Article by Tim Alderdice, Director of Business Development – GrandView Pharmacy

As a former Director of Marketing and Admissions, for both skilled and assisted living communities, I felt the overwhelming responsibility of increasing census. Increased census provides the resources, and staff, necessary to keep a facility operating successfully. I have worked on two teams that accomplished the notable “full-house status”. However, in both instances, we took underperforming facilities (less than 80% occupied) to 100% WITHOUT spending money on external marketing or advertising.

The purpose of this article is to equip the leadership teams of underperforming buildings with specific knowledge to increase occupancy without breaking the budget.

Each team member, regardless of title, should be thought of as an extension of the marketing and admissions team. They should be treated with dignity and respect, as their positions directly impact census. A dietary aide, or a housekeeper, should be empowered with the same knowledge and resources as the admissions person. Although these roles may not be directly involved in any admission, the fruits of their labor will create the foundation for census-building by referral.

Families and friends of residents will delight in a good meal, and will take note of the cleanliness of the hallways and rooms. More importantly, they will share their observations and experience when they leave the building. Further, all staff members should be comfortable giving a brief tour or, at least, answering questions from an inquiring family member or prospective family. Lastly, each member of the staff should be regarded as a referral source. Staff leadership, including the admissions team, should engage CNAs, and activities assistants, in dialogue about how they speak to members of the external community. They should be encouraged to give positive insight and references about their employer when off-duty.

Traditionally discharges from short-term rehab are viewed negatively by the marketing and admissions staff because of their immediate impact on census. When marketing your community using this model, however, each discharge should be perceived as an opportunity for future growth. The admissions team should work closely with social services to ensure that every planned discharge is on their calendar. Shortly before the discharge date, the resident should be approached by a member of the admissions team. A brief verbal survey should be conducted to establish how the resident felt about their stay and their experience in rehab. If the resident and their family are very pleased, then the admissions person should feel free to convert that resident into a referral source. In other words, the admissions person should ask the departing resident if they would speak favorably to three members of the community the day of their discharge about how pleasant their stay was at the rehab facility. They are also encouraged that their words ensure that the continued success of the building and its ability to care for future residents. Please note the admissions person is asking for a specific call to action, not merely a favorable review. In this way departing residents become “walking billboards” the day they discharge from the building.

One might suggest that the marketing director’s primary task is to do external marketing. In my tenure as a community relations director for an assisted living community, I viewed my most critical task as meeting with family members and closing. In fact, I rarely made a sales or marketing call. If the facility is operating efficiently and effectively to provide quality care, then the referrals will come. More importantly, family members of a prospect will hear about the quality of care from family members of current residents when the admissions person is doing his job in converting them into referrals sources.