We know that finding a safe and comfortable living community can be difficult for families of older adults, so we interviewed Kelly Fields, executive director of Arbor Terrace Waugh Chapel, to talk about how families can make the important decision about choosing the right place for their loved ones.
Kelly has spent most of her life engaging with senior adults. For the past 20 years, she has worked in senior living, but she began volunteering in retirement communities as a middle-schooler.
“I think I’ve always had a passion for working with older adults,” said Kelly, who came to Arbor Terrace Waugh Chapel in April. “I didn’t have grandparents growing up, and I had this thing about wanting a grandparent, so I started off volunteering in nursing homes. And when I got to college, I was able to get a job as an activity assistant. At that point, I realized it was something I could make a career out of.”
That passion for working with seniors serves Kelly well as she seeks to uphold the Arbor Way standards.
Arbor Terrace Waugh Chapel’s team members are “truly invested in meeting the emotional and spiritual needs of the residents. They make it a priority to make the residents and their family feel like this is their home, and the caregivers become family,” she said.
Unlike other senior living companies, The Arbor Company has prioritized looking forward and making changes rather than sticking to the way things have always been done.
Kelly sees the attitude demonstrated most vividly in the company’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In the face of COVID, I think they were very proactive in putting in systems to keep the residents safe and keep the families in close communication,” she said. “Many of the things the state required us to do, we were already doing before it was mandated. There were so many resources and tools for the team members to be successful. They’ve just taken a lot of time to really understand the needs of the aging population.”
Arbor Terrace Waugh Chapel benefits from the technological advances, particularly in the iN2L and Sagely programs, which help families stay connected to what and how their loved ones are doing.
Arbor Terrace “has so much to offer the residents, from the enrichment programs to fostering the relationships between the residents and other residents, and fostering those relationships between the staff and the residents. I just think we definitely go above and beyond,” Kelly said.
Making the decision to move a family member into an assisted living community isn’t always easy, but Kelly recommends doing plenty of research on communities, from both a brick-and-mortar and a human perspective.
She suggests families begin their research by looking at the staff of a community. The way that a care team interacts with residents – and with each other – shows a lot about what the experience is like for residents, Kelly said.
“I think you need to find a community that you get that warm-and-fuzzy feeling from,” she said. “People have to have the heart for it; it can’t just be a job. So find a place where you feel like people are responsive, that they take an interest in wanting to learn more about a potential prospect, a community that indicates how they’re going to meet that resident’s individualized needs, because we realize that all seniors are different.”
A family member can gauge those qualities by watching how staff members talk with residents, even in passing, and whether the team makes a visitor feel welcome during a tour.
“If you have a happy team, if it’s a positive culture and working environment, you know that your loved ones will be cared for because the people who do the hard work are valued,” she said.
Families should ask plenty of questions when researching a community. A good start is telling team members a bit about your family member and then asking how the community will be able to tailor a care plan around his or her specific wants and needs.Discuss a community’s social aspects and ask what they do to keep residents engaged and cognitively stimulated. While staff-to-resident ratios are an important fact, dig a little deeper to see how that looks for residents at different levels of care.
“It can’t just be a cut-and-dried approach to that,” Kelly said.
She also says to ask about communication, specifically how much communication – and what kind – family members can expect from the community once their loved one moves in.
And, Kelly says it can be helpful to visit multiple communities to ensure that you’ve chosen the best fit.
When family members visit Arbor Terrace Waugh Chapel as part of their research, Kelly hopes they leave feeling supported and given the proper resources to make a decision that gives them comfort and confidence.
“And I would want them to also leave feeling that this is a safe, warm and comforting environment, and feeling that even if the decision is not to choose us, that they left with valuable information and the resources and tools to make the best decision for their family.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unique challenges to family members as they research assisted living communities, but virtual tours can be helpful, especially if family members can “meet” department heads during those virtual tours.
Challenges also have spilled over into every aspect of how communities function, and seeing how team members have risen to meet those demands is one of the things that keeps Kelly motivated.
“Many of the frontline team members have demonstrated what it really means to be an essential caregiver, as shown in the sacrifices they’ve made in their personal lives, showing up every day, even when times were a little bit scary, and giving it their all knowing that they have families at home as well,” she said.
When Kelly was a teenager volunteering in retirement communities, she often sang and danced for residents. She recently dusted off those skills during the dark days of the pandemic to give her staff and residents a lift.
Inspired by the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, she chose one of his most popular songs, “Beat It.” After alerting everyone that a “surprise entertainer” would be coming to the community, Kelly dressed up like Jackson and went from room to room lip-syncing and dancing. Team members also were given paper stars to fill in what they were doing to “beat” the coronavirus.
What Kelly did that day has become her favorite memory at Arbor Terrace Waugh Chapel.
She wants people to understand that spreading joy and laughter is an important component of working in an assisted living community and senior living.
“I wish people didn’t wait until it became an urgent need,” she said. “I really wish people understood the importance and value of identifying senior living earlier on. I think that a lot of times people have these stigmas, and I want them to know that in these communities, they’re full of life, and we’re actually able to prolong the life span for individuals because they’re receiving that personalized care and attention.”
Finding the right community can be a lengthy process, but Arbor Terrace Waugh Chapel is here to help. We have developed a guide that offers information to help with the process of researching communities and to ease some of the concerns that families may have when making this decision.
To learn more about finding a safe and comfortable living community, please download the e-book below.