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Voices: Kelly Keefe, VP of Community Solutions Strategy, MatrixCare

This article is sponsored by MatrixCare. In this Voices interview, Senior Housing News sits down with MatrixCare Vice President of Community Solutions Strategy, Kelly Keefe, to learn how software and technology have helped senior living communities rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. She also talks about how occupancy recovery and staffing are deeply tied to EHR solutions, and how senior housing professionals can be mindful of that as they ramp up their operations for 2021.

Senior Housing News: Kelly, which of your past career experiences do you most draw from in your role as a Vice President of Community Solutions Strategy for MatrixCare?

Kelly Keefe: I started my career in acute care, and I am a nurse above all else. As such, nursing drives a lot of what I do today.

When I first started, electronic documentation was not common for clinical professionals. Before electronic documentation was widely adopted, we were just trying to replace paper processes by moving the documents onto a computer. When I joined MatrixCare five years ago, it was the same exact story. Clinical documentation wasn’t big in senior living in particular, because without federal regulation, it was left up to the providers.

Clinicians were rarely seen at the table in software-buying decisions. Since then, I’ve been pleased to see clinicians being brought into the decision-making process. I think providers have started to realize that using software and data can improve both the happiness of their clinicians and their business. Health care software has been a big driver in changing the way that people think about technology in senior living.

On top of that, the first year of the pandemic accelerated the integration of technology. Folks who didn’t think they were ready to buy technology yet changed their mentality completely. There’s a much greater interest in technology in senior living now than ever before.

MatrixCare is focused this year on helping senior housing operators build and stabilize occupancy — and with good reason — everyone is focused on that. How does MatrixCare help operators rebuild occupancy?

Keefe: It is one of our top challenges. Senior living operators were having a pretty decent run up until the pandemic. Then, in what seemed like a matter of minutes, occupancy fell for various reasons. Now it’s at a 15-year low.

MatrixCare is constantly looking at our customers’ biggest needs to better learn how we can serve them. Obviously, occupancy and staffing, which we’ll talk about a little bit later, are two of the biggest areas where we can focus our attention. At MatrixCare, we’re really invested in helping our providers through thought leadership.

We are not just building the software, we’re doing the research, understanding the market, and talking to all the providers and trade organizations. We can be a one-stop shop, if you will, in terms of being able to give information to our providers. Those resources and connections are how we facilitate customer education. We recently hosted a virtual two-day event called Inspire, where we had leaders of all the major trade organizations convene to talk about recent trends and where the industry is going.

Those thought leadership pieces help our customers see that we are a reliable resource under emergent circumstances. For example, at the start of the pandemic, we added a page to our website with COVID resources that was continually updated so providers could find the latest information on guidelines and recommendations. While that’s not directly related to occupancy, it’s one of the ways we demonstrate that providers can rely on us in tough times.

We pride ourselves on building software that’s purpose-built for each care setting. We have software that’s very specific to skilled nursing, senior living, life plan communities, home health, and hospice. We cover the entire out-of-hospital space with a suite of solutions that’s purpose-built for each of those care settings.

That ensures we are helping providers put the resident or the patient first. In doing so, this allows them to provide better care and services to those they serve. We’re able to pivot quickly by including tools in our software, such as video and telehealth. These tools enable providers to talk to residents, but also facilitate tours and other virtual services that were almost unheard of before the pandemic.

What is the connection between EHR tools and occupancy recovery?

Keefe: When you transition to electronic health records, one of the very first benefits that you’ll experience is better access to data, which means better outcomes, and that means your community is more successful. Community success can be used to facilitate promotion and outreach with deeper connections, and this goes far beyond the software itself.

Another technological benefit is the abundance of connected health devices in the market. Whether it’s a Bluetooth-enabled glucometer or even a Fitbit, the ability to provide those kinds of tools to residents enables them to take control of their own health and wellness. That’s a tremendous draw and a complete differentiator from one community to the next. As more communities implement wellness tools, any advantage we can add will give them a massive boost.

We are also focused on building tools with usability in mind. We actually have a user interface/experience team that’s devoted simply to usability. We’re proud of that because our software is tested not only with users but even people who aren’t in the industry. We want to be sure it’s that easy to navigate.

As a result, our software is so easy that caregivers can spend less time on the computer and more time working one-on-one with the residents. When we think about how things have changed, especially when there has been such limited contact with the residents, we want to make sure that every bit of contact is incredibly meaningful and focused. In addition, having tools that are simple for your staff to use makes it easier for them to do their jobs and helps with overall satisfaction.

Studies have shown that being short-staffed can actually potentially decrease your occupancy by 15 percent or more, so being fully staffed can help boost occupancy, as well. The happier your caregivers are, the happier your staff is, and the more likely they are to help your organization drive occupancy.

People are staying home longer and they’re staying out of senior housing as long as they can. What are the top methods that operators can take to drive these reluctant seniors into communities?

Keefe: You have to be open about your outcomes. It appears that the general population believes all senior living communities were just riddled with COVID, which was not the case. We encourage you to share what your community actually experienced, and people will likely be surprised by the numbers.

Share how you handled COVID. Explain how you continue to keep your residents and your staff safe. Talk about your vaccination rates with both residents and staff because that also might surprise the general public. Then re-highlight the many benefits to being in senior living. We need to make sure that we stress the importance of that to help people overcome fear.

Where does the CCRC-without-walls trend fit into the goal to raise occupancy?

Keefe: The CCRC-without-walls trend gives organizations a unique opportunity to do outreach into the greater community. It creates connections with people who might not be quite ready to move into a community, so they know whom to call when they’re truly ready.

You want residents moving in gleefully, joyfully, gladly, and who are happy to be there. Being able to build those relationships with people who are living with their families right now is a great way to serve the community and also be a conduit to move-ins in the future.

Along those lines, what is the value of real-time data in occupancy efforts?

Keefe: It’s pretty clear that you have to be able to make decisions very quickly. Again, there is no better example than the decision capabilities people used to pivot throughout the pandemic. It’s really important to understand what your occupancy is in real time — and not just occupancy, but every key performance indicator that you’ve got.

You also need access to the raw data so you can combine it with data from other parts of your organization. We pride ourselves on getting that data to our customers in real time, or very close to real time. When you have a move-in, for example, you need to know exactly what’s available in your community so you can capitalize on opportunity when it literally comes knocking.

Since these occupancy challenges are tied to staffing shortages, how can operators steady their staffing needs this year?

Keefe: I don’t think it is a surprise to anybody that turnover is costly. The number one thing you need to focus on is retention. It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean you should keep toxic team members on board. Taking action there will build trust and show your staff how you deal with problems.

It’s time to double down on creating relationships with your staff and helping them build relationships with each other. It’s a good time to take stock of how you can be more flexible with your staff. Obviously, caregivers can’t do care from home, so that’s not an option. But is there a way to introduce more flexibility into their schedule? Can you offer some self-scheduling? A lot of people are having to homeschool right now or do hybrid schooling. How can you help them find ways to work around that or do some job sharing? What are you doing to promote employee development? Are you helping your employees advance in their careers?

Again, 2021 might be a great time to invest heavily in employees. Consider implementing technology solutions to help you do this. There are some great tools to help with employee communication and recognizing these needs will go a long way.

2020 was a brutal year, but we’re already seeing a light of hope this year. What makes you hopeful about the senior living and senior housing industries in 2021?

Keefe: 2020 was awful for a lot of people personally, professionally, and business-wise. But people came together to solve problems creatively despite having to turn on a dime. From bringing in bucket lifts to help families see their loved ones on the second floor of a community to building plexiglass visiting booths, everyone went to the ends of the earth to help other people.

This tells me senior living will always prevail. People are always going to care about these folks and do whatever they can to help them. We saw a ton of innovation last year, which is going to help the industry as a whole become more efficient. This way, caregivers can spend more time on care and less time recording data.

We are also already seeing an uptick even in independent living, which I did not expect to see so quickly. I feel optimistic when I see that because those seniors have a choice. They’re moving in because this is a place where they want to live.

I think word is getting out that moving into a senior living community is a way to become less isolated, have better access to care, and have better access to services. It’s a great place to be. All of those things combined give me a lot of hope for the senior living industry now and in the future.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

MatrixCare is the only EHR provider in the industry to focus on the entire senior care continuum and is dedicated to helping providers improve operational efficiencies and deliver exceptional care. To learn more about how MatrixCare can help your organization implement its continuous improvement goals, visit MatrixCare.com.

The Voices Series is a sponsored content program featuring leading executives discussing trends, topics, and more shaping their industry in a question-and-answer format. For more information on Voices, please contact sales@agingmedia.com.

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