By Susan Saldibar

A few days ago, my daughter exited her car without her mask. About 5 feet away, she stopped herself and said aloud, “What am I thinking!” and went back and got it. That’s an example of a behavior change that has become ingrained. It was the fact that she didn’t have the mask on that felt uncomfortable to her. Dr. Avery would be pleased.

Dr. James Avery is a pulmonologist and a visiting Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Virginia. He has been featured in a recent webinar series presented by Aegis Therapies (a Senior Living Foresight partner). I can’t stress enough the benefits of watching these Dr. Avery presentations. I haven’t been able to find anything as comprehensive and insightful. (You can access it here.)

7 Out of 10 People Are Uncomfortable Warning a Peer To Use Safety Precautions. Why Is That?

During his last presentation, Dr. Avery discussed the importance of ingraining key behavioral changes to keep ourselves and those around us safer during COVID-19. I thought it was interesting that he cited Harvard Business Review to make his point about how difficult this kind of change can be:

“The speed with which norms change is the speed with which it becomes normal to give correction.”

“If noncompliance is rarely addressed, healthy behavior becomes a joke.”

And he added this: “7 out of 10 people admit to saying less than they think they should to keep themselves and others safe.”

Wow. That last one really drives it home. For caregivers, wearing PPE and remembering to perform the correct steps over and over again, day in and day out, isn’t easy by itself. But reminding their peers over and over again as well? No wonder many remain silent.

“Please” and “Thank You” Have Never Been So Critical

Dr. Avery is out to end that silence and help senior living communities change behavior in a way that centers around a cultural change in which everyone works together to keep each other safe.

I’ve paraphrased and summarized a few of Dr. Avery’s tips on making lasting behavioral changes.

  • Establish 200% accountability: Everyone must understand that they are not simply responsible for following safe practices themselves (the first 100%) but they are also responsible to ensure everyone around them does as well (the second 100%).
  • Please and Thank You: When a member of your staff is not properly wearing their PPE, remind them with “Please wear a mask in this meeting”. The individual should respond with “Thank you” followed by compliance. Dr. Avery stresses gratitude, not “attitude”.
  • Deliberate Practice: Develop muscle memory so that the new practice feels comfortable, normal, and compulsory. Practice by having caregivers go in and out of a resident room (donning and doffing PPE) under the observation of other caregivers. Caregivers should be empowered if they miss anything to remind with the “please”. The non-compliant staff member should be reminded to always respond with “thank you”.
  • Show leadership: Leaders must demonstrate their sincerity and commitment to the new policies through action. It is important to make the moral case for changing behavior. Tell stories of affected friends and situations that drive home the risk. Use a checklist to conduct random “rounding” compliance observations. Consider scoring each caregiver and post the results.

Facts to Fight Anxiety

What Dr. Avery does so well in these presentations is to extricate us from the grip of fear and anxiety related to COVID-19. And instead, arm us with facts, CDC best practices, and proven methodologies to effect behavioral changes for your staff. It isn’t easy, as he points out. But, what’s great is that these new habits you form have the power to long outlast COVID-19 and serve you well in the months and years to come. Once they are ingrained, they will keep your communities healthier during regular flu season and prepared for any other anomalies downstream.

There is so much more to this and I urge you to download and share these presentations with your staff. Aegis also has a COVID-19 resource page with more insight and tips which you can access here.

For more information about Aegis Therapies please visit their website.