Melissa Lee talks to Della Mervin, human resources professional and Director of People for the Arbor Company, about balancing safety and joy throughout Arbor’s communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Join us to hear about Arbor’s decision to mandate vaccinations for employees, our reopening plans, and how we’re working to create the safest environment possible for both residents and staff as we look toward the future.
- Hello everyone. And welcome into Senior Living Live. My name is Melissa. I hope you are having a fantastic day today. Well, we have been checking in with our upper communities and staff members to help you sort of get to know the people behind the scenes that make your experience with Arbor the best it can be. And today, we are checking in with Della Marvin, the Director of People at Arbor company corporate in Atlanta. How are you today Della?
- I am doing great. Thank you so much.
- Yeah. Good to see you. So, tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at Arbor.
- As you said, my name is Della Marvin. I am fairly new with the Arbor company. I've been here about seven months as the Director of People and that is our way of saying Director of Human Resources. So my role and responsibility is to make sure that the people that are taking care of the people are taken care of. It's my role to make sure that our employees have a great environment and a great experience working for the Arbor company. I've been a Human Resources professional about 27 years. I've been in Senior Living and long-term care for most of my career. I'm originally from North Carolina and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, go tar heels. And I'm, I'm very, very excited and proud to be with the Arbor company.
- Awesome. So we know your favorite sport, it has to be basketball, right?
- That is right. Abley Tanya blue in basketball season.
- Awesome, awesome. Well, thank you for sharing your background with us. And, and as you mentioned, seven months with the Arbor company and that was almost right at the start of the pandemic I guess. So what are some of the challenges that you faced in your time? I can't even imagine
- The pandemic has created a lot of challenges for all of us that work across the Senior Living spectrum. I would say the greatest challenge has been making sure that we balance safety and joy in our communities because both are extremely important. We had to do unprecedented things with restricting visits to the communities and testing protocols and safety measures that we had never really considered in our environment while at the same time, trying to create a home-like environment that gave our residents and our staff the opportunity for joy. And that was a very difficult balance to try to reach during through, during some very difficult times. But I will say that I was very proud of how our Arbor employees rose to the occasion, the care and the love that they showed for the residents in our communities and for the way that people came together as a team to get through some very difficult circumstances.
- In talking to the residents, sort of as they're coming out of this, this pandemic, that's what we continue to hear over and over and over again. The situation wasn't great for anybody, they understand that, but they, they continue to talk about how great the staff was and thinking outside the box to try to help them live the life that they had hoped to live when moving into Senior Living. So it's good that we're hearing that praise from you, but also from the residents as well who felt it inside on a daily basis. Now, many Arbor residents have been fully vaccinated since, really early February. At that time, vaccinations were voluntary for staff but since then, Arbor has decided to make it mandatory for staff to get vaccinated. Tell us the thought process behind that decision and how has it been received so far?
- Absolutely. The decision to mandate vaccinations was very, very well and long thought out. Basically, we relied on the science. The decision to mandate was not one that was intended to punish or put upon our staff, but we have a duty and a responsibility to creating communities that are as safe as possible for our residents and our staff. We want our residents to be able to be in an environment that is completely safe for them or a safe as we can possibly make it. And we also want our staff to be safe and to not carry things home to their families when they leave their workplace. The decision to do this has been met with some challenges. We do have two possibilities for exemption from vaccination for our employees and I can tell you that personally have had hundreds of conversations with individual employees to talk to them about the mandate and all of their options. I think that we have taken a very compassionate and empathetic approach with all of our employees while being as fair and consistent as possible. But this measure is really to create the safest environment possible for our residents and our staff.
- Yeah, that's a great answer. And when you're working with seniors, that's certainly something you have to keep in mind and I'm, I'm glad to hear that there are options for the Arbor staff and employees and that you are chatting with them one-on-one, that's, that's fantastic. So let's go back a little bit to talk about what we just discussed, which was some of the ways that Arbor staff have navigated this pandemic with all the changing directives and the circumstances. Can you give us a few examples of things that you were most proud of?
- Like I said, I think the thing that I'm most proud of is that our people rose to the occasion and they showed a great amount of love and compassion and care for all of our residents. We have residents and communities who weren't allowed to have family visits for very long periods of time. And just seeing the number of staff members that, despite whatever was happening that day and their workload, they took the time just to sit and talk with the resident to make them feel safe, to make them feel sure, to give them confidence about where we were going. They took the time to have conversations with loved ones, to reassure them and to set up video chats so that people would be able to see each other virtually even if they couldn't see each other in person. I am continually astounded and amazed by how much our people care. I think that's really what makes our Arbor employees different. And I'm just thrilled with a lot of these examples that I've seen.
- And if you take where we were a year ago perhaps with COVID and, and look at where we are today, nobody has a crystal ball, so nobody can give a perfect answer or an exact answer. But if you're, you're looking at where we are today, when do you think that, that the staff, that the residents, that we can maybe sort of, kind of get back to fully normal?
- Well, we are aggressively working through our reopening plans so that we are able to provide as much normalcy as possible. The mandate for our vaccines is that all of our employees will be vaccinated or exempted by June 30th. As the positivity rates for the surrounding communities continues to decrease, it's giving us an opportunity to be able to open more and more and to provide more freedoms. Our goal is to create this new normal that allows people to have as much freedom as they can in the communities so that they're able to get back to a lot of things that they love. We have been able to restart a lot of things with in-dining room meal service and group engagement activities, and those things are huge to the lifeblood of the community and the residents.
- Yeah. Great answer. Okay, so we know you're a big basketball fan but now I do have to ask, now that we are sort of as a country in general, getting somewhat back to normal as more and more people get vaccinated, and the numbers of hospitalizations go down, what are you looking most forward to once we start to open back up fully again?
- Being able to see vulnerable members of my own family that I've not been able to see and spend time with for a while. I am fully vaccinated but I have, over the holidays last year, it was the first time in my entire life that I didn't get to spend holidays with my mother and visit my grandmother and things like that. And I am just getting excited about having those opportunities to just be with my family.
- Absolutely fantastic. Della, we thank you so much for allowing us to check in with you and to kind of get updated on what's happening behind the scenes at the Arbor company with its staff and the, the Arbor family as we'd like to call it. So thank you for that sneak peek behind the curtain in your day to day with the Arbor company.
- Thank you.
- Thank you. Now, if you enjoyed this interview with Della, you can head on over to www.seniorlivinglive.com. For more of our video content all on Senior Living, it is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As always, we thank you for watching Senior Living Life. Have a great day everybody.