Changemakers Series

By on Jul 18, 2020 in People

Will my loved one be happier and healthier in senior living or at home?

It’s a question many families are asking themselves now during the pandemic. They’ve seen headlines about case numbers, but they also know they can’t provide the care and attention needed by themselves.

“If COVID has taught us anything, it has taught us that we are health care, but it doesn’t mean that we have to be health care in the traditional sense of a hospital or a nursing home,” said Brenda Bacon, president and CEO of Brandywine Living. “We have to be able to convince the public or customers that their loved one will be safe and secure in addition to being happy.”

A former board chairman for Argentum, Bacon has a lot of insight into the challenges and opportunities of senior living. She’s taken that unique experience to Brandywine, where she strives to make their communities the right mix of “health care and hospitality and fun.”

Bacon has been recognized by Senior Housing News as a Changemaker for her contributions to the industry, and during her interview, she opened up on the difficulties posed by the coronavirus – as well as her strategies for keeping it at bay. Check out these excerpts to see how Brandywine is keeping its residents happy and healthy.

What needs to be done to achieve that safety and security you’re thinking about? Any operational changes you’re implementing at Brandywine?

On April 4th, we instituted a rule that says “one job only.” In the healthcare industry, employees traditionally work in two or three different healthcare institutions; they’ll work a shift at a skilled nursing and then they’ll go to an assisted living or the hospital, the doctor’s office. Nurses and care managers tend to have several different jobs.

In our communities, when we were looking at the surrounding nursing homes and some senior living, they had several cases of COVID before we did. Before our building started to get hit, I got all of our executive directors on a Zoom call and I said, “I’m going to send out a letter to all staff that says that you will work one place only. You can only work for Brandywine. You cannot work for other healthcare facilities during the duration of this COVID crisis.”

Our team was obviously concerned, as I was. They were saying, “We’re going to lose half our staff.” I said, “I know this is going to be hard, but they’re going to have to choose … Our residents are too much in danger from that [practice], as are our team members.” Each team member had to sign … that they were going to do that, and we verified it. We lost people, but I still feel like we were better off. Our job is to keep people as safe as we can.

I have to tell you, I think we’re going to stay in that position, [with the flu season ahead and possible second wave in the fall].

Are there Brandywine initiatives that you’re changing or pausing because of COVID-19?

Well, everything has been paused now because of COVID-19, because we’re in hand-to-hand combat until we get past this stage and figure out what’s next.

I think how buildings open back up is going to be really important. It’s going to be definitional in terms of how you and your team think through precautions. “Okay, we’ve had this happen to us now. What did we learn? What are we going to do to make sure that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater in terms of all of the wonderful things that were going on before? How do we take those extra steps so that we can stop, drop and roll immediately if we see the first sign of this virus or some other coming back?”

We get lots of wonderful letters from our families and our residents. Those give you energy, and that’s a good thing. For those who don’t know us or know the industry, and if all they know of the industry right now is what they’re reading in the headlines where we’re being lumped into the long-term care situation, not that we don’t have cases in assisted living but certainly not to the degree … if that’s people’s headline definition, we’ve got a lot of work to do.

As an industry, as individual companies, we’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure that we protect our brand, to make sure that we change that narrative, to make sure we understand what it is that people need to hear from us. I think that is that your mom is going to be safe and secure with us. They’ll have a whole lot of fun too. They’ll have a lot of new friends and be able to order wonderful food and go on trips. They’re going to have all of that going on, but the top headline message is your mom is going to be safe and secure with us.

Read the full interview with Brenda Bacon on SHN.