Tech Tools

7 min read

Keeping Close Track of Resident Services 

The human element is always going to be the most important factor in providing resident services, but technology is what helps a provider analyze and target services to achieve good metrics and even more importantly, useful results. National Church Residences has taken and run with this particular concept by designing its own in-house technology tool.

According to National Church Residences’ Senior Director of Support Services Tara Wenger, the seniors housing specialist based in Columbus, OH, implemented its own proprietary assessment system, Care Guide, at the beginning of 2019.

The provider worked on the system with a technology partner, Prelude Services. “We worked with them to develop it as an in-house application,” says Wenger. “They did a lot of the development work for us and then we have an internal team that does the database management and ongoing analysis, but it’s a software application that National Church Residences designed and owns.”

Prior to 2019, “we were using a third-party vendor for a similar piece of software,” Wenger notes, dating back to 2013.

Flexibility was a big factor in National Church Residences wanting to do it themselves. “There are definitely other products for service coordination documentation, but they tend to be built to meet guidelines for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD),” she says. “The only kind of level of flexibility in that kind of system is to coach service coordinators to use it a certain way. It’s more difficult if you are using a third party to redesign the entire assessment and the questions being asked, or if I want a prompt for different actions to intervene.

“That’s one of the biggest things about our current software. It enables us, even though we’re working with so many sites and so many residents, to change course or add additional metrics. The entire thing is very user-friendly and easily changed.”

A Guided Workflow
What emerges is a “guided workflow.” She explains, “If we wanted to change a metric, we could easily build that in. We also tend to adjust the way quality assurance is doing their auditing.

“All of it is designed to be nimble like that.”

Nimble is a good quality to have considering the big differences between the many projects a nationwide provider, like National Church Residences, runs into in the course of its operation. They also do supportive housing for the homeless, which has its own set of intensive services, in addition to affordable senior housing.

The rural versus urban divide is definitely one of the big differences.

“Rural sites, especially very remote sites, can be a service desert. That’s where our service coordinators end up shining. They tend to be very embedded at their sites, as well as the surrounding communities. They’re the types of people who can not only get a good sense of what their residents need, but also can hear about the formal and informal resources of their community.”

National Church Residences’ in-house documentation system, called Care Guide, takes into account best practices developed by HUD or the American Association of Service Coordinators and also layers in expertise developed by the housing provider’s own team over time. “It’s specifically designed to reinforce the model we use,” Wenger says.

“We do affordable housing, but we also have continuum of care communities, and we do some health and hospice here in Ohio, so we have a lot of internal expertise in all areas of need that seniors may deal with.”

That includes regularly assessing their residents for any sort of need or services and a general sense of how things are going in their life. The data from the assessments will trigger responses, like suggesting support with chronic conditions, or help in getting medicine.

The program also looks at “negative metrics,” with the hope of reducing unnecessary emergency room visits and tracking what percentage of residents go to annual wellness checks. It also screens for preventative measures, like vaccinations.

A Proactive Relationship
The general resident services philosophy at National Church Residences is a proactive relationship with their seniors based on “really homing in on different areas of wellness and health affecting seniors,” Wenger says.

Their service coordinators work to build rapport with residents over time, she says, so that as normal aging complications take place—physical decline, memory impairment—the coordinator has already built up a “trusted relationship” with the resident.

National Church Residences maintains about 250 senior communities in 25 states across the country, and Wenger estimates 90 percent of those projects have a service coordinator assigned to them that is a part of the group’s staff (rarely a third party may be used). That means 17,000 to 18,000 residents are worked with day to day. On some of the larger developments, there is more than one service coordinator, she says.

Usually, one full-time service coordinator works with anywhere from 80 to 130 units, she says, though if there are 50 units or less in the development there may be a part-time service coordinator.

“We also provide service coordination to third parties,” says Wenger. “We run a staffing agency that partners with other affordable housing organizations to provide services to their residents.

“National Church Residences has a long history of providing service coordination. We were one of the frontrunners when HUD started funding for service coordinators. And we realized that a lot of our industry partners were wanting the same kind of services at their sites. With some, we partner with them to do some grant writing. For others, we staff the service coordinator, or we give day-to-day management of their program for them. We also do quality assurance for a lot of programs. So there, a third party is running the program, but we come in as an auditor.”

Broad Areas of Support
According to a description of the program, service coordinators are in charge of six broad areas of support: engage with 100 percent of residents; conduct assessments with web-based assessment tools; provide guided interventions to improve outcomes; provide educational wellness opportunities; coordinate with area healthcare providers; and report outcomes.

There are more than 20 specific duties the coordinator provides, ranging from healthcare to legal issues to homemaker assistance, all in support of a senior achieving a “home for life” result.

COVID-19 has provided these service coordinators a chance to show off their techniques to keep residents socially engaged, including creative uses of technology. One project boosted its use of an emergency public address system to give regular updates and encouragement to residents. Another modified its closed-circuit security cameras to be able to broadcast to residents on their televisions.

“The site staff would get in front of their security cameras and hold up announcements and show them a face and give them encouragement, show them that they were there,” Wenger says. These are especially good adaptations because a lot of seniors are not very tech savvy and may not be able to navigate the latest trends, like Zoom calls.

A lot of these things can be measured by technology, but a lot is also intangible, she says. The “secret sauce” of National Church Residences resident services is a lot of genuine caring by people who believe in their work and have their hearts in it. That’s a metric that’s on proud display at National Church Residences.

Mark Fogarty has covered housing and mortgages for more than 30 years. A former editor at National Mortgage News, he has written extensively about tax credits.