Making Lemonade Out of Lemons: Resilience and Innovation During the Time of COVID-19

During the COVID-19 outbreak, residential behavioral healthcare facilities continue to provide vital around-the-clock services to their communities. Unfortunately, residents and staff are particularly vulnerable to the physical and mental difficulties associated with the coronavirus pandemic. Residential services need to adapt in order to cope with this global crisis. Fortunately, one organization has found an innovative way to respond.

A Beacon of Hope

Beacon Specialized Living is a leading provider of specialized residential care programs that support people with intellectual disabilities and mental health needs. During the pandemic, they’ve implemented a set of new ideas to protect against COVID-19, which have proven to make their company more resilient. Beacon is known for never turning anyone away. “We take in those no one else wants,” said Melissa Williams, Chief Compliance Officer.

The family-owned company has operated in Michigan for over 20 years. In that time, Beacon went from owning a handful of homes, to overseeing over 60 locations within the state. Then, they branched out to include programs in Minnesota and Wisconsin. From the very beginning, founder Ken Ratzlaff wanted his company to help others. As they grew, Beacon maintained their values of integrity and compassion. Over time, expansion and investments enabled Beacon to bolster its hardware and software capabilities. “The financial investment gave us the funding we needed to buy NextStep Solutions EHR, which has allowed Beacon to become nearly paperless,” said Williams.

The behavioral health-specific EHR has helped Beacon manage their growing number of facilities more efficiently. NextStep provides a streamlined approach for notes and documentation, while allowing collaboration among multiple staff members who may be caring for the same resident, regardless of their physical location. Medication management, the ability to track and measure clinical outcomes, and automated billing make workflows easier to manage. Dashboards and reports provide a quick and precise snapshot of how the facilities and the residents are doing. This established technology provided a unique opportunity once the pandemic hit.

Residential Services During a Pandemic 

The coronavirus pandemic brought a new set of challenges to managing residential care facilities. Due to state restrictions, clinicians couldn’t go into the homes to support the residents and live-in staff. “It was a scary time for everyone,” said Williams, but Beacon’s leadership was ready to tackle COVID-19 early on. From the first inklings of virus spread, the CEO, Darren Hodgdon, began daily calls with the department heads to discuss the evolving situation. They monitored residents and staff for symptoms with company-wide screening protocols that were stricter than the state guidelines.

This proactive approach prevented the high infection rates seen in many residential homes across the country. Of Beacon’s 600 residents, only 2 have tested positive for the virus. Those residents were quarantined, along with two staff members who volunteered to stay with them continuously for two weeks. “Our staff put themselves at risk being there in the home with those residents. We’re blessed to have such a good team,” said Williams.

Boosting Communication and Morale 

The pre-established electronic systems in every home and department allowed for seamless crossover to virtual communication. “We haven’t missed a beat when it comes to providing support to our staff and residents,” said Williams. Clinicians and nurses have daily contact with residents and other team members using virtual meet-ups. The compliance department hosts themed Spirit Weeks with karaoke and dance parties. Residents and staff from different homes communicate with each other. “The morale is higher now than it ever has been. Our turnover rate is less than it’s ever been,” said Williams.

The impact of COVID-19 has been an overall positive one for Beacon. In recent years, it wasn’t feasible for administrative staff to have face-to-face contact with each of the 60+ homes. In-home staff knew the headquarters’ team by name only. The virtual connections sparked by the pandemic have allowed the company to get to know each other on a more personal level. “People really feel like part of the team now. They’ve gotten to know us, they really appreciate it, and feel supported,” said Williams.

Beyond the Outbreak

Innovations instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic have made Beacon more resilient. Moving forward, they plan to continue using virtual team meetings, which will cut down on travel time and streamline daily contact with homes. Coming together in this time of crisis has also created a feeling of accomplishment among the staff. “There is nothing we can’t achieve if we do it together. We all pitch in, even when it’s not our area,” said Williams.

Company leadership hopes to continue themed days a few times a week, even after restrictions are lifted. Of all the spirit days so far, “Thankful Thursday” was the most well-attended. Residents and staff could share pictures and talk about someone or something they are grateful for. Many said they were thankful to live and work at Beacon.

For Beacon, the key take-aways going forward are communication, support, and vision. Daily calls keep everyone in the loop, even when working apart. Supporting in-home staff with regular meetings and themed events maintain morale. Little extra things don’t necessarily cost anything, and they let the staff know they are not out there alone. In the end, Beacon won’t lose sight of what really matters—the residents.

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