LeadingAge Magazine · January/February 2014 • Volume 04 • Number 01

Tell the Story of Your Innovations

January 09, 2014 | by Jane Sherwin

Innovation comes naturally to LeadingAge members, but along with developing new programs and practices, providers should spread the word about their successes. Here is a look at members that have successfully told their stories of innovation.

Not-for-profit aging-services providers are always innovating in senior care, and part of that process should be spreading the word about what they are doing. Telling the world about their innovations not only raises providers’ profiles; it improves practices within the field as others emulate the best new ideas.

Here is a look at a few providers that are engaging their larger communities in dementia education, launching cutting-edge models for skilled nursing, and using the latest in marketing concepts to engage seniors and their families. While publicity for these innovations includes making use of an online presence, it also reflects a good understanding of how traditional media works.

Jan Zimmerman is the administrator/director of nursing at Heritage Homes in Watertown, WI, which opened its dedicated memory services in 2010. Heritage Homes is affiliated with the Lutheran Home Association, based in Belle Plaine, MN. Her organization has taken the usual public-education efforts to another level by trying to make Watertown a “dementia-aware and dementia-friendly” city.

“There is a lot of stigma to dementia,” says Zimmerman. “There are families who don’t want to admit their loved one is ill. In the larger community, people are uncertain how to behave around those who are disabled.” Starting in 2011, and learning from the national organization Alzheimer's Speaks, Heritage Homes has been offering workshops and conferences to educate the Watertown community about ways to make life easier for both dementia patients and those who serve them.

“One of our biggest advocates is Watertown’s Reesville Bank, one of the first businesses to approach us for employee training on how to approach people with dementia, what to do if they think a client is being scammed, or needs more help with managing their money.

“But even a coffee shop may benefit from some training on how to help a customer who forgets to pay for their coffee. There’s also a lot of educating we can do for public services. We can help them register people with dementia, so that when they go out on call, they’ll know what approach to use. What do you do, for example, when someone is terrified and hiding under the bed when there’s a fire alarm?

“We can also help families, who may be asking, ‘If my loved one has dementia, what changes will I see, and how can I keep her independent as long as possible?’ And a patient may want to know, “If I have dementia, how can I go outside, and can I trust that people will be more patient with me?”

Heritage Homes and its community partners have established a “Memory Café” at a local coffee shop. “This is a safe and welcoming environment, where dementia patients and their families can relax and talk about their lives.” There is also the Watertown Dementia Awareness coalition, a mix of business, caregivers, and patients. The town mayor has also provided significant support.

Once an organization has completed its training with the Heritage Homes team, they are given a decal, a purple angel with a globe, symbolic of their awareness and new skills. “If you see the purple angel in a window,” says Zimmerman, you know you’ve found a safe place to go.”

This blog post from Alzheimer’s Speaks points to articles that tell more about Heritage Homes’ efforts.

Zimmerman and Heritage Homes have used a steady flow of familiar techniques for getting the word out about making Watertown a dementia-friendly community.

“At the beginning, we sent out letters about the coalition, inviting everyone to attend a meeting and hear a talk. The letters were to our own personal contacts, along with names from the Chamber of Commerce,” says Zimmerman. “We also made our presence known at the Chamber’s ‘Wakeup Watertown’ monthly networking event. And we’ve had a lot of support from the mayor.”

Publicity also included the website and press releases to local and state newspapers, cable TV and Facebook.

Over the past seven years, Saint Therese, New Hope, MN, and its rehabilitation division, Saint Therese Rehab (STR) has been striving to improve the balance of seniors through a fall prevention initiative.

The goal of the initiative is to focus on specialized programming for older adults to help prevent and reduce the number of falls. A simple special interest survey of the residents on campus revealed that they had balance-related concerns and many expressed a fear of falling.

With encouragement from Saint Therese President and CEO Barb Rode, the therapy team decided to develop a specialized program that would treat balance disorders in older adults with the goal of preventing falls from occurring.

As staff researched different programming models focused on balance disorders, Amy Taylor-Greengard, executive director of STR, recalled a balance assessment and rehabilitation system she had seen called the NeuroCom® Equitest system.

Generous donors contributed an astounding $125,000 to the Saint Therese Foundation to help purchase the NeuroCom® systems and launch the program. This event was promoted to hundreds of donors, and we published multiple articles in our organization newsletter, mailed to over 10,000 friends of Saint Therese.

The idea of fall prevention took off in our local and surrounding communities. In the first year and half, from April 2009 to December 2010, over 350 clients were seen specifically for balance-related concerns. Of those, 87% showed improvement from their first assessment to their last. By taking a relatable topic and pairing it with state-of-the-art equipment, quality staff and evidence-based practices, we found that more and more people sought out information on the balance initiative.

Since 2010, the clinics have served hundreds of people. The fall prevention initiative and the NeuroCom system have been featured in two major fundraising galas and by local TV stations and newspapers. In 2013 STR participated in the Minnesota State Fair’s Wiser Living Exhibit and brought the machine along. Over the course of 12 days, over 400 people were given modified assessments with hundreds if not thousands more seeing the equipment in action.

Learn more about the fall prevention initiative at Saint Therese here. See this video for a demonstration of the equipment .

- Written by John LeBlanc, executive director of development & marketing, Saint Therese, New Hope, MN.

In May, be.group launched a new website, MySilverAge, currently attracting 10,000 unique visitors each month. Dan Hutson, vice president of communications and marketing for be.group, says the new site “engages people around the things that they are interested in doing in their senior years. It already has more than 100 pieces of distinct content.”

be.group was founded in 1955 as Southern California Presbyterian Homes. With corporate headquarters in Glendale, CA, be.group has 33 communities throughout the state.

“Besides being a great new resource for older adults looking for successful aging guidance, MySilverAge is at the heart of our shift from outbound marketing to an inbound marketing strategy,” says Hutson.

“Prior to 2013 we pursued a more traditional outbound strategy that included print advertising and direct mail. Outbound marketing is all about interrupting the consumer, whether they have an interest in your product or not. For those who may be interested, it treats them all the same. It results in a lot of wasted marketing dollars.

“Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is about making yourself findable through the creation and distribution of targeted content. With MySilverAge, be.group positions itself as a trusted advisor on issues related to successful aging.”

Hutson thinks LeadingAge members could do much more with inbound marketing. “Less than 10% of older adults have any interest in senior living. Inbound marketing enables us to demystify what senior living is all about with useful, actionable information.”

Through MySilverAge, be.group hopes to do a better job of building profiles of prospects by tracking their activity on the site and adding content that reflects their interests.

Hutson says that an “inbound” strategy need not involve a complex website. “Developing and delivering rich content can be done simply through a periodic print or e-newsletter that addresses the concerns of seniors and their families in your community. The key is to make your marketing all about helping, not selling.”

In 2006, when Garden Spot Village, New Holland, PA, opened its first skilled nursing household model, it was trying something new in senior care. While the model is increasingly used today, Garden Spot’s innovative approach at the time attracted “thousands of people from all over the U.S. and the world,” says Scott Miller, chief marketing officer.

Garden Spot Village is a CCRC, affiliated with several Mennonite organizations. It has just fewer than 1,000 residents, including 73 skilled nursing beds. When it began additional skilled nursing construction in 2004-5, the organization decided to investigate the household model, rather than another hospital-style wing.

The model is centered on the needs of the individual rather than the needs of staff. Staff get to know the people they care for, and their roles, except for medications, are “blended.” Thus residents are made to feel part of a family and less lonely. They are also encouraged in the kinds of activities they might have done at home. “The residents are our clients, and we are serving them,” says Miller.

By 2009 there were four new households, and old spaces had been transformed. During the process, Garden Spot Village received considerable support and guidance from ActionPact, an organization recognized for developing and promoting the household model.

“By now,” says Miller, “the household model is just a part of our culture, and our skilled nursing beds are full. Our outcomes are outstanding. Giving people choices about how to live and what to do, even in skilled nursing, makes a surprising difference to their quality of life. Right after we opened we began to notice improvements.”

Open houses were an especially successful tool for letting the community know about the new household model.

“We started with open houses for staff, family members, and residents,” says Miller, “then for area senior living communities. Large numbers of people came. We also invited hospitals, case workers, and the general community.

“We also sent out direct emails, and we used press releases. We had a very good relationship with a reporter and that helped to build awareness that we had something so cool and different.” New Holland residents even began lobbying their physicians and hospitals for rehabilitation at Garden Spot. “I’ve lived here all my life,” says one, “and I should be able to get in.”

Stemming from the dreams of an innovative local family, Hover Community was built in 1979, with Beatrice Hover setting her heart on creating a community where people could age affordably and with dignity. When Hover Community noticed that elders were forced to move to assisted living or to call a home care agency when it was not necessarily needed, it was clear to us that Beatrice Hover would have been in the homes of these elders, helping them “age in place” as affordably as possible.

Hover@Home Services (H@HS) was launched in 2009. Home assistants and a handyman form lasting relationships with the elders they serve. They help make quilts for their grandchildren, clean up their houses, fix leaky faucets, walk their dogs when it’s cold, bake a batch of fresh cookies, or bring holiday decorations down from the attic. There are many touching stories of elders who “almost had to move,” but H@HS was there to lend a hand and be a friend.

Outreach strategies have focused on relationship-building within the community rather than elaborate marketing packages. H@HS has become well-known by way of the local senior center, aging networking groups, and multiple home care and home health agencies. Through these relationships, along with door-to-door flyer deliveries in elderly neighborhoods, H@HS has seen growth in the number of people it helps each month. This information is tracked by asking new clients how they heard of the program; feedback is clear that word-of-mouth and referrals are favored over media-based and social-media advertising. Since start-up, H@HS has served over 200 elders and has an average of 30 appointments each week.

One challenge we experience is disenrollment due to age-related declines in health or physical ability among seniors who require more assistance than we offer. In those situations, H@HS works closely with home care and home health agencies to make that transition easier. We expect this program to grow continually as the word spreads throughout the community, as H@HS has only offered its services outside of our independent living residence since March 2013.

Our partners have expressed gratitude and support for the relational services we provide, and have confirmed that they see needs in the community that have not been addressed until now.

- Written by Brandi Sanchez, Hover@Home services director, Longmont, CO.


While new online tools can be invaluable, “traditional media can also be very useful,” says Marcia Yudkin, the author of “6 Steps to Free Publicity.”

“A lot of success in getting the word out has to do with thinking the way newspaper and television media think. What’s exciting to you isn’t necessarily exciting for the media. For example, an event by definition is timelier than an ongoing program, especially when you can make it colorful and eye-catching. Anniversaries, especially the 10th, 25th, 50th are attractive. Also, anything that defies stereotypes is news-making.”

“You can use your own expertise for publicizing innovations,” says Yudkin. “Put together a list of publicity angles and brainstorm with your own staff. Use events calendars both on line and in the local paper. Media have to fill their pages every day. Don’t defeat yourself by saying they won’t ever be interested—in fact you are helping them do their job.”

Brandi Towns is a public relations account supervisor with GlynnDevins, a Kansas-based marketing firm specializing in the field of senior living. She argues that “if you have a compelling story, the size of your community or organization doesn’t matter. What really matters is that you share your story to help influence stakeholders, using a variety of tools from traditional media to social media like Facebook, Twitter and your website. If you fail to share good news, it’s a missed opportunity to create positive awareness and build credibility for your organization.

“Your online presence is becoming increasingly important as a way to help spread the word,” says Towns. “Even mainstream media are asking communities to partner in webcasts, podcasts and online chats. If you don’t have much in place with social media, try it out personally, join LinkedIn discussions, follow others in the field who are active on Facebook, stay in touch with senior living reporters. If your story has a likeability factor, this can go a long way.”

Mather LifeWays, a non-denominational not-for-profit based in Evanston, IL, is dedicated to developing and implementing Ways to Age WellSM.

Keeping the marketing message fresh and on point is important in helping us tell the story of innovative ideas. Here are some ideas from our marketing playbook to help your organization enhance its communications:

Create experiences. As you walk through The Mather, our newest CCRC, you may notice some unusual internal signage, which assists in creating culture and storytelling. You’ll see signs such as “The Suits” for executive offices or “Squeaky Clean East” for the linen closet. No detail is too small to create an experience and tell your story.

Change the language. At Mather LifeWays, the word Repriorment™ was created to assist in painting a picture about what we define as a forward-thinking solution to the evolving lifestyle priorities and desires of today’s older adults. Repriorment™, is a philosophy that inspires residents to develop all those pushed-aside (but not forgotten) priorities they’ve wanted to revisit. Tell the story you want to tell, and change the language if you need to in order to do the best job possible.

Educate your customer. Generate white papers on a variety of aging-well topics that are of interest to older adults’ physical, emotional, and social well-being. Be a thought leader, and a maven; share what you know.

Ask questions. Conduct a survey or focus group. Ask boomers and older adults for their advice and insight on topics that are of interest to your organization, city or field. Use these surveys to find out more to better serve their needs in the future, strengthen your messaging, and enlist these prospects to help you find solutions. Use the results of the survey to follow-up with them in the coming weeks and announce findings to respondents and local press.

Make it social. Use social media and email as part of your integrated marketing mix. By creating a strong online presence, you not only deliver your message, but keep your finger on the pulse of the field and learn what others are doing as well. Today, we have more than 2,200 Facebook followers between two residences, as well as 6,700 followers on Twitter and 11,000 subscribers to our monthly free e-newsletter, Aging in Action. Stay relevant and be an industry innovator by using social media to help tell your stories.

- Contributed by Mather LifeWays, Evanston, IL.