Using Automation to Optimize Resources at Your Senior Living Facility

November 30, 2022
senior living couple

As with most healthcare organizations, senior living facilities have been hit hard through the pandemic, and they continue to feel the effects of the worldwide health emergency and its resulting impacts. Staffing shortages, pandemic-related losses and financial constraints have made it difficult to focus on what’s most important to senior living professionals: providing the highest quality care to their residents.

If a facility can’t provide safe, optimal care along with sustainable financial operations, they risk having to close their doors. Fortunately, technology has many uses in the healthcare sector that can assist with relieving the pressure. Specifically, automation and data analytics can help facilities understand and optimize their resource utilization to improve staffing issues and continue providing high-quality care efficiently and cost-effectively.

Staffing Challenges in the Senior Living Industry

Senior living facilities have many challenges that can lead to or result from healthcare staffing issues.

Potential disconnects between roles: Executives or administrators may not be tapped into the daily experiences and workflows of their CNAs, nurses and housekeepers. In turn, those individuals may not be tapped into the executive challenges of managing the whole facility.

Employee burnout: Senior living facilities endured significant losses during the pandemic, both of residents and staff. Existing staff are struggling to perform their daily work effectively and efficiently while dealing with loss and other mental fatigue. Healthcare professionals are typically motivated by caring for people, not money.

In long term care, the emotional connection can be quite strong. The facility, staff and residents become family. It’s challenging to stay in a work mindset after so many consecutive losses, and while managing the stress of wanting to perform to the best of their abilities. They may also feel the burden of regulations, compliance and oversight to keep everyone healthy and safe.

Low census and finances: Many facilities now have a lower census as well as reduced staffing. Though this may seem balanced, it doesn’t balance in reality. Some facilities are still faced with letting more staff go, though it’s risky to do so considering the small number of applicants. This is especially challenging in rural locations.

Wait list due to low staff: Those facilities that do have a wait list for residents to come in are more likely limited due to their low staff numbers, as opposed to the space.

Necessity and cost of travel staff: Facilities are being pressed to use travel staff, which is more expensive. Many facilities can’t afford such an expense, but they also can’t afford to have their core staff struggling to fill the gaps.

Edgewood Healthcare was experiencing growing pains from expansion. They needed a solution to unify their data and reduce manual work. With a cloud-based ERP, they were not only able to accomplish their immediate goals, but also to enable remote work when the pandemic hit.

How Senior Living Facilities Can Use Automation and Data Analytics

Amid the technologies available in the healthcare industry today, those that support process automation and automatic data collection are some of the most effective in reducing some of the strain. This is because they get at the heart of potential inefficiencies and unexplored opportunities that impact entire organizations, and because they relieve staff of redundant work so they can optimize their time.

Electronic Health Records

Documenting as you go is one of the biggest hurdles for direct care staff. With today’s challenges, they don’t have time to type long notes at a computer. Additionally, such a process isn’t trackable and doesn’t provide good, accurate data. Still, documentation is critical in the industry and necessary to ensure optimal care.

Facilities can set up their Electronic Health Records (EHR) system so it’s more efficient for their staff and provides more accurate, timely data. The system can make documenting simple, allowing staff to push buttons indicating their completed tasks and timing, and recording it for them. For instance, they could select from preset activities with one click to indicate that a resident had a shower or walked a certain distance at a specific time. Staff can then opt to add comments and notes, but it is not required to record the activity.

Some EHR systems also enable automatic note taking, for which an employee speaks into a device and the system automatically turns their speech into text and data. Facilities can provide hallway workstations, tablets and other electronic devices for staff to access easily throughout their shifts. These improvements allow for more efficiency and smoother processes.

Importantly, make sure your EHR system will work for your actual processes and needs. Your vendor can help set up your system so it’s realistic to your operations. For instance, if you’re struggling with documentation at your facility, you can build a hard stop that prevents staff from moving to the next step until a task that is not documented or overdue is addressed.

Real Time Locating Systems

Real Time Locating Systems (RTLS) can provide the data you need to optimize your resources, determine which investments you should make, and even discover how you might improve your facility layout. With this technology, tags are assigned to residents and staff. These tags deliver data to show how long individuals are in specific areas, so you can identify inefficiencies in your daily processes and operations.

For instance, you can use RTLS to understand resident time from check in to check out and discover where you can improve. You may also calculate average response time to call lights, or to improve night staffing and processes.

This technology isn’t meant to be used as a performance measure on an individual level. It is meant to help organizations improve resource utilization, processes and resident care.

Financial Administration Software

Facilities can also use automation and data analytics in their financial administration to optimize resource utilization and operational processes. Senior living facilities have robust data in their systems. With data extraction software, such as Microsoft Power BI, they can pull that data forward into one location to gain critical insights. The software can deliver timely reports as to staffing levels, resident care levels, incidents and more. It gives facility managers better visibility over daily operations, so they can make more timely decisions.

Though most facilities already conduct regular reporting, without automation, it takes time and is prone to errors. By the time a report is compiled, the data is already historical. This doesn’t help with today’s operations. With more timely data, your facility can be proactive, instead of reactive. You can respond when it will have the greatest, most immediate and positive impact to operations.

Healthcare organizations have a wealth of data on hand. Understanding where to focus your attentions and how frequently to report on various data is key to leveraging analytics.

How Technology Facilitates Game-Changing Operational Improvements

When facility leaders seek to improve overall operations, working with an experienced consultant can help you identify opportunities such as:

  • Realigning staff to new capacities
  • Improving your physical facility to remove limitations
  • Investing in new equipment to improve processes on the floor
  • Implementing new technologies to improve processes
  • Changing your operational model to better fit resident needs

A consultant can bring an outsider’s perspective to the equation. They’re able to view facility operations through an unbiased lens, and they have industry experience to inform their thinking. They can also provide advice and affirmation as you consider difficult decisions in the process.

Often, data itself is a great tool to help facility leaders and their advisors make determinations around which improvements and investments to make. Analytics give facility leaders a broad view of operations so they can better understand their opportunities, risks and challenges.

For example, data may reveal that using a three-person lift for bariatric patients impacts response times on the rest of the floor. Introducing a bariatric lift may turn out to be an efficient solution for your facility. Tracking with tools such as RTLS enables such visibility. With such data, you could decrease response times, identify trends and make optimal plans.

The data may also help you understand if you need other physical facility improvements, such as restructuring your floor plan, adding private rooms or designing a new facility altogether. Consultants will have invaluable insights as to current trends and potential physical improvements for your operations and resident mix.

Optimize Your Facility with Automation and Data Analytics

Many senior living facilities are up against incredible challenges, such as too much staff and too low of a census. Being strategic and proactive will help you become a more data-driven operation. Having a new set of eyes on your processes and operations can uncover great opportunities to improve resource management and resident care.

An industry professional will understand relevant trends and best practices for your specific operations. Consultants can look at how everything ties together, from finance to the frontline, to help you plot out an optimal, realistic way forward. Taking action can also improve financial success, allowing you to achieve additional goals.

If you’re up against such challenges, it’s important to start planning for improvements as soon as possible. It could mean the difference between staying open and needing to close. The way you’ve always done it may not be sustainable in today’s environment. You must take a step back and consider how you can do this better and more efficiently.

Our experienced Senior Living advisors can help you be more strategic and automate your processes.

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