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Flourishing Communities: The Watermark at Napa Valley


In this on-demand webinar featuring The Watermark at Napa Valley, our panelists share how they successfully implemented technology into their community, including leveraging newsletters, calendars, and communication tools to engage their members, reduce staff burden, and facilitate meaningful connections between members and their families. Watch now to learn strategies for implementing technology to help your community flourish! 

ROI highlights:
  • 75% increase in resident engagement since implementing LifeLoop
  • 75% of staff feel their overall job is easier, better, or more satisfying since implementing LifeLoop 
Flourishing Communities Webinar Series

LifeLoop is proud to feature this year's Communities That Shine award winners as part of an all-new webinar series called, Flourishing Communities. This series focuses on senior living communities that are leveraging technology to create exceptional experiences for their residents, their families, and community staff. Learn more about this series and register for upcoming webinars here


Webinar transcript

Paige Mantel: Welcome everyone to our inaugural session of our Flourishing Communities webinar series. This series features senior living communities that are leveraging technology to create exceptional experiences for their residents, the family members, and community staff. We have a full schedule set with community leaders throughout the country, running about every 2 weeks.

I'm Paige Mantel, Chief Marketing Officer of LifeLoop, and I'm thrilled to be your host for today's session. I think most of our audience knows LifeLoop, but just a quick summary. We offer a comprehensive operational and engagement technology solution and have been serving the senior living industry for over 25 years with more than 4,600 communities and half a million seniors using our solution. We've been able to build world-class products and meet the unique and critical needs of senior living operators.

Our discussion today will run for about 30 min. We welcome your questions and ask you please put those in the Q& A box that you'll find at the bottom of your Zoom box there. We will be recording today's session. Everybody that's attending will receive an email with that recording, so you can reshare it with any of your colleagues and watch it again if you choose.

One thing I'd like to ask is at the end of the webinar, we'll be sending a complete, a quick 4-question survey, and we'd love everybody to complete that so that we can continually improve the webinar series that we're doing here. And if everybody could just make sure that they're on mute, that would be wonderful, alright?

Now, to my amazing guests on today's episode. LifeLoop recently announced our Communities That Shine award winners and I'm thrilled to have one of our winners join us today. Watermark at Napa Valley won our Brilliance in Staff Efficiency award due to their innovative use of newsletters, calendars, and communication tools to engage their members, reduce staff burden, and facilitate meaningful connections between members and their families.

From Watermark we have Grant Wegner, Executive Director, and Kendal Buffington, Community Life Director. Welcome, Grant and Kendal. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to join us today for our first webinar.

Grant Wegner: Thank you.

Paige Mantel: Fun fact. Watermark at Napa Valley was the very first community that I visited when I joined LifeLoop, and I was so impressed walking around beautiful campus, joyful residents, satisfied happy staff. Really an amazing community you're running there. But I'd love to start with you. Grant, can you share a little bit about your community and your personal junior journey to senior living.

Grant Wegner: Sure. Well, I'll start with, I guess, doing the little bit of the marketing for Watermark. Our mission statement is creating an extraordinary and innovative community where people thrive. Our operating principles are to celebrate, often view each day through the lens of possibility. Take a stand and do what's right. Live well. And my personal favorite of all of our operating principles is, don't take yourself too seriously. And I think we all have the opportunity to laugh every single day at this community. So that's fantastic.

A little bit about us. We are a 185-apartment complex in Napa Valley; we have independent and assisted living. We have a Bridge program, and we also have Prima memory care support. We have, it's kind of a featured resort style, living with a bar for premier dining venues. Salon, spa fitness center tech concierge, which we'll go into a little bit later, expansive outdoor areas, including botchy, pickleball courts, etc. We also have a wide variety of programming, which Kendal will get into, such as our Pantry Program, gourmet bites, thriving through music, Watermark University, extraordinary outings, and whatnot. So, it is a very vibrant community, and we have fantastic members here.

My personal journey into senior living is kind of interesting. I spent pretty much 2 verticals. My first vertical was hospitality. I worked for Marriott for many years, rising up to the ranks of in the food and beverage side of things. And then my second half of my career was cosmetic surgery, actually. I haven't had it. I haven't been anybody I haven't done. Maybe I should have, thinking back on it now.

And that kind of led me to a little bit on the medical side, but a lot on the hospitality side, and thinking that senior living would be kind of a good fit. And I've been it only 2 and a half years now. And I, this is my first community. And I just love it. I love coming to work every day. I love the unique stuff that happens on a daily basis. It's just, as everybody knows who's on the call, It's never the same. Sometimes it's great, sometimes it's not, but usually at the end of the day, you can usually walk away feeling pretty good about yourself, that you've done something to help folks.

Paige Mantel: That's my journey. What an amazing journey. I love it. I love it, Kendal. How about you?

Kendal Buffington: So, I got into senior living about 5 years ago. Initially, I was looking for a place for my Grandpa Buff, and looked at retirement communities from Sacramento to Vacaville, Napa, Cataldi, I mean, all over this area trying to hit places closest to, you know, my uncles, and where my dad is, and whatnot, and I was just really drawn to the profession. Because I grew up with all of my grandparents, my grandma's actually on this call. So, I grew up with all of my grandparents with great grandparents, and I just have such a passion for senior living, and with coming to Watermark, it’s really given me the opportunity to flip the script on senior living, you know. It's not all Bingo and Bunko, if you will; well, Bingo is a big hit here. But who doesn't love Bingo?

So, this is an industry that that I was just really just drawn to, and what I wasn't anticipating is going from having all of my grandparents to now having 126 grandparents, and they all want to know when I'm getting married. It's crazy.

Paige Mantel: I love that. I love that I mean. Your passion shines through for both of you. Thank you. Well, we do. We define flourishing communities at LifeLoop as those that create amazing member experiences, keep staff that are joyful in their work, and maintain deep connections with family members. So, let's dive into some of the ways that you're doing that at Watermark.

You reported that you're seeing 75% improvement in member engagement since using LifeLoop. Which is amazing. How are you creating these amazing member experiences? Kendal, I'll ask you that question.

Kendal Buffington: So, the first thing that we do to create the member experiences that we do is all of our members, prior to moving in, receive a form, a questionnaire if you will, called the let Us Get To Know You form, where they can tell us about their past professions, their interests, their hobbies, things that they've always wanted to do, but never had the chance to. As many of you on, you know, out there know, our population is from that group where Mom and Dad worked, and so to have time to do the things that you really enjoy isn't really something that we have until we're retired.

So, with that form, what my team does is we take all the information and then we curate and cultivate programming that meets the wants and needs of our existing population. And some of those things include like, this Saturday, we're going to see the Phantom of the Opera on the twelfth. I think we're going to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, because our population that we have now is interested and excited about those cultural activities.

The other thing that we do is that form, we send it out once a year, because, like the seasons, people change, so we can kind of pivot and make sure that every month we are offering things that again meet the needs and desires of the people who live here, but also make sure that we're catching all those seasonal things that bring joy.

And with LifeLoop, for those of you on the call who use it, you know that you can do a monthly newsletter and calendar. You can have displays throughout the building. There is the app for the smart devices. And then here we also have an in-home channel, so all our members in their apartments can go to a specific TV channel and see all the programming for that day. They can see flyers for the upcoming activities.

And with planning activities, there's a lot that goes into it. And there would be nothing more devastating to done all of the research and planning and getting all the things, and then have your members not know about it or not have a reminder, you know, around the corner, if you will, on a display for them to for it to kind of pique, “Oh, that thing that I want to do is later today. I need to make sure that I'm there.” Yeah, we wanna make sure they have that opportunity. And because of all the ways that LifeLoop can touch our members from their living room to their palm of their hand, it really has made getting the information to them, but then also repeating the information. Grant likes to say, we're only as good as our memory. So, with LifeLoop, we just have our memory everywhere.

Paige Mantel: I love that, I love that. I mean, you really do create amazing experiences. But making sure people are there and participating is so important, so it's great to hear your specific strategies of how to do that. Thanks, Kendal.

So, let's talk about the staff. You know the industry, as you know, is seeing an 85% turnover every year. What are you doing? Not only to retain your amazing staff but create super high job satisfaction?

Grant Wegner: Well, I'll start with the fact of, don't take yourself too seriously. I think we have the opportunity as a staff to laugh on a daily basis and enjoy what we do and enjoy what we're doing for our residents.

But having that communication piece in place again; the epiphany came to me shortly after getting into senior living. It’s like Kendal said, our communication is only as good as their memory. Right? That's not, that's not anything. So, we need to communicate in multiple different ways to make sure that the message is getting across. If the message is not getting across, that leads to associates not being, are being put in awkward positions where they're asked questions they might not know about, etc. So, having that open, very clear communication on multiple levels like 9-4-4, or on their app or on the screens around the community. And also, they love their printed calendars, and they love their printed dailies. You know, it's still a mail generation, or they like to get physical mail in their hand, having all that communication just really takes a lot of the weight off the employees, the associates, to make sure that they can focus on their job and actually focus on making the residents happy.

And then just being available to them, being, you know, as a team, my leadership team is all hands-on deck all the time, so they're out there in the community. They're very, they're all very approachable. Yeah. Some have good days, some have bad days, but we're all there for our members, and they all, we all share that passion for them, and I think that wears off on the staff, and we have some very, very passionate staff on both the care side, the dining side, just all over the building. They just love our residents.

Paige Mantel: I love that.

Kendal Buffington: There are a few other things that are very unique to Watermark at Napa Valley and Watermark as a whole. And one of those things is called a High Thrive, and a High Thrive is an award that any associate can give to any other associate for maybe helping out in another department or going above and beyond to help a co-worker, really just making someone's day a little bit better and anyone can give anyone a High Thrive, it's not just something from your boss or from a supervisor.

The other very unique thing is something that we refer to as a ripple, and a ripple is a meaningful personal interaction that creates a story that's retold over time. And it's something that goes towards creating our culture, but also our vision for life. So, an example of a ripple, we had a member who unfortunately lost his wife about 7 days before he was supposed to fly out for his granddaughter's wedding. And one of our associates overheard him talking to his neighbor actually about how he had never packed a suitcase. His wife had always done it, and he just did not even know where to begin. So, our associate took, I mean she took 10 min out of her day. She helped him get his suitcase packed and made sure that his suit jacket was folded in a way that it wouldn't be wrinkled. And while it doesn't seem like much, that took what could have been a very hard and challenging experience, and it made him remember, feel seen, feel understood, and probably most importantly, you know, just feel the love from, you know, an associate in our community. So those 2 things are, I think, really make the difference for Watermark.

Because, I mean, who doesn't love getting a gold star on their homework, I mean, who doesn't love being acknowledged and appreciated. And that's something that Grant I mean every morning in our meeting. He's like, who got a High Thrive yesterday, were there any ripples, and just making sure that we acknowledge those things. People love to feel appreciated and, you know, get a pat on the back.

Paige Mantel: I love that story, Kendal. First of all, I love the High Thrive and the ripple. I think those are great best practices, and I love the story about that staff member helping out with the packing. That's a beautiful story.

One of the things I've talked about it, you know, one of the things I heard when I was walking around on my visit there was how much your staff appreciated how technology help reduce some of the administrative burden of the job so that they could have more time to have those quality connections and do those meaningful activities and tasks for your members. Can you share a little bit more about how the efficiency benefits of using technology have helped you at Watermark?

Kendal Buffington: I mean, we all have a phone. It's in our hand, it's in our pocket. So, having access to the answers that our members have, it prevents our associates of having to do that, “I'm not sure, let me get back to you.” We can answer the question right away, so that everyone can get back to doing the things that they enjoy doing, but also with technology and the things that we have set up here, it just helps, it really helps foster the independence of our members, which lessens their burden on themselves of, you know, not knowing something or not remembering something. So having access to those things, and especially with our staff having at their fingertips, it's a huge help.

Paige Mantel: That's great. Grant, any other best practices or around how you've done such a great job of staff satisfaction and staff retention that you can share with the audience?

Grant Wegner: I think some of the best practices, I think if you're looking, I know it's probably too late this year, I mean, we're already in budgets. But when you look at your budget next year, I would say look at getting yourself a tech concierge and that is he. This is by far the favorite employee of the whole building.

Kendal Buffington: It's true!

Grant Wegner: And this, we've had 2 of them. This is our second one, and we were a little worried because our first one, Frank, was such a pillar of the community. And now Ray's come in and he’s done the same thing. So having a tech concierge, somebody to help our residents, our members, with their day-to-day technology because if you can show somebody on their iPhone how to order door dash or how to how to install the app. But they need constant tutorials. So, our Tech Time with Ray is where basically, he sits down and answers questions. It is, there's a line out the door usually, our residents just love him. And with all the technology, in order to access that and to use that technology, we need help. Our residents need help. I need help sometime, obviously, I give my phone to my kids sometimes, or can you Ray, you know. So. And I feel like I'm pretty technologically educated.

So having that tech concierge or having that one person who really has a know, a know-how, for not just LifeLoop, but any of the interactive stuff that we are asking our residents to use. Plus, they just love the fact that they can help, it can help with banking. They can help them with Door Dash, Amazon, all these different things just the other day-to-day things that make life easier, that they kind of missed it by a generation. So having that person to help them, I think that is just been a wonderful position in our community. And I think it really helps to build that engagement.

Paige Mantel: That is wonderful. I can imagine. You know, as I watch, you know, my parents and grandparents as they add technology into their world, that also helps them feel more independent and feel like they can take care of things that they want to. So, I think that tech concierge idea is brilliant in really breeding that comfort and confidence level for your members.

So, let's talk about family members. Keeping family members connected when their loved one is in a community is so important. Kendal, what are some of the strategies and tactics you've put in place to achieve those connections?

Kendal Buffington: So, funnily enough, one thing we do is we introduce the family members to LifeLoop, because not all family members can necessarily be close by. About half of our members are from Napa or from the surrounding area, and the other half are from, you know, all over California, and then across the country. So, by introducing the family members to LifeLoop and giving them the access to see the daily activities, to see upcoming events, they're able to engage with their loved one, and also to help lessen the burden on, you know, our wellness team with our assisted living members because they're prompting their loved one: “Mom, the word games are today at 12. That's in about 15 minutes. Are you going to go?” or “Hey, grandpa, you love going to museums. Did you sign up to go to the SF MoMA?”, and it helps to 1) It helps the member, but 2) It also gives people that may not be close by a talking point. “Mom, how are you enjoying the Bridge club, or how was the ferry trip to the San Francisco Ferry Building,” and just giving people, you know, talking points or conversation starters. But also, you know, again making sure that the members are, you know, actively engaged in all of the offerings that we have.

Paige Mantel: That is wonderful. One of the things, Kendal, I wanted to dive in with you is, I know you have a great intergenerational program with a nearby school. Can you share a little bit about that?

Kendal Buffington: Yes. So, our campus app is on the Justin Santa High School campus. It's a parochial high school. They are our neighbors, and we have spent the last few years really developing this intergenerational programming where our members are members of their clubs, and the students are members of our clubs. We've had, the advanced French students did a 10-part French Culture series here. Our members put together a tutoring club because a lot of a lot of our members are, you know, professors or teachers, and one of the greatest success stories we had a student come to us who was actually here doing one of our French culture classes. And she was really struggling with finding a tutor, for gosh! What was it, Grant?

Grant Wegner: Calculus.

Kendal Buffington: Calculus, and she, she and her parents could not find a tutor within, I mean, a 2-hour round trip. It was crazy, and I said, Hey. I have a retired calculus professor. Would you like to talk to him? And they set up a tutoring schedule. She came over every day after school, and he helped her pass her midterm, and then she aced her final. It was amazing, I get tears in my eyes thinking about it! But it was just. It was just so incredible. So, having the students here, 1) it helps keep our population young, but probably the most important part, and the part that means the most to me. A lot of these students don't have grandparents, or didn't grow up with grandparents, and my grandparents are a huge part of my life. I'm actually going over there for a glass of wine later.

But so, these kids that don't have grandparents, I mean, they can come here because I got a whole bunch of them, and they love sharing their stories. And they love talking with the kids and creating relationships and going to watch, you know, the kids that they've created a relationship with play volleyball, or in one of the, you know, one of their plays that they do. It's been really incredible to see.

Paige Mantel: I love that program. That is just amazing. That is amazing.

I wanna just remind everybody, if you have any questions for Grant and Kendal to go ahead and drop those in the Q&A window below, but I'll get us kicked off with a question.

Grant, a lot of the folks that are in the audience, I'm sure, are either getting ready to start a technology implementation to help improve their member experience and staff experience and efficiencies. What advice would you have to them in heading down that journey and being able to, you know, get some of the great results you have?

Grant Wegner: Well, I think you know. Obviously, it's finding the right person. That's always the key with everything, is finding the right associate, who not only knows the technology but can embrace it, both on the Apple side of things and the Android side of things. Also making sure that your community is set up. We were, we're a new community, a newer community, October 2020. So, we did have the benefit of having displays all over the community, and having the connected, a connected community, basically. So, we're able to do a lot of things with that. But I think that's very important. I think, starting, I think it's just starting with that person and making sure that you get that person who's able to, not only has the patience, but also know how to sit and teach the same person every week how to use their iPhone, or how to do this. I mean, that's really, that's something. It's I think it's really the people. But it's also the infrastructure. And if you don't have the infrastructure, you know, start planning for it because it's going to make your life a whole bunch easier.

Paige Mantel: I love that. I think you know, this tech concierge concept of yours has led you to have really high adoption rates by both staff and members. So definitely a great best practice for everybody on the call. Kendal for you, I know you use the technology a lot. Every day, and you're looking at the data. What are some of your advice/best practices for our audience?

Kendal Buffington: I would say that the number one thing that has helped to get our all of our members to utilize the technology is Ray, our tech concierge, and I do a monthly LifeLoop lecture, and that is where we go in and we can show new and existing members how to access all the features, how to pull up the newsletter, how to send a direct message to any of the associates. But also, how to see the announcements. If something changes last minute, it's the perfect place to see, “Oh, we've moved the Bridge Club from the library into Watermark University because we're adding 2 more teams.”

So, we just, we find that doing that. And again, like Grant said earlier, it's repetition. It's muscle memory. But those lectures have really helped.

Paige Mantel: Wonderful, excellent advice. I'm checking the Q&A, I don't see any open questions right now. So, and I know we're near that 30-minute mark. So let me wrap up by, Grant and Kendal, thanking you so much for joining us today on our inaugural Flourishing Communities webinar. No doubt our audience has picked up some great new ideas and insights to bring back to their communities, and just loved you sharing the specific anecdotes and the wonderful things that you're doing in your community.

And to all of our participants, thank you so much for joining and engaging with us on our first webinar. Our next webinar will be on March 13th with another Communities That Shine winner, Presbyterian SeniorCare Network. I hope you'll all join us for that. And just a reminder, please be sure to complete the very quick 4-question survey that will appear when you exit the webinar. Your feedback is so valuable to us. Thank you, everybody, for your time today. A wonderful day.

Kendal Buffington: Bye, Grandma!

Grant Wegner: Thank you. Bye-bye.

Paige Mantel: Bye.


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