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AN EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR'S KEYS TO NAVIGATING A SUCCESSFUL COMMUNITY RENOVATION


fected the dining staff, “but then the house- keeping staff needed to know too, because there was a new cleaning schedule, and then there was a new security routine because we had contractors coming in and out of cer- tain doors. Pretty much everybody needed to know what was going on.” Barstein saw that the ongoing renovations could potentially take a toll on his people. “Take security for instance. In addition to their regular duties, we needed a security person directing traffic. With housekeeping, there were people walking through dusty areas and dragging dirt through carpeting. There was constant cleanup,” he said. Managing the renovation meant respond-


ing to these added pressures. “We have a pretty good culture to start with, but we still spend a lot of time and effort on recognition programs,” he said. “We did breakfasts and lunches, we’d buy them pizza. We would give spot bonuses: If someone did a big cleanup job that was outside of their normal operations, we’d give them $50.” Fischer was especially cognizant of keep- ing her team together. “I asked the staff at one point: ‘What kept


you here?’ And they said it was the residents.” That esprit de corps was something she


couldn’t afford to lose in the course of the renovation, and she worked hard to build pos- itive energy around the changes. A constant flow of memos and meetings reminded her staff not just of what was happening, but why. Sometimes this also meant smoothing


ruffled feathers. The staff was disgruntled when the construction crews closed off their outdoor access in order to pave over a dilap- idated pool and spa. Fischer reminded them of the long-term vision and the staff became more willing to wait it out. The whole effort paid off in the long run. By the time the work was completed, longtime staff “liter- ally were crying, saying they never thought they would work in a beautiful building like this,” she said. We’ve shown that communication with


residents, contractors, and staff is critical, but for the senior living executive director, no list of stakeholders would be complete without the families. If you’re going to park a crane in the driveway, knock down walls, reorganize living spaces, and make a lot of noise, family members have to be kept in the loop.


46 SENIOR LIVING EXECUTIVE / ISSUE 6 2017


SAFETY FIRST


At a senior living community, a renovation, expansion, or similar rehabilitation effort is first and foremost a safety issue.


“Keeping everything safe was our priority,” said Amber Foster, executive director at Commonwealth Senior Living at Front Royal. “We were building onto a secured memory care space and that means you had to be extra careful,” she said. “That means making sure construction tools aren’t left laying out in the open, that the crews keep everything in eyesight. It means that the doors stay secured even when they are working to extend the hallway.”


Rather than put up a temporary barrier at the work site, Foster instructed the contractor to build a temporary wall to divide the construction site from the residents. “Our residents are curious, they like to explore. That curiosity gets the better of them, and a curtain may not be enough of a barrier,” she said.


Safety concerns were so critical that Foster would assign staff to monitor the area at key times during the construction. “The director of maintenance has an assistant and that individual would be stationed in the area to make sure that everything was safe behind the wall, and that the residents were being separated,” she said. “On the memory care side, I would also staff an extra caregiver to ensure that the residents were active and entertained and to keep them away from that area.”


Family ties Barstein’s renovation required a bit of musi- cal-chair action. While he generally tried to keep families informed, he said the effort to communicate became especially important when it came time to move folks out of their residences. “We got out ahead of that by communi-


cating a really strong timeline,” he said. “We let them know very early on that was going to happen, and then we tried to be very real- istic about the time frame. We felt we really needed to call a time frame and stick to it.” Fischer did lose one family in the course


of the renovation, when inspectors deter- mined that a previously locked door needed to be left unlocked. That made the family uncomfortable. Fischer’s take-away: There are some things you just can’t control. But she did have control over the thing


that mattered most to her families. “The biggest concern around the renova-


tion was whether we would raise the rent,” she said. “But we haven’t, we grandfathered them in. The people who are here have great rates. They couldn’t get what they get here anywhere else for the price they are paying.” Generally these executive directors found


that in the course of a renovation, the degree of family involvement tracks proportional to acuity. In an independent living setting, most communication goes directly to the residents, but for residents needing higher levels of care, executive directors tend to reach out more actively to families, who are in turn more eager to be kept abreast. Overall, family cooperation “was huge,”


Fischer said. “We communicated with the families every week, we talked to them di- rectly and through email and through let- ters. If we had a short deadline we would call them directly.” The executive director must manage con-


tractors, family, and staff through the reno- vation process, but always with an eye on the bigger picture. At the end of the day, it all comes back to the residents. “I come from a hospitality background.


There, when you did a renovation you would close a floor or a wing and people were only impacted for the length of stay, which is just a couple of days. Here, for these people, this is their home, and now you have strangers in your home making noise and dust,” Barstein said. “You always have to think of the com- munity you are working in.”


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