By Pam McDonald

Kisco Senior Living has named its first Director of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), employing Mizuki Sato-Berkeland in the position. Foresight Radio Host Pam McDonald interviews Mizuki who describes her role and what it may mean in the future for senior living. Listen to the episode here; read major takeaways (lightly edited) from the interview below.

I joined Kisco Senior Living as their first director of environmental health and safety. Kisco is comprised of 20 communities across six states, and we have everything from independent living to assisted living and memory care, as well as a couple of CCRCs. So, as you can imagine, it’s a very broad crew of residents we have the privilege of serving.

This is a brand-new position inspired by COVID, but it was in the works for a long time. Essentially, senior leadership wanted to ensure our communities are the best places for our residents to live and associates to work. I’ve been here for about six months now. There’s a lot to learn, trying to understand the industry in an unprecedented time with COVID. Kisco did a lot of great things at the very beginning of the pandemic, so I’m just jumping on that bandwagon and trying to make things better moving forward.

What EHS Is

Environmental health and safety in senior living focuses on physical safety, life safety, environmental hazard mitigation, and disaster preparedness. Down the road, it likely will encompass smart buildings since I think that’s something we at Kisco would like to move toward since we believe very strongly in sustainability and innovation.

My background is in public health. And I did a lot of my work in community health, health policy, and emergency preparedness. During the prior five years, I’d been working in health care processes, quality improvement, and data analysis. It was exciting to put my public health skills to use, to marry that with the health care administration. Trying to understand the very broad world of healthcare is complex, and it’s been a great learning experience.

Her First True Love — Public Health

I bring a lot of the process quality improvement to my current role, which also brings me back to my first true love — public health. Really trying to keep people healthy, trying to improve organizational resilience is exciting and I’m glad to be here.

At Kisco, we have a national director of wellness and memory care planning. She does a lot of the programming from a wellness standpoint because it is about whole-person care, right? It’s not just about physical health, it’s about emotional and psychological wellness. Where I fit in is to help support any of the wellness activities.

Vetting New Technologies

There are so many tech products out there, we’re inundated with all these things that sound wonderful. So, part of my job is to vet some of these technologies. Of course, it’s a learning process for me too, talking to a lot of experts in the field. HVAC is one of those areas we are working on. You may have heard of the UVC light disinfection, bipolar ionization, basically anything to improve the quality of air that goes through our communities.

I work very closely with our asset managers. They’re the experts in the technical-mechanical side of things. It’s really a group effort trying to figure out which emerging technologies will work within our existing systems. Trying to balance what we know and what we don’t know.

Her 3 Primary Areas of Focus

The crux of my job breaks down to three things: improving processes; learning and staying on top of compliance and regulatory items, and education and training around the things that allow us to keep everybody safe.

In terms of specifics, Kisco rolled out an initiative called Kisco Confidence. This involves making sure things are in place regarding the pandemic, continuing those, and trying to do it better. That’s where improving processes comes in. I’m newer to the organization, so I can come at it from a different point of view, different experience, and make something that’s good, hopefully, better.

What Works Best for the People on the Ground?

A lot of aspects you would consider for an EHS program are already embedded at Kisco in one way, shape, or form. And this goes back to improving processes and figuring out what problems we’re looking to solve. Are the initiatives we are designing around going to be effective? And then also determining if it’s helpful for the people on the ground who implement it. Because at the end of the day, everybody is taking care of our residents, making sure our facilities are up to date, and providing wellness and care initiatives and resources.

Infection control is a component of EHS, and we have regional directors of nursing who are wonderful in providing that expertise. But it does end up being an interdisciplinary collaboration with a lot of my colleagues. And I think we’re a good enough size where voices are at the table without feeling too overwhelming. I feel like we have good working relationships that will allow us to get to where we need to go.

Breaking It Down for Everybody

Senior living is not quite health care, it’s more supportive care and a bit more difficult for me to translate having just come from a full-on, inpatient health care facility. Although, we do have some skilled nursing facilities, and we provide care in other ways. Again, I think it comes down to what works best for the people on the ground who are doing the work every single day.

And so, whether it’s new compliance around respiratory protection, for example, that has been long-standing in healthcare with a capital H, but is new in senior living, It’s still nonetheless important, right? If anything, it’s even more important now, just because of the last year and our more vulnerable population. And so, I really try to break it down in a way that helps everybody.

Becoming More Data-Driven

I come from a very data-heavy background; in healthcare, you’re inundated with data. What we’re trying to get to at Kisco is a data-driven organization, but in a way that’s a bit easier to wrap your hands around. There are opportunities to bring information to the folks on the ground.

For example, whether it’s falls or below-average outcomes, these are areas where we can work to make data more transparent so we can give people the information they can then create actions around. One can know falls, slips, and even needle sticks are happening. But if you don’t know if there are trends, how can you make appropriate changes? So that’s kind of the direction we’d like to go to be more data-driven.

Marketing Our Improvements

Artificial intelligence is a whole new thing in this data-driven space. That’s something our Care Services are looking at. We would have to make sure that it works within our goals and the software we’re currently using. But I think anything that allows us to make decisions in a way that frees up folks to do their scope of work is valuable. There are some theoretical arguments around AI, but it’s a promising technology.

I work closely with sales and marketing because they’re the ones that really hear from our current and future residents and their adult children. Some of our communities have made HVAC improvements and that’s something the marketing team has put into some of our collateral. So, there’s an opportunity there to communicate.

Specific Initiatives

Going back to the Kisco Confidence and things we have already put in place is an initiative within Kisco Confidence called Kisco Clean. It involves fogging, electrostatic fogging that disinfects surfaces, which we use along with our high-touch cleaning of door handles, et cetera.

And then we have this thing called Kisco Seal, where cleaning of mechanisms is done. As you may have seen in hotels, the last maintenance person will put a sticker on the door jam, so the person who breaks that seal will be the resident or the families themselves. That’s something we market and it’s something we receive a lot of positive interaction and press around. Our residents say they feel a little bit safer with that, so we’re capitalizing on those aspects.

Serving Our Residents, the Most Important Thing about EHS

Environmental Health and Safety is not just me, it’s a team effort. What I like to tell people is that safety is not the most exciting thing, but it really does affect everybody, right? And if something bad happens, you want to make sure that people know how to react or, at least, know what resources are available to them.

It’s really a community-led initiative. It’s something that my position helps to support, of course. We’re trying to make our strategy more robust, trying to be innovative in that way. In the end, we’re serving our residents. I think that’s the most important thing about health and safety, it’s really a team sport.

Lessons Learned from COVID

Combatting influenza is part of our overall infection prevention and control strategy. Flu, in this industry, is devastating. It’s seasonal, but nonetheless has great economic and personal costs associated with it. We’re using a lot of the things we learned from COVID.

In a way that’s a very dull silver lining because COVID is terrible, but we have learned from it and can use new information whether it’s influenza or even norovirus. It’s a different way of transmission, of course, but we have a little bit more understanding of how we can try and nip things in the bud, making sure it’s more about prevention.

Protecting Ourselves and Others

We’re very proud to say that our vaccine uptake is high. We’re proud of our efforts there. I think people really understand that this is to protect ourselves and others and hopefully it continues across the nation.

I think environmental health and safety should be prevalent everywhere, just figuring out what our unique hazards are, whether it’s a workplace hazard or chemical hazard, or even psychological or psychosocial. These are all very important and making sure that everybody feels as safe as possible, wherever they live and wherever they work. I think it’s a really cool field. It’s always evolving. We can use more EHS professionals.