By Elizabeth George

It was the anxiety her residents felt that motivated her to take on the challenge.  

“When you are caring for people who have lived a very long life and, now they are in a situation where they have to ask for help, the last thing you want is for them to feel anxiety waiting for that help. I believe that, as a human, one of the hardest things to do is to ask for help, ” says Tawnya Christensen, Assistant Living Director at Fellowship Square-Mesa.

When Tawnya arrived at the community four years ago, she was joining the largest not-for-profit senior living organization in Arizona with a string of “Best” awards and an occupancy rate that was and remains impressively high.

Still, they had work to do.

“Response times were 15, 20, and sometimes 25 minutes. I knew we had to do better,” she says and went after the project with vigor, taking a two-pronged approach focused on facts and feelings.

When it comes to quantifying response times, facts are the boring necessity because reality is often clouded by inaccurate perceptions. Staff may perceive they have responded more quickly than they did to a call and residents may believe that they’ve waited longer than they have for a response. It’s an emotional topic for families too who “always ask about response times”, says Tawnya.

Data, anyway she wants it, is a big part of what Tawnya values about her partnership with RCare (a Senior Living Foresight partner), a global provider of wireless nurse call and personal emergency response systems. “If a family member feels that their person waited too long, the best thing about RCare is that I can look it up right away and confirm the time. It allows for objective conversations with everyone involved.”

Data from the RCare solution was the foundation upon which Fellowship Square-Mesa measured and tracked their response times and identified the issues that needed resolving if they were to dramatically improve them.

Tawnya has also found the RCare system functions both as a tool for safety and for operations. For example, “I can see very quickly if a resident is declining just by tracking how often they are pressing their pendants. That helps me evaluate and plan for the right levels of care for each person. And from an operations standpoint, I can see the activity that is happening throughout the day, 24/7, which enables me to manage my budget and be a really good steward of our finances. I get customized reports that give me the big picture and all the detail without it taking a million hours to find.”

Getting Staff Buy-In

Getting staff engaged was her next objective. In joining Fellowship Square, she found a devoted team of caregivers including many who had been there for 10 years or more. Even with the team’s strengths, however, she could see that the importance of responding quickly to resident emergency calls hadn’t been fully absorbed. And without the staff’s ability to put themselves in their residents’ shoes, Tawnya believed that improving response times would be out of reach.

That’s when she decided to create a staff training program – to teach empathy.

The half-day class was designed to help care staff understand what it was like to be a resident experiencing dementia, neuropathy, Parkinson’s, low vision; or how hard it can be to perform basic tasks when your fingers don’t bend.

And, to know what it’s like to wait. In uncertainty. For 25 minutes after you press your call button.

Reactions after the training were emotional, ranging from tears to anxiety to anger.

The training prompted staff members to look at their jobs with a new perspective, answer the calls more quickly, and use the RCare system’s speakers to communicate with residents letting them know they were on their way.

Changes were reinforced with transparent and supportive conversations and lots of celebrations. Says Tawnya, “Whenever we get a win with response times, it’s a big deal here.”

This multi-faceted approach led to a culture change in the organization with greater staff ownership of response times, more teamwork, greater transparency, and recognition of what’s going right.

The results? A decrease in response times from 15-25 minutes to an average of 5.

When asked to reflect on what she’s learned from this experience, she points to 6 insights:

  1. Keep on top of it: Managing response times is not something you finish and just check the box. It needs to be actively managed.
  2. Recognize positive behaviors and results with celebrations and rewards: Tawnya’s philosophy? Recognize success publicly and counsel those who are having a hard time privately.
  3. Help staff understand the “why”: Build motivation and engagement by showing staff why fast response times are important.
  4. Commit to never running short-staffed: Fellowship Square’s leaders fill in when a caregiver is out. Says Tawnya, “Safety is the top priority. We will never run short.”
  5. Pay attention to your care team’s needs: Caregiver roles are demanding both physically and emotionally. “We need to help keep their tanks full.”
  6. Leverage the full functionality of your emergency response system. “The RCare system has enabled us to improve our resident care, manage staffing and budgets proactively, and run our business much more effectively.”

Fellowship Square’s mission is to help people age in excellence. With a caring staff and a solution-oriented emergency call partner, they are doing just that.

For more information about RCare’s solutions, visit their website.