Case Study – Organic approach to wellness improves outcomes
New Jersey’s United Methodist Communities, a faith-based, non-profit provider of senior living communities and services, began offering wellness programs in 2012. Today, their person-centered approach is built on an advanced wellness foundation—and residents are thriving.
At United Methodist Communities (UMC), living the “abundant life” is a key part of a faith-based mission. The organization’s aim is to combine humanity and vitality to form the foundation for an abundant life at its communities for seniors of every faith and background. UMC leaders also focus on fostering the health of the organization. They work to stay ahead of trends in senior living and health care and execute dynamic strategic plans to assure UMC continues to have the means to provide leading-edge programs and services that help residents remain as independent as possible.
In 2012, UMC leaders committed to a long-term plan designed to maintain their residents’ well-being and independence and promote resident engagement. At the same time, they expected to reduce rehospitalizations, see more residents stay in independent living longer, and, as a result, strengthen and grow their referral base.
UMC leaders knew anecdotally in 2012 that seniors who remain active and participate in falls-reduction and other wellness programs live more independent and satisfying lives. Since then, studies, including one by the International Council on Active Aging [ICAA], have confirmed the effectiveness of wellness programs. The ICAA data indicates independent residents in a developed wellness program remained independent for 8.8 years as compared to 6.1 years for all residents—a 2.7-year difference.[i]
First, Symbria Wellness. UMC began that year by implementing Symbria’s Wellness Program, which was created by wellness innovators and offered customized fitness programming supervised by a certified exercise professional as well as targeted disease management programs to address chronic conditions like Parkinson’s Disease, arthritis, diabetes, and others. Soon after, UMC enhanced its wellness program by incorporating clinical programs from Accelerated Care Plus (ACP). The ACP offerings combine innovative rehabilitation technologies with customized clinical protocols and pathways, advanced therapist training, and ongoing support by ACP’s licensed physical and occupational therapists.
The combination of Symbria Wellness with ACP clinical programs facilitated the transition of residents from rehab to wellness activities to help maintain their therapy outcomes. It maximized the effectiveness of wellness participation for residents who relied on the program to stay active, stronger, and healthier.
At the same time, UMC began offering It’s Never 2 Late (IN2L) to residents. This picture-based, touch-screen system allows residents to “touch” their way to engaging, educational, spiritual and personalized content that is appropriate to their own abilities. With this addition, UMC’s wellness platform expanded to add cognitive “exercise” to physical activities, and a strong foundation was laid to support the evolution of the organization to a new wellness approach. In addition, UMC makes most wellness offerings available to seniors in the larger communities surrounding their campuses.
A comprehensive wellness definition. UMC’s approach as a provider became holistic and person-directed. Residents make their own life and care decisions; UMC provides the environment.
“Wellness is organic to the way we manage our communities, “said UMC President and CEO Larry Carlson. “We’ve broken out of the silos that we had previously operated under and now our definition of wellness goes beyond the physical to include support for the entire wellbeing of our residents. From social workers, to chaplains, to personal fitness trainers and beyond, we have taken a much broader approach when it comes to wellness.”
Living up to the wellness promise. “We track residents’ progress using unbiased metrics wherever we can,” said VP of Operations Carol McKinley. “We find that resident engagement grows exponentially when wellness is incorporated in many different ways. For example, when a resident’s strength and balance improve to the point where he can give up his walker, that news spreads, and other residents want to participate too.”
UMC recently added a new measurement tool for wellness program participants. “Symbria Wellness is partnering with VirtuSense Technologies, makers of VSTBalance, an innovative artificial-intelligence based physical assessment tool,” said Carlson.
VSTBalance is a 3D motion analysis system. It allows a therapist certified in the technology to administer evidence-based gait and balance tests electronically, along with a biofeedback program that explores the resident’s limits of stability.
“It ‘gamifies’ the assessment experience,” said Carlson, “making it fun as well as objective and accurate. It offers our therapy and fitness professionals an accurate picture of the resident’s ambulation abilities and fall risk initially, over time, and as compared to norms in our communities and the larger senior population.”
UMC combines the VSTBalance assessment with the Symbria LifeSteps assessment, which measures a resident’s capabilities in a wider range of areas, including medication management and cognitive function. Together, these tools objectively identify resident vulnerabilities, so UMC can make informed recommendations about lifestyle choices and appropriate interventions and reassure residents and families that the living environment offers the right balance of independence and safety.
“Working with Symbria’s wellness team, we find that using reliable data and engaging tools to provide an individualized wellness experience truly facilitates not just functional improvement, but also improves our residents’ quality of life,” said Carlson.
“Falls continue to decrease in our communities,” said McKinley. “We see significant increases in strength and stability. That translates to greater self-confidence for our residents.”
UMC also has found their wellness focus to be a true differentiator for their communities. Primary care physicians and surgeons are impressed by the outcomes their patients achieve at UMC, and they share the results with their colleagues.
UMC reports that referrals are up. Census is growing. Short-term length-of-stay is reduced. Medicare Part B therapy revenue has grown, and the VSTBalance assessment offers a small amount of Medicare Part A reimbursement to help offset costs.
“We are pleased with our return on investment in wellness,” said Carlson. “I’d advise any senior living provider to consider a wellness-driven service model. It’s all positive—helping gain revenue and build a strong referral network, and, most important, it’s just the right thing to do to help residents achieve their best, most abundant lives.”
[i] ICAA/ProMature Wellness Benchmarks: The National Benchmarks Report. (2017)