The Care Quality Commission (CQC) revealed in its sixth Covid-19 insight that care home occupancy levels dropped by around 10% in the first wave of the pandemic. With the typical pressures of winter now approaching, there are fears that they may now fall again. Alongside this data, Christie & Co found that 39% of care homes surveyed had occupancy levels lower than 80%. Faced by the challenge to keep commercially sustainable, it’s vital that care homes look to new ways in which to improve their occupancy retention levels.
Getting the basics right in your care home
There’s a saying that you can’t polish a t*!d, so before you start any window dressing, you need to be objective about the levels of care and the quality of life for residents in your care home. Compliance is a key element of this; even if you provide great day-to-day care for residents, if you don’t record this in a way that demonstrates this effectively to the CQC, you are in danger of receiving a rating that may prompt residents and/or their relatives to start looking for an alternative care home.
Alongside ensuring consistent levels of care and ensuring that you are fulfilling your compliance obligations to get a rating that reflects this positively, it’s also worthwhile getting feedback from residents and their families as to what they think you’re doing well and any potential improvements/changes they would like made. Answering their needs and wants is key to keeping them happy – and therefore keeping them.
Within this, be brave and conduct exit interviews with any residents who are voting with their feet and leaving you. Are their reasons ones that could apply to other residents, in which case what can you do to remedy this? Or are they ones unique to them, in which case can you message this to other residents and relatives so they’re not prompted to start questioning whether another care home might be a better option for them too?
Messaging your good work
Assuming that you’ve got the basics right, it’s important that your key stakeholders know this. As relatives are so important to care decisions, this means communicating with them, as well as your residents. Some of this will need to be on an individual basis (see below), but there are some general communication strategies you can adopt to increase understanding of the quality of care you are providing to all stakeholders, as well as the wider community (which therefore can also help lead to more new enquiries).
General communication strategies to improve visibility and positive engagement with stakeholders align with those intended to drive general confidence in your care home, including:
- Using PR to announce events and news through your local media, including newspapers, magazines, local bloggers and parish newsletters — especially when good compliance ratings are achieved
- Sending out a regular newsletter to your residents’ families
- Proactive social media about events, activities and investments (such as visitor pods or staff training).
[Please be aware that, if a resident is living with dementia, they may not be able to give consent to being used in any public marketing for your care home, as a best interest decision.]
What all relatives really want to know is that you truly know their mum or dad or grandparent and that the care they are receiving is helping them to live their best life. Alongside general communications, it’s therefore important to think of strategies that reinforce this message with these key decision makers, so they know that their loved one is in the best place for them. Potential strategies to help achieve this include:
- Creating a digital portal for families to stay up to date with their loved one’s progress, such as via a private Facebook group
- Assigning a key carer to liaise with each resident’s family: Key care workers can invest in getting to know their assigned residents on a deeper level. If they are then the person responsible for resident/family review meetings, relatives will get a picture of consistent care with a dedicated understanding of their loved one. Dedicated key workers can also build stronger relationships with the wider family, strengthening trust and confidence and providing a platform for more honest communication, meaning any potential niggles are more likely be raised and resolved before they snowball.
The little details matter for your care home residents and their relatives
A care home should be a home – if it’s not, residents won’t feel comfortable and are more likely to look for somewhere that does. It’s often the small things that make us feel at home, such as our regular whiskey before dinner or hot drink before bed. Providing tailored care that can accommodate these little requests is an easy way to make your residents feel that you care and that they are now at home.
Similarly, the small details can make a big difference to how welcome relatives feel, which will colour how they view your care home during their visits. Small touches that can go a long way include:
- Priority parking: Your staff are important, but relatives are your VIPs. If they have to trawl across a muddy, poorly lit car park to get to see their mum, they’re possibly going to be in a bad mood by the time they get inside. Setting aside priority parking near to reception for visitors tells them that you value them and will predispose them to a positive visit.
- Get to know them: Being greeted by name is welcoming – being handed your preferred hot drink with your favourite biscuit is being at home!
- Open communication channels: Make sure they know who to talk to about particular issues and how to get hold of them.
Retention is the easiest route to boosting occupancy
Building solid relationships with your existing residents and their relatives should always be the bedrock of protecting your occupancy rates – and should always come before wooing new residents. After all, the costs attached are lower, and happy relatives will do your marketing for you!
As specialist care consultants, we regularly help our care home clients improve their care home occupancy retention. By working closely with all levels of a care home’s structure, from contract workers, to care management teams, to care home owners and providers, we can identify and implement new systems that can help to give residents and their families confidence and trust in your care home.