COVID-19 Lessons Learned In Senior Living

Trilogy Health Services, owner and operator of 100+ senior living communities, shares lessons learned from its pandemic experience.

By Parker Lacy
From the June 2021 Issue

COVID-19 and its impacts on the long-term care industry will be well studied—the virus singlehandedly shifted environmental services and facilities management to the forefront of any strategy discussion. As an owner/operator of over 110 senior living communities across Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan, Trilogy Health Services, like every other provider in our industry, had to shift and adjust to everything COVID threw at us. As the weeks and months passed and our strategy evolved, we found ourselves coming back to the same lessons learned.

  • Culture is fostered and created before a crisis, not during. During a crisis, it’s your North Star.
  • Flexibility in everything is critical. But that flexibility must be balanced with discipline, especially when a wrong decision can cost lives.
  • Always foster an environment of learning, even during a pandemic.
  • Ensure that communication is tailored to your method and your audience.

At Trilogy, our culture is our secret sauce. It’s simple, but like so many things, it’s the execution that’s hard. Our tagline, “We care for you as you care for others,” has perhaps never held more meaning than it has over the past year.

Senior Living
A Trilogy Senior Living Community, the Springs at Stony Brook in Louisville, KY, offers independent living, skilled nursing, short-term care, and memory care services. (Photo: Katie Maynard; courtesy of Trilogy Health Services)

Before COVID, our focus on our employee experience allowed our campuses to provide amazing service to our residents. During COVID, that expectation never wavered. Our culture of service was our North Star, and when faced with critical, on the spot decisions, all of our leaders could refocus in that direction. It allowed for hundreds of decisions to be made at the local level in time-sensitive situations, with leaders knowing they were making the right call. If a campus was out of masks, they didn’t have to pick up the phone—someone was in a truck driving however many miles were needed to make sure the team was fully stocked. Actions like these came as second nature to our employees, because we hire and train for culture. If we didn’t, our situation would have been much different.

As a standard buzzword, “flexibility” must make any list of words used when describing the COVID experience. Where we found success was in structured flexibility. Facility managers have always picked up tasks that don’t fit into other departments. When suppliers stopped shipping PPE to campuses, our corporate office became a logistics hub. Having a fleet of pickup trucks may not seem like a strategic advantage, but when they became the only method of delivering PPE, they turned into lifesavers. In just six months, a team of 10 racked up over 400,000 miles and delivered over $4 million worth of PPE to 120 campuses.

Our team structure at Trilogy afforded us another level of flexibility. Since our Environmental teams are in-house employees, when we needed to make major changes to their cleaning and disinfecting processes, we didn’t have to navigate red tape or relationships with external partners. We were able to make changes on the spot and implement them quickly. Moving forward, we’ll look for products, processes, or partners that can bring flexibility to a situation quickly, even if not needed today.

As many facility management leaders know, the number of whitepapers and product claims in the market were sky high after COVID took hold, and every product was touted as the silver bullet for the virus and its woes. Prior to COVID, we had created a structured process for selecting technology that followed a pathway: value proposition, piloting, validating, roll out and feedback. However, it’s easy to say that without addressing the 800-pound gorilla in the room—stakeholder alignment. Before we applied this structure to our COVID response, we spent deliberate time ensuring our senior leadership team was comfortable with the proposed rigor and application. Although thorough, we ensured that our process never became an excuse for not hitting a deadline.

While we looked at hundreds of products and whitepapers, only a few made it to the roll out phase. Our focus was on finding technology and techniques that we believed addressed the present crisis, but also had a life after. These parameters led us to ATP testing, increasing fresh air, increasing filtration, continuous air monitoring, static surface UV-C sanitation, NPBI (needlepoint bipolar ionization), third-party certification, diversifying PPE supply chains, and branded seals on freshly sanitized rooms. Each technology we selected followed the product review process, although the temptation to skip straight to roll out was ever-present. At the end of the day, every step we took has been well worth it.

Senior Living
Through the COVID-19 crisis, communication with internal and external stakeholders has been a cornerstone of the facility management strategy to provide an effective response. (Photo: Katie Maynard; courtesy of Trilogy Health Services)

Our knowledge as facility managers is often seen as 10 miles wide and an inch deep, but during COVID, the requirement became an inch wide and 10 miles deep. Learning new things every day is why I enjoy facility management, but it quickly became apparent that we were not prepared with the right professional knowledge base, and the learning curve was steep.

Admitting our shortcomings was vital, and surprisingly easy. Finding qualified, trusted partners and professionals to engage with and solve our problems was hard.

We partnered with businesses, university professors, technical experts, and industry peers all looking for a way to navigate the ever-changing guidance and recommendations around the pandemic. We often found ourselves looking for one solution to keep everyone safe, but in reality, there isn’t just one solution. Responding to a pandemic is complicated, and it requires a multi-layered approach that can be difficult to communicate in a world that promises specialized solutions for most problems.

Our lesson learned—don’t wait to grow your professional network. Make time for that unconventional webinar—you’ll never know when that solution might be needed.

Communication is always tricky, and COVID made our preferred method (in person) not an option. In its place were substitutes that had shortcomings—messages weren’t afforded a reduction in complexity. Written communication needed to be clear and concise, and phone calls needed to be straight and to the point, so that critical information could be quickly conveyed, and questions quickly addressed. Time was always of the essence. This held true not only for our internal communications, but how we communicated with our external audiences—our families and future residents.

Keeping our residents safe and healthy remains our number one priority. And, the creation of our Trilogy SHIELD program allows us to illustrate infection prevention efforts in a way that resonates with these audiences. This resident wellness initiative brings this belief to life by protecting those we serve from all types of infectious disease. Through our relationship with 3M, we’re utilizing some of the highest quality disinfection tools available to our industry, and every campus has received 3M’s Clean and Protect certification. We are also equipping our communities with R-Zero’s UV-C disinfection system, Arc. When combined with our autonomous screening process through, existing infection control protocols, and relationships with top experts, we create a “shield” that helps protect the health of our residents and employees. In addition to these choices, we’re committed to our continuous relationships with top experts to identify and implement new technology and procedures.

COVID was, and still is, a tough test for businesses. It upended stable markets and accelerated market changes by years. However, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Coming out the other side of the pandemic as facility managers, we need to take a hard look at our successes and our failures, take ownership of both, and move forward. At this junction our lessons have been clear, and while we have no crystal ball to show us the next crisis we’ll manage through, the lessons we learned over this past year can provide a dim light on the path ahead.

Parker LacyLacy is vice president of facilities maintenance at Trilogy Health Services, owner and operator of over 110 senior living communities throughout Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. Having joined Trilogy in 2019, Lacy is focused on creating engaged and enthusiastic teams, with the aim of supporting frontline team members by being their advocates on the building management side of the house. Prior to Trilogy, he had experience in an array of sectors, from hospitality sustainability and building management, to civil construction, petrochemical engineering, and in the Marine Corps as an infantry officer. A graduate of the University of Nebraska Construction Management and Southern Methodist University Master of Business Administration programs, he also holds PMP certification and Six Sigma Green Belt certification.

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