Programming — engaging our residents AND families — feeds the culture of a vibrant, healthy and fully occupied community.

By Amy McKinley

Yesterday I drove to meet with a man who is a potential resident of a community where I am consulting. He happened to be from an area about 30 miles from my home. We spent nearly 2 hours together in his hotel suite (temporary digs).

I Am Moving In

Right off he told me he was moving in. He had already overnighted the initial agreement and check.

Why was I there? No one from the community had met him. He had only communicated by email and through a friend. It was important to lay eyes on him, get to know him and find out what was driving his decision to move. This might have been the most interesting hour and 50 minutes I have ever spent.

Quirky doesn’t begin to describe him. He was not at all what I expected.

He was wearing a hand-dyed, woman’s tunic top, beaded necklace, and a pink rhinestone bracelet. He was drinking a glass of red wine at 2:30 in the afternoon. He had just finished working out in the hotel gym. His room was strewn with books, computer paraphernalia, and newspapers. His hair was longer and he had a scruffy beard. Even though he seemed a bit cranky, he had a pretty good sense of humor that bordered dry and sarcastic.

The Last Community

The most poignant part of our time together was when he described his dissatisfaction with his previous community. He explained that the workers he dealt with most . . . worked hard and were mostly uneducated and underpaid. “They are just looking for ways to make their job easy.”

“There isn’t a lot of time for meaningful interaction,” he added. “These communities are for Moms. They sit around and talk about how messed up their kids are and how amazing their grandchildren are.”

He has never been married. He has no kids. He is (or has been) a self-described loaner, feminist, fitness fanatic, “easy on the eyes”, and popular with the coeds.

He hates looking in a full-length mirror . . . too depressing.

He was an adjunct professor, working with graduate students, specializing in plant genetics. He doesn’t want to play bingo, bat a balloon or carve pumpkins. He wants to wear shorts to the library. He is interested in having intelligent conversations about politics, religion, sex, feminism and the fact that women are our future . . . oh yeah AND quantum physics.

Why He Left

He left the community, where he had been living for 6 years suddenly. Obviously, something happened. I won’t go into detail here. I will just say he described several instances where he struggled to fit in. I asked him what he needed to see, feel and experience in a community to feel more comfortable and maybe even enjoy life.

He shared a lot. I suggested several ways he could also make an effort and be more engaged. It isn’t going to be easy. He is most likely going to struggle. He is the quintessential Baby Boomer headed to a pretty typical Assisted Living community .

He and I carried on an easy banter. He told me about his childhood, studies, and jobs. He asked about the state and future of the industry. He wanted to know about my business, he asked questions about the community . . . but he mostly just wanted time with someone . . . someone who cared, respected and was interested. He has some physical limitations and is most appropriate for Assisted Living, because of those . . . but he doesn’t want to be treated like a baby, as I found out when I told him to “be careful” when he walked across the crowded room.

He said, “Thanks, Mom.”


Eye Opening

I write all of this because it was such an eye-opener for me. For years I have struggled with the quality of activities/lifestyle programs in communities…especially Assisted Living. Budgets are so small, making it difficult to build a dynamic program.

And — because salaries are low — many Activity/Lifestyle Directors are woefully unqualified and don’t understand how to seek out and fully engage the resources in the greater community or even how to tap into the talents of their own staff, residents or family members.  (Don’t get me wrong, I have known some great ones, but they are few and far between.)

We Have To Do Better

Programming — engaging our residents AND families — feeds the culture of a vibrant, healthy and fully occupied community. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but this was the first time I‘d had the opportunity to hear it from someone who has actually lived in a community and experienced the inadequacies first hand. This person now has the opportunity to move into a community with a team who has at least taken the time to get to know him.  Hopefully they will follow through on what we learned and do what they need to do to help him thrive.

I started my tenure in this industry 33 years ago as an Activity Director. I was woefully unqualified . . . young and inexperienced. I’d be better now. I think I’ve found a new mission. Who will join me?