Let's get back to the basics for a minute because these principles are responsible for carrying your skilled census to the top of the list. Here are the top five census development opportunities that are so fundamental that sometimes they tend to be overlooked in everyday operations.
1. First Impressions
Anyone that has ever had a job in sales and/or marketing can tell you that first impressions are everything. In a skilled nursing facility, it's not any different. From the parking lot, to the way a facility externally looks, the area in which the facility is located, the smell (or lack thereof), the receptionist or individual that was the first to say hello- it's all key to whether or not someone decides to move ahead with the admission process.
There is an overload of information on the internet that'll tell you that you have "seven seconds to make a good impression," or "thirty seconds to make a lasting imprint." In my experience, the impression starts as soon as the inquiring family coming to tour enters the parking lot and doesn't take a respite until they've come in contact with the first person they see and talk to upon entering the facility. Sounds shallow to solely base an impression on the exterior or the building, the lobby and the receptionist, right? Perhaps...but that's how society works. Coupling that with high emotions from children coming to scope out a place for Mom to do some therapy after a recent hip surgery makes the stakes that much higher for a stellar first impression.
Of course one can say that how the exterior of the facility presents or the location in which it's situated can't be improved upon and while that may be true, the admissions department along with the administrator, housekeeping and maintenance can certainly control what happens when a family walks through the front door.
As a result of having to drudge through the clichéd stereotype that all "nursing homes" smell like urine and death, Admissions should automatically know that the bias someone feels when first touring has already been imprinted into his or her mind. Therefore, they must work that much harder on a daily basis to ensure there is no urine odor, especially in the front lobby; that there aren't any patients slumped over in wheelchairs as a result of the nursing or activities staff moving them out of their way and into yours; and finally, working with the receptionist to come to a critical understanding that their smile and warm greeting is imperative to your ultimate plan.
2. Be Ready...on the Inside
Skilled nursing admissions and marketing, contrary to what some corporate companies may say, takes place on the inside. While it's always ideal to have a liaison to attend Chamber events, senior living meetings and trade shows, it should never be the Admissions Director's responsibility.
The Admissions Director should be ready, on the inside, for what needs attention such as tours and most importantly responding to the admissions phone line, emails and fax machine for incoming referrals.
If an email or fax isn't responded to or a phone call isn't answered, the inquiring family and/or case manager from the local hospital will quickly call another facility to speak with someone who will do those things.
Of course, we can't always be in the right place at the right time. You may find yourself with a walk-in tour when a case manager leaves a voicemail on your admissions line. However, if the Admissions Director is present in the facility, the call will be returned much quicker than if they were given the responsibility of delivering cookies to the local senior center.
Everything in skilled nursing happens quickly. Doctors write orders for a patient to be discharged to a SNF for physical therapy. In turn, the case manager quickly sends out a fax with information about the patient and their family. If the discharge is happening on the same day, which oftentimes is the case, the quicker the Admissions Department can make things happen, the more likely the case manager will call you the next time a discharge order is written.
3. Sell your Staff on the Importance of the Admissions Role
While doing admissions for my first facility, referrals were rapid fire most days. It wasn't uncommon to have four or five admissions a day. However, for the nursing staff this meant additional workload and more stress.
I had to generate excitement around the challenges that increased census brought to our nursing staffs. More opportunity to provide care and more job security are important to nurses however I recognized that there was a need to generate some excitement around growing census.
I would provide incentives for the staff based on what was happening. If they had to deal with an exorbitant amount of admissions during a particular day, I'd make it a point to deliver a treat to the nursing stations. If they went out of their way to smile or introduce themselves to a family that I was touring, I may give them a $5 gift card to Dunkin' Donuts. Ultimately, I needed my staff to come to the same understanding that I had already come to; it was going to be more work for all of us, but the work was worth it and it was always appreciated.
Having said all of that, the Director of Nursing, like all other department heads, must have a significant understanding and appreciation for your role. Again, you are creating job security for every member of the staff. Ideally, the DON should have impeccable communication skills to help facilitate your role, especially when it comes to referral sources and families that need extra reassurance that they're choosing the right facility. Without good communication between the Admissions and Nursing Departments, the path of creating consistent skilled censuswill ultimately become blocked with obstacles.
4. Understand Your Referral Sources
Like mentioned before, Admissions taking the role of primarily being an internal position, is crucial to a healthy census. Marketing and customer service are key not only with families that need information about the nursing or therapy program, but also with those individuals providing the potential referrals.
Most often, individuals are desperate for a way to send their parents home with in-home therapy rather than sending them to a "nursing home" for the skilled therapy. It's your job to give the potential referral sources valid and matchless reasons to send consistent referrals to your facility-preferably as the provider of choice for them.
Being available for on-site assessments, tours, phone calls, emails and faxes is just as much marketing, public relations and customer service as attending a trade fair or delivering cookies. Additionally, from a skilled nursing census standpoint, this method tends to go farther and faster than most external marketing efforts.
5. Family Relationships
Admissions Directors act as the front door person as well as the back door person of the facility.
We are the ones that get an influx of questions, concerns, and comments during the initial tour, through the admissions paperwork and process and when the discharge has taken place. Everything in between, concerning other departments in the facility, is just as crucial but Admissions is where someone first felt "comfortable" with the facility and the process of sending a loved one to an unfamiliar and distressing situation. I've spoken with some Admissions Directors that feel as if getting too close with a family isn't necessary and can make matters worse if something goes wrong. I disagree. It's all about customer service and follow through. If a family feels comfortable enough to tell me that something isn't going as they had hoped, they have ultimately given me the power to address it. Thankfully, they've given me opportunity to rectify a situation rather than giving it to the State to fix.
Somewhere along the way, our society has morphed into a voicemail, automated service, "press 1 to speak with..." standard. No one likes it yet we've all just accepted it as the norm. Personally, I have never accepted it. I refuse to fall in line with the measure that people can become lazy and complacent in a job that is stressful, emotional and significant to many families. As a result of bringing genuine customer service and relationships back to the table, the response from families will generally be swift, measureless and meaningful.
I've observed several corporations in the senior healthcare industry striving to develop a unique culture to market their facility. However, customer service, a basic sales mentality and relationship building seems to perpetually be the superglue of a healthy operation. Getting back to the basics is what facilities should ultimately be striving for to quickly elevate their census. Steady recognition that relationships and customer service begin the minute someone enters the front door and if done correctly, doesn't end upon discharge.
If you have questions about your facility's census, please contact Harmony Healthcare International by clicking here or calling our office at (800) 530-4413.
Annie Osteen has been involved in healthcare marketing and business development for the past 15 years. She is originally from Tampa, Florida and went to Florida State University. She currently lives with her husband and five children in Franklin, TN.