By Susan Saldibar

While we all know the pandemic has altered our thinking, it’s rare to find a report that actually tracked responses to the same questions both before and after COVID-19 hit.

It’s Never 2 Late (iN2L) (a Senior Living Foresight partner) has produced such a report and it makes for pretty interesting reading. It covers the use of technology to connect and engage residents. The report looks at the responses to five survey questions asked of 114 senior living operators back in 2019. It then compares them to the same questions asked of 100 senior living operators after COVID hit. Both surveys were conducted on behalf of iN2L by a third party.

I caught up with iN2L CEO, Lisa Taylor, to talk about some of the interesting patterns revealed between these two surveys. We both agreed, much has changed.

As we went through each result, Lisa had some great insight, so I asked her to weigh in on each of the responses. Here are the results and her thoughts.

Question #1: How important to your organization is engagement technology?

Extremely important: 2019 – 27%, Today – 43%

This represents a clear shift upward, a notable spike. In the middle of the pandemic, operators viewed technology as a lifesaver. They saw firsthand what technology could do for them. And they’ve been using it more consistently to keep residents engaged as the situation wears on. In some cases, there was perhaps a re-discovery of technology they have had all along. Then there were those who got caught without any engagement technology during the pandemic. They felt the impact of that deficit, so now they are making sure to work it into their 2021 budgets.

Question #2: How well does your organization engage residents today?

Doing “well” or “very well”: 2019 – 53%, Today – 63%

This increase in those who say they are doing “well” or “very well” at resident engagement compared to 2019 underscores communities getting outside the box, getting more creative, and seeing the benefits of those efforts. So, it makes sense that we’d see that number tick up. One of the silver linings of all this is that it puts resident engagement back on top of the list. And, what was typically the job of the activity director or life engagement has become everyone’s responsibility. We’re seeing it spread more across the board, to all staff members. Interestingly, those communities with engagement technology in place were 11% more likely to rate themselves as doing very or extremely well at engagement in the 2020 survey, showing us how having technology in place to enable engagement can help communities “up their game” even more.

Question #3: Relative to other strategic purchases over the next 2-3 years, what is your level of priority for investments in senior engagement technology?

“Medium or higher” level of priority: 2019 – 73%, Today – 87%

Again, this echoes a shift in the perception of engagement technology from a nice-to-have to a need-to-have. Leaders are beginning to understand the need to rely on technology, so it’s becoming more of a purchasing priority. Beyond engagement technology, many providers are also investing in the backbone needed to enable it, such as improved WiFi. They realize they need a stronger technology foundation to better support the need for increased engagement moving forward.

Question #4: Do you believe there is a clear economic return on engagement technology?

“Definitely”: 2019 – 24%, Today – 48%

This has doubled from 2019! Clearly, a heightened focus on the need for engagement during the pandemic and technology’s ability to enable it has shown leadership the ROI. It’s also potentially an indication of how owners and operators see the role of engagement in supporting a healthy census and increasing occupancy. iN2L believes there is a clear correlation between being able to show families that you have the capability to keep their loved ones engaged, and the result of driving up occupancy. For leaders, this is a chance to show their plan for ongoing engagement (a criteria for potential residents and families), not just talk about it.

Question #5: Do you believe your investments in senior engagement technology differentiate your community?

“Definitely” or “Probably”: 2019 – 73%, Today – 88%

Many communities have responded to the challenges of the pandemic with an all-hands-on-deck approach to engaging residents. And they are using technology to do so. More staffers have been asked to play a more direct role in resident engagement during COVID. And, because of this, their roles—and the role of engagement technology—have been elevated in communities. At the end of the day, technology helps them keep the promise to families of delivering person-centered care. That’s what this kind of technology does, it creates fulfilling and connecting experiences for residents and those that surround them.

One thing the pandemic has really driven home is how precious our human connections are. After looking at this survey data, there appears to be a lot more respect for technologies, like iN2L, that help us keep those connections alive. I think that’s a good thing for this industry.

Lisa agrees. “Senior living has been hard hit by the challenges of COVID-19, facing not only daily struggles to keep our elders safe while staying connected but also long-term questions of how we will adapt operationally to better meet a new normal moving forward,” Lisa tells me.

“This data validates what we already felt in speaking with community leaders during the pandemic. Despite these challenges, communities are succeeding, getting better at resident engagement, and leveraging technology tools more fully to do so. It’s wonderful to see the impact technology-enabled engagement has had and will continue to have, not only on resident well-being but also on community operations.”

You can download the full iN2L “Senior Living 2020: The State of Engagement and Technology” survey report here.