Long-term care organizations were especially hard hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Public trust in them has eroded, and many people are uncertain whether they should consider them for themselves or family members. According to a November ‘20 AARP survey of adults 40 and older, four in ten adults believe the spread of the coronavirus in long-term care facilities is a major problem. 45% of respondents said the pandemic has had a negative impact on their opinion of nursing homes, and 33% said it has hurt their opinion of assisted living facilities.1
To regain trust, it’s imperative that these organizations communicate and demonstrate to their prospects that they can provide a safe and engaging environment for their residents. If there was ever a time for senior living facilities to make a fresh start, this post-pandemic period is crucial for conveying a new promise.
What is trust?
So, what is trust and how can these organizations go about regaining it? Kent Grayson, Director of The Trust Project at Northwestern University believes, “Trust is grounded in the belief that someone else is dependable and will honor their commitments.”2
The Trust Project at Northwestern University determined that it consists of three dimensions—competence, honesty, and benevolence—and that honesty and benevolence are particularly intertwined.” 3 This means that to fully regain trust, your audiences need to believe that you are delivering on all three attributes. REGROUP believes that long-term care organizations will have to go above and beyond to show they’ve changed and are worthy of consideration. Let’s look at some examples of what others are doing to achieve this:
Competence is the ability of a company to deliver on its promises—to do what it does and to do it well. The issue of competence was undoubtedly pushed to the limit when over 44% of the 13,300 U.S. nursing homes experienced more than four COVID outbreaks. 4
REGROUP recommends clients follow the advice of Bill McGinley, President and CEO of American College of Health Care Administrators, who suggests addressing issues head on, understanding how your organization is perceived and promoting your accomplishments. 5
- Communicate what you are doing to address issues: If your facility had issues, now is the time to get your house back in order and tell people what you did to fix or prevent issues. Offer concrete examples of what you learned and what you are doing differently, such as resource investments including more PPE, enhanced assessment tools for compliance with infection control and partnerships with hospitals and other support services.
- Monitor your reviews: You can’t change the narrative if you don’t know what people are saying about you. Be proactive and monitor your social channels and reviews. Negative social comments should be addressed off-line, one on one, so as not to create more noise and to determine the cause of the concern.
- Take advantage of your quality ratings: Most organizations have data that speaks to patient satisfaction, customer experience or to their quality credentials. Use quality data such as your CMS star ratings and accreditations to your advantage. If your organization is JACHO certified or has a 5-star CMS rating, remind your patients, families and prospects about the standards required to achieve your accreditations.
Transparency is a company’s ability to be honest, to clearly explain its services, pricing, and values, and empower customers and staff with information. Without transparency your efforts at improving competence will be wasted. Here are some good examples from leaders and CEOs in the industry on how they are engaging in transparent conversations with their audiences:
- Develop a Recovery Communications Plan: Lynn Johnson, VP Human Resources, Therapy Specialists, recommends that each facility develop a “Recovery Communications Plan” for internal and external audiences. Consumers are aware of the negative PR, so it is important to develop consistent messages for your audiences and begin to rebuild relationships with family members and referral sources. As part of this plan be prepared with the answers to some difficult questions and don’t shy away from answering them.6
- Communicate proactively: Luis Serrano, CEO of Sunshine Retirement Living in Bend, Oregon, sends detailed updates to the company’s residents and families once a week, and to stakeholders and lenders twice a week. He believes this is important because, “In any crisis, the unknown is what causes the panic, and that panic is what causes the damage. If you are very upfront in the beginning with all your communications … that level of panic gets significantly reduced.”7
- Reconnect with Referral Sources: Referral sources are an important part of your business and if they are not informed about your latest initiatives, they can easily forget you. Aaron Campbell, AVP of Jarrard, Inc., suggests that as organizations emerge from the pandemic it is important for long-term care companies to communicate with their referral sources. “They too have been under a lot of stress during the pandemic, so it is important to remind them that your facility is still available to them and let them know what you have done to keep your facility and residents safe. Consider developing a list of 2020-21 accomplishments you can share with them.” 8
Benevolence refers to how much a company cares about people—the concern, kindness, and fairness with which it treats customers, employees, and the community. REGROUP believes that demonstrating that you are a caring and concerned organization can go a long way in instilling loyalty and trust. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate in a relevant and authentic way that you care about and support your staff, patients, families, and community. It can also help build goodwill as you work on shoring up competence and transparency. Lynn Johnson, VP of Human Resources at Therapy Specialists, offered these suggestions for organizations to show they care about their staff.
- Survey your audiences: One of the most important ways to build trust is to request feedback and engage your staff, residents, families, and referral sources with regular surveys. For staff, Lynn recommends quarterly pulse surveys to check in with employees and determine how they are feeling about particular issues. Most importantly, feedback gained from audiences needs to be shared back with defined action steps, so people feel their input mattered. Other recommended staff initiatives to improve staff morale include Town Hall meetings, employee recognition days and making resources like wellness and mental health programs available to them. 8
- Don’t forget to say thank you! Organizations can’t fulfill their service obligations without a dedicated workforce. To that end, Lynn Johnson believes that it is important to recognize and personally thank staff and family members for the service and sacrifices they made to keep everyone safe. She encourages organizations to formally thank their staff and all those who contributed throughout the pandemic.9
- Sponsor or participate in a health or senior community activity: REGROUP recommends that you look for community events or programs that your staff/facility can contribute your expertise and or resources. Large numbers of older adults have become physically and cognitively debilitated and less able to care for themselves during 15 months of sheltering in place.10 Senior post-pandemic re-entry programs, programs to help with senior isolation, exercise or art programs for seniors are just a few examples of ways to help. And it provides visibility for your organization in your community, demonstrates that you care and provides an opportunity to share your story with a new audience.
The solution to building trust is in how well you communicate and engage your audiences. It is never too late to make a fresh start, but it is important that during this post-pandemic time you take the time to reset and renew your promise to your staff, patients, families, partners, and the community.
At REGROUP we know that every touchpoint with your audiences makes an impression and contributes to how they think about your brand. We are adept at helping clients translate their messages into relevant, authentic statements that resonate with their audiences. If you have questions about how to craft your recovery plan, make your messaging more meaningful or could use help to research how your organization is perceived, we are here to help. We’ll give you a complimentary one-hour consult and our best thinking on how you can regain trust for your organization.
2-3. Three Components of Trust in Buyer-Seller Relationships: A Marketer’s Perspective
4. Only 64 U.S. nursing homes — 0.5 percent — had no COVID-19 outbreak the last half of 2020: GAO
5-9. LEAP Symposium, “A forecast for the future of Post- Acute Care”, Sponsored by HealthPro Heritage. Webinar: Time to rebuild Part 1: Assess +renew a foundation of Trust: Presenters: Bill McGinley, President & CEO, American College of Health Care Administrators, Aaron Campbell, Associate Vice President, Jarrard, Inc, Lynn Johnson, VP of Human Resources, Therapy Specialists, Kristy Yoskey, SVP of Clinical Strategies, HealthPRO Heritage
10. “We Have to Get Ahead of This”: Amid Bad Press, Senior Living Providers Must Be Transparent
11. As Pandemic Eases, Many Seniors Have Lost Strength, May Need Rehabilitative Services