Nine months of shifting COVID-19 protocols have revealed many new best practices.
By Bob Burg, Moves for Seniors
(NOTE: This article is intended to summarize many of the lessons learned during Phase I of COVID-19, and that are driving the seniors housing industry through another surge as we enter 2021.)
The COVID-19 pandemic has demanded an evolution in the approach to protecting at an-risk audience. Because we work with multiple operating companies and communities nationally, Moves for Seniors has a great vantage point to see what’s being done and what’s working well. Operational changes have been partially self-driven based on research and CDC guidance, and partially driven by updated partner policies to keep their communities safe and operating.
Here are some snapshots of different ways the industry has adapted in 2020.
An Email a Day…
By the end of March, based on feedback from operators and seniors, we established the 24-Hour Safety Notice Program, which includes a daily email targeted to the chief safety officer and a chief business officer at each of our operator partners. The emails list all moves scheduled for the next day across the relevant portfolio.
The email confirms that the movers associated with each transfer have full personal protective equipment (PPE) and have agreed to the required screening criteria and safety practices. For communities with a safety hold, the chief business officer, chief operating officer or chief sales officer give the final go or no-go decision.
In addition to providing executive-level oversight, this addressed the early issue of seniors going through the process with movers of packing and loading only to be turned away at the community. That was a costly and unpleasant experience for everyone involved. Because the COVID situation can change so quickly in each market and each community, this communication protocol has been very effective in supporting portfolio-wide safety efforts.
Who You Gonna Call?
The CEO of one of our clients, which shut down completely to new leases for about six weeks, turned to us to be the exclusive mover across a portfolio of 100 properties for reopening. The executive team worked closely with our operational team to design a conservative and consistent approach to safety that was to be applied nationally for every move-in. We communicated this across our provider network and mandated compliance from all movers.
Centralized utilization of a single vendor by our client ensured that there were no questions regarding responsibility or communication of requirements. At a company-wide meeting, the chief sales officer also emphasized the value of the 24-Hour Safety Notice Program for residents and the company’s staff.
COVID with a Side of Tornado
When Mother Nature struck in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in April (yes, the height of Phase I of COVID) and devastated a seniors housing community, one of our clients reached out for immediate help.
Two neighboring communities became key locations for evacuees to seek haven and a new home. We partnered with the regional vice president and local community staff to ensure that our local provider network had access to appropriate PPE and jointly designed other agreed-upon safety protocols related to sanitation and got quickly to work.
All-told, we transitioned 21 residents over a week during this unfortunate devastation in the Chattanooga community. We were able to leverage and combine existing operational protocols for COVID and emergency recovery to respond quickly and safely, and the community knew exactly what steps to take for immediate action.
A Nurse at the Helm
Our early protocols were based on CDC guidance and the nearly universal requirements of partners to screen movers at the community front entrance. The chief operating officer for one of our clients is a nurse executive who had a different view.
She guided us to mandate temperature checks and confirmation of screening questions prior to entering seniors’ homes the day before the move. After all, the seniors have already gone through COVID testing to be approved for move-in by the community; when “outsiders” are engaging with them, they have the potential for exposure that could negate the green light.
In essence, our ability to adjust standard procedures let us act as an extension of the operator’s screening program outside the walls of the communities. For the 300-plus moves we performed for this 40-community portfolio during its May to June reopening, all of our moves included this process. Screening documents were submitted along with the daily 24-Hour Safety Notice Email.
It’s All in the Timing
During Pre-COVID times it was fairly universal that move times were permissible in the mornings and afternoons. Typically, mealtimes and evenings were off limits.
Interestingly, COVID turned this on its head across a number of communities. With our clients, the new preferences first surfaced in Western Florida, then in multiple cities in Texas, Philadelphia and Southern California.
Those communities required night moves only, with the time slot set from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. In some cases, physical plant access and travel paths caused the need to change times to even lower traffic periods. In others, the change was related to staff preference to help manage safe COVID practices.
Our service providers do not usually work evening hours after a full day of normal business hours. Seniors, too, do not prefer to move so late in the day. This required our team to work through stakeholder discomfort to smooth processes and ease stress. While the evening move times did not impact all of our clients, we adjusted as needed at the local level to accommodate specific needs.
COVID-19 has been and continues to be an extremely stressful time for the world in general, and especially for seniors and the companies that serve them.
The silver lining, however, is that seniors can now expect a whole new level of care and protection surrounding the services they receive. We and our operator clients have evolved policies and procedures and will continue to do so. With these new efforts, many communities have been able to continue bringing in new residents even in the most challenging of times.
Bob Burg is executive vice president of Moves for Seniors. The company offers occupancy enhancement through senior moving, downsizing and logistics services for seniors housing operators across the United States.