Connecting seniors with loved ones during shelter in place

How Kensington Place, an assisted-living community, uses Slack to bring families together

Author: Lauren JohnsonApril 7th, 2020Illustration by Ping Zhu

This story is part of an ongoing series exploring how organizations are supporting remote work during the Covid-19 crisis. We hope these stories provide actionable tips and inspiration that organizations can use to make this transition a little bit smoother.

As shelter-in-place orders took effect in California, Kensington Place, an assisted-living community, had to make a decision to protect its vulnerable residents from Covid-19. The residence, in Redwood City, enacted a strict no-visitor policy to prevent friends and family members from unknowingly spreading coronavirus to fragile immune systems. The decision was tough, but the team knew it was the right thing to do.

Greig O’Connor, Kensington Place’s business director, was particularly troubled by the fact that residents and families could no longer meet in person. His team would need to find new ways to help family members stay connected with their loved ones. “If my mother were living in a senior community, I would want to know what’s going on every single day. What is she wearing? What is she eating?” O’Connor says.  

A lightbulb flicked on when he saw his roommates using Slack to work remotely. O’Connor wondered: What if Kensington Place could use Slack to connect its residents with family members remotely? 

During these uncertain times, when we’re all searching for new, socially distanced ways to stay in touch, we found Kensington Place’s story exceptionally inspiring. We reached out to O’Connor to hear how caregivers are getting resourceful and bringing family members together in Slack, the channel-based messaging platform.  

“If my mother were living in a senior community, I would want to know what’s going on every single day. What is she wearing? What is she eating?”

Greig O’ConnorBusiness director, Kensington Place

Swiftly sharing family photos, videos and updates with Slack’s channel-based messaging

The team members at Kensington Place connect residents with their families in a private Slack channel, a digital space for multiple people to share messages and files. Channels are searchable, and participants can create threads to organize discussions. If the exchanges become too chatty, participants have the option to choose when to get notified or mute activity.

Screenshot illustrating how Kensington Place uses Slack to connect residents and families.

At Kensington Place, team members create a private channel for each participating family. Care managers and life-enrichment assistants are equipped with iPads that they carry throughout the day; when they engage with residents, they can easily share photos, videos and messages with family members in the corresponding Slack channel. Family members can respond back with the same.

“During our morning exercises,” O’Connor says, “our activity assistants might say, ‘Hey, your daughter sent this. Do you want to look at it?’ and we’ll take a look on the iPad. [The residents] may have memory issues, but they definitely remember their families.”

After the Kensington Place team sets up a resident’s Slack channel, the primary contacts can add more loved ones to the conversation. O’Connor recalls one striking moment when a resident received a photo of the sunset from his family’s home in Phoenix. The resident loved the photo so much, the Kensington Place team printed it out so he could keep a copy in his room.

Screenshot illustrating how Kensington Place uses Slack to connect residents and families.

The family also sent a wedding photo of the resident’s granddaughter. They provided the names of each family member pictured so that staff could point them out to the resident. “This moment was good for the family too, because they know that we’re able to share this with him,” O’Connor says, “and that they’re still here, even though they can’t physically be here.”

Karen Kane-Foempe, whose mother, Julia, lives at Kensington Place, had a similar experience. “In the crazy times in which we are currently living, Slack has been a wonderful tool in reassuring our family that we are all doing OK,” Kane-Foempe says. “We have my husband in Germany, grandkids in various parts of the state, as well as my sister and I in the area. That’s three generations of family members all connected and seeing photos of our mom/grandmother/mother-in-law happily and actively engaged in the Kensington Place community.”

Scaling Slack to other Kensington communities

Kensington Place is one residence in a network of six assisted-living communities owned and operated by Kensington Senior Living. That’s where Lindsay Faeder comes into the picture. She’s the co-founder of WayWiser.Life, a startup with a mission to protect the independence and dignity of people as they experience the later years of life.

Faeder’s father is a founding partner at Kensington Senior Living. It’s easy to see that caring for seniors is a family passion. When Faeder heard how O’Connor was using Slack, she wanted to lend a hand with bringing Slack to the other communities that Kensington operates.

Lindsay Faeder, co-founder, WayWiser.Life

“I thought we were going to have to build out all these training materials, but the Slack platform is so intuitive, we are able to get a community on board in two to three days.”

Lindsay FaederCo-founder, WayWiser.Life

“My background is in change management,” Faeder says, “so my first thought was ‘How do we scale this? Let’s get this out to the teams and families in the Kensington communities.’ My startup dropped everything else we’re working on to help with this right now.”

Both Faeder and O’Connor emphasize that the communities will continue using Slack even after the pandemic lifts. To that end, Faeder and her team have created a simple training document that they rolled out this week.

“I thought we were going to have to build out all these training materials,” Faeder says. “But the platform is so intuitive, we are able to get a community on board in two to three days, including training staff and platform setup.” In less than a week, four of the communities were up and running on Slack, with more than 200 families communicating and engaging with each other on the platform. “It’s been inspiring to see family members connecting during this difficult time,” she says.

Although we know social-distancing practices can protect the most vulnerable among us, it’s still difficult to be separated from our loved ones for an extended period of time. Kensington Place shows us how a lot of resourcefulness and a little technology can go a long way toward bringing families closer together.

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