Innovation is key to long term care success, as it helps create an environment that is more engaging, collaborative, and responsive to the needs of residents. In this article, we will examine the importance of innovation in long term care and discuss how you can implement innovative initiatives into your own facility. We will provide guidance on how to navigate the process of innovation and give examples of innovations that have worked well within long term care facilities.
What is Innovation in Long Term Care?
Innovation is the process of creating, introducing, and applying new ideas. In long term care, innovation can be used to create positive change for those who need it most. Technological improvements offer residents more independence and allow caregivers to spend less time on routine tasks. Creative initiatives keep residents active and engaged with the outside community. “Innovation is really applying whatever resources we have available and finding the resources we need to solve a real problem that we’re facing,” said Steve Lindsey, CEO of Garden Spot Village. He joined Peter Murphy Lewis to discuss the process and challenges of innovation in long term care on the LTC Heroes podcast.
The Importance of Long Term Care Innovations
There is no doubt that the long term care industry is evolving. Thus, if you plan on being successful, it is essential to keep up with the latest trends and long term care technologies. For some, this may mean implementing a new software system or going paperless.
Innovation can also mean changing the setting of your nursing home. That can include construction projects that improve the interior environment of a nursing home and even things as simple as altering facility practices to give residents the freedom to choose the paint color for their rooms, changes that make life a bit more pleasant and increase the attractiveness of your facility.
Updating facilities is an absolute necessity, even if it does not always seem that way to leaders who have done things a certain way.
Lindsey compared such updates to the innovation in modern plumbing. “An outhouse is one of those innovations that really changed the world. It allowed people to live in tighter communities without risking their health and dramatically changed lives and was revolutionary in a lot of ways,” he began. “And yet, today, an outhouse is never anybody’s first choice.”
In the same way that indoor plumbing replaced the previously accepted standard of outhouses, changing trends and expectations in long term care are constantly pushing for new, creative forms of resident care to be introduced.
“If we don’t recognize that the needs, wants, and expectations of the people that we serve are evolving and developing and changing, then we risk becoming the outhouse,” warned Lindsey. “We risk becoming the place that people will choose only if it’s the last resort.” Thus, if long term care facilities are not innovative, this can lead to residents choosing different forms of care, lowering census rates, and putting traditional, static nursing homes out of business.
Benefits of Combining Innovation and Long Term Care
There are multiple benefits to taking a creative approach to long term care, including:
- Increased efficiency and productivity – Innovation often has the ability to streamline processes and eliminate redundant tasks. For example, the implementation of a strong EHR software leads to faster and more accurate documentation of resident health, compared to using paper forms.
- Greater job satisfaction – Innovation provides opportunities for staff members to take on new responsibilities or get involved with projects that they otherwise may not have had an opportunity to work on, helping to create a sense of fun and excitement in the workplace.
- Being better equipped for emergencies – Innovation often provides new ways to handle emergencies, making the process more efficient. For example, implementing a creative crisis management plan can minimize your facility’s risk of being drastically affected by an emergency.
- Improved quality of life for residents as a result of more satisfying activities – Innovation can be used as a way to improve resident satisfaction by providing activities that are tailored for them. Creative programs and activities can also give residents increased socialization opportunities and a sense of youthfulness that they would otherwise not experience in a nursing home. Additionally, innovative activities can allow residents to engage with their local communities, which will provide them with a sort of contentment from contributing to society.
Examples of Innovation
Innovation is not limited to technological advances. Even if you are unable to afford new software or implement large technological changes, there are still several other innovative ideas you can use at your facility. Here are a few program ideas to get you started:
- Community Engagement Initiatives: As the elderly enter retirement and begin requiring care from others, they may begin to feel depressed and lacking in purpose. By starting community service initiatives in your facility, residents will once again feel that they are making an impact and contributing to society.
Some examples of service projects that Lindsey’s facility started are:
- Swipe Out Hunger – This is a program that allows residents to donate their leftover meal credits to the surrounding community. Residents are also given a hands-on opportunity to work with a youth center to serve food to those in need. “It’s changed their lives,” Lindsey said of his residents. “It’s given them an opportunity to ask not what can I get, but what can I give.”
- International Craft Project – Garden Spot Village also started an international service initiative, in which crafty residents were able to make a large impact on the lives of women in Bangladesh, who had been selling paper for income. The facility ordered paper from those women, and residents video chatted with them, demonstrating how to create greeting cards out of the paper. With this new skill, the Bangladeshi women were able to sell cards for $4 apiece, a large increase from the 50 cents they were originally receiving for plain paper sales. “Just thinking about people with limited mobility, with physical issues, who are living in personal care, being able to change the lives of folks literally on the other side of the world is kind of challenging, but it comes out of that spirit of innovation,” said Lindsey.
- Programs that keep residents connected with the younger generation: Having lived long and interesting lives, residents have many stories and fruitful wisdom to share for the benefit of the youth. At the same time, interacting with younger individuals will combat the loneliness often experienced by older people.
Examples from Lindsey’s facility:
- Pen Pals – In partnership with an elementary school, residents at Garden Spot village have the opportunity to exchange letters with local children, making a lasting impact on young people through sharing advice that they have gained throughout their lives.
- Kids Camp – This is another fantastic program being practiced at Garden Spot Village. Each summer, the grandchildren of residents are able to spend a week at the facility, doing activities togethers. The residents “can share their stories, share their lives, share their wisdom, and speak that into the lives of their grandkids in a way that many of them have never had a chance to do,” said Lindsey.
- Programs that emphasize resident voices: As residents in a nursing home, elders may feel weak and vulnerable. To address this issue, it is important to care for residents in using a person centered approach and give residents a say in their daily lives, facility practices, and treatment plans.
- Coffee and Conversation – This is a regular meeting held at Garden Spot Village, during which the residents have the opportunity to sit down with facility administrators to discuss anything. “A couple of us in leadership just meet with whoever wants to show up and we talk about whatever they want to talk about,” explained Lindsey. Not only does this help residents voice their opinions, this type of conversation can bring out even more innovative ideas. In fact, Lindsey told Lewis, the aforementioned Swipe Out Hunger initiative was born from a Coffee and Conversation.
Changing the culture of your facility is another major advantage of innovative change. For more on culture change in long term care, click here.
How to Implement Innovation
With so many different possibilities of innovation, it can be difficult to choose the right ones for your facility. Moreover, once you have an idea in mind, the actual implementation may feel impossible and overwhelming. To help, we have outlined steps for successful innovation below.
- Identify your needs: The first step is to ask yourself, your staff, and your residents about the parts of the facility that currently need improvement. Perhaps your residents are unhappy with their meal options, or maybe your nurses believe there should be more attention given to staff wellness. One way to determine issues is to survey all your nurses and residents, and then, meet with your leadership team to discuss the results and narrow them down to the most important needs.
- Brainstorm ideas to address concerns: Once you know the problems you must fix, the creative process begins. Hold meetings with staff and with residents to listen to their proposed solutions. Residents upset about food options may suggest that the facility menu include the residents’ own recipes, and overworked staff may suggest self-care initiatives, such as yoga lessons for nurses. At your meetings, bring up issues one by one and allow attendees to state as many suggestions as they can. Even if an idea seems too difficult to execute, still make a note to discuss it further with your leadership team.
- Evaluate the feasibility of each idea: After you have obtained a list of ideas, sit down again with your leadership team and assess your facility’s capability in implementing each one. Be sure to make note of financial limitations, staffing insufficiencies, and time constraints. Ensure that you have all the necessary resources for the initiative before going any further. “We can’t be irrationally risky,” Lindsey warned. “We are stewards of the resources of our organization.”
- Create a roadmap: If the proposed ideas are determined to be feasible, it is now time to prepare for implementation. To do so, you should make a roadmap and assign each step to the staff members most suited for that specific task.
- Move forward decisively with implementation: To implement the idea, follow your roadmap and meet with leadership regularly to assess progress. At this point, there should not be any second-guessing, as you will have taken every caution in planning and discussing your course of action beforehand.
Challenges to Innovation and How to Combat Them
Though we have provided five steps that your facility can use to implement innovation, it would be wrong to assume that the process will truly be as smooth as we have outlined on paper. Obstacles will undoubtedly present themselves, so it is important to understand how to navigate around them. To help you prepare for challenges along the way, here are some of the top difficulties that you might face:
- Realizing that you do not actually have enough resources to successfully follow through with your initial plan: When this occurs, you must return to step two in order to come up with a new, more practical plan. While this may be frustrating, it could actually be a blessing in disguise. As Lindsey told Lewis, when we embrace constraints, “it forces us to be more creative, and more innovative,” thereby strengthening the spirit of innovation in your facility.
- Falling off track during the implementation process: In order to avoid getting off track, it is important to assign leadership roles from the start. Your team must include a combination of creatives (idea monkeys) and practical thinkers (ring leaders). These individuals will keep each other in check. Lindsey noted that, when the perspectives of both groups are considered, a facility ends up with “something that’s not just this brilliant kind of pie in the sky idea,” but rather “something that we can actually work with and operationalize.”
- Failing to successfully implement your innovative idea: This can be disheartening, but you must remind yourself and your staff that failing is natural when it comes to trying out new ideas. As Lindsey puts it, developing your “failure resume” is part of the process, and it helps you learn from past mistakes. Acknowledging that your ideas are not perfect will also help prevent your staff from becoming discouraged by failure. Instead, they will be grateful for the learning experience and continue pushing for further innovation.
Innovation is a powerful tool in long term care, and it can come in the form of a new idea, technique, or process introduced to improve outcomes of residents and positively impact employees. Innovation can involve changing policies and procedures to better meet the needs of your residents, implementing new technology, or establishing new programs and activities. No matter the type of innovation that you choose to implement, your ultimate goal should be to improve the quality of care at your facility and to address issues of residents and staff. Innovation is never easy, and you should be prepared to face barriers along the way. Should challenges arise, do not let yourself be discouraged but rather use obstacles as learning opportunities and stepping stones for future, better innovations.
To stay up to date on innovations and issues in long term care, subscribe to the LTC Heroes podcast.
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