rolling with the changes Leaders at all levels have had to summon their skills to make the best of the changes of 2020. And many of them, like Gall, are looking at how to make the most of the changes ahead for 2021 and years to come. What keeps them going, and how can positive change be easier? To get answers, it helps to look at what has actually changed in senior living. Sensight Surveys, LLC, which surveys residents and families and then analyzes and helps develop and implement action plans to improve senior living communities, has seen a few definite changes. First, clients put the brakes on any new surveys. When they came back over the next weeks and months, they wanted something different. “This whole year was transformed—it went from surveying


folks on the typical things you might want to find out about to very specifically asking about how the communities have effectively responded to COVID-19,” says Lynn Ackerman, co-founder and chief customer officer at Sensight Surveys. “One thing that happened this year is a number our clients


took the bold move to go online,” Ackerman says. Previous to this, not only residents but their families had preferred paper surveys. The pandemic made everyone more comfortable with technology,


very quickly. “We’re just a piece of a bigger puzzle, but the ways of communicating faster and improving communication with families has been a good change to come of this,” Ackerman says.


“Making change in a senior living community, I have learned


over the last 20 years, can be kind of challenging,” says Ackerman. “You really have to make sure you're working on the right thing and that you're communicating with the right people, whether that’s residents or employees.” “But one of the encouraging things we’ve seen with our data


is a huge boost and appreciation of all of the hard work staff members are doing to keep residents safe in the communities,” Ackerman says. “And this drives employee engagement just about more than


anything else—this desire to be appreciated and recognized. They’re being called heroes, and you see that all over the media. “In a typical year, we'd be talking to our clients about how to


put in a recognition program. Well, now it’s shouted from the mountaintops. Employees are doing a tremendous job and our data shows that.”


“This whole year was transformed... The ways of communicating faster and improving communication with families has been a good change to come of this,” says Lynn Ackerman, co-founder and chief customer officer at Sensight Surveys.


Moving the needle While safety and infection prevention measures have always been in place in senior living, this has stepped up, too. “The question on putting important measures in place to residents safe scored at about 95 percent.” “There’s a combination of employees feeling more recognized


and residents and family members feeling lots more appreciation,” Ackerman says. However, the changes aren’t all rainbows, as would be expected


in a year this tough, with such serious consequences. Ackerman says the majority of negative scores have been around concerns about isolation and not enough opportunity for social interaction. Painfully missing loved ones, in fact, was the keynote of 2020. “But comments are very often couched with a real appreciation for what staff members are trying to do to keep residents safe,” Ackerman says. “Frankly, these are issues we’ve worked on all along. We want


residents to be delighted, and we want staff members to feel recognized. And we're seeing both of those things during this pandemic. “Humans are social creatures—and this has brought us together and allowed us to show each other our true colors.”


JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2021 ARGENTUM.ORG 9


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