In Senior Living communities today, budgets are tight and funding priorities are often set to support sales-driving departments like marketing. The activities department is less often considered a revenue generating entity and thus, funding priorities for this part of the organization may not always match the most pressing needs of the staff. The activities staff may receive funding to optimize tools like a calendar but beyond that need, engagement staff are often missing budgets that can help them address core resident engagement needs.
Thankfully, activity directors are eager to share about the types of tools and funding they believe are necessary to truly optimize resident engagement in their communities. In fact, in a 2018 national survey that Linked Senior conducted with more than 300 Activity Directors, more than half of survey participants across all care settings, indicated that documentation is the most challenging part of their work and frequently prevents them from spending time getting to know residents and engaging them in a meaningful way.
Based on the outcomes from this national survey, the top three priorities for resident engagement funding are clear:
- Planning (Developing an activity calendar, hosting themed programming events, ensuring that one-on-one activities are available to those who need it most) – Life enrichment professionals are facing great obstacles each day. Typically, there is just one engagement staff person for every 60 residents. Results from Linked Senior’s national survey showed that activity professionals are struggling to provide quality one-on-one engagement for residents in assisted living and skilled nursing facilities and that cognitive impairment and inadequate staffing are contributing to this problem. An investment in digital technology by the community can help staff channel engagement opportunities to those who are most at risk which would save time and maximize resources available.
- Leading Programs (Guiding and participating with residents in planned engagement activities) – Leading meaningful engagement activities can be challenging for activity professions because of the diversity of the residents’ needs, interests, and their current physical or cognitive abilities. Staff members want to prioritize and optimize engagement for each resident, but they are only able to do this when funding is made available to give them the tools they need to succeed. Since quality engagement is correlated with better quality of life for all residents, longer lengths of stay, a lower cost of providing care, and higher satisfaction for all stakeholders, it is a smart investment for any community to provide funding that allows the life enrichment department to provide person-centered engagement opportunities.
- Documentation (Creating care plans, taking notes, and monitoring participation) – Activity directors in the Linked Senior national survey shared that because much of the documentation they do is still paper-based, they struggle to have time to optimize their assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation of engagement activities for residents. Funding in this category should be used to provide staff with a digital technology that provides ready-to-use engagement activities while simultaneously tracking attendance so that the unique needs and preferences of each resident are respected.
Once management agrees to increase funding to the activity department in these three key areas, resident engagement can be optimized and personalized. It is an excellent strategy for communities to provide funding for a dynamic toolbox of engagement activities, supported with digital technology, that allows staff members to track resident engagement in real-time and make adjustments based on their changing needs and preferences each day. This type of tool provides a roadmap for the staff member to follow as they craft their engagement care plan for each resident. Just as a school teacher needs a curriculum to structure their time and ensure students are receiving the attention they need, so does an activity director need tools to optimize their engagement strategy so each resident in the community can live each day with meaning and purpose.