Activity Services During the Pandemic: How One Discipline Emerged, Adapted and Cultivated Hope for Senior Communities – Article #4
Senior Living organizations thrive on quality team members who are well trained, dedicated, flexible and focused on serving older adults. The 2020 pandemic brought unimaginable challenges and within the storm, creative, competent leaders, who had been there all along, emerged in new and exciting ways. Finding the silver lining is a uniquely human skill, no matter what the field, we can all make lemonade out of lemons. And Activity Professionals did just that and MORE!
In 1959, John F. Kennedy said, “When written in Chinese, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters—one represents danger, and one represents opportunity.” The pandemic motivated a widespread catalyst for change. Everyone pivoted. Tasks were adapted hour by hour. Sometimes we worked from home. Activities became highly mobile happening in hallways, courtyards, and finally Wi-Fi connectivity kicked programs to the next level. And oh! The carts everyone designed! Lest we forget the important and labor-intensive mission of providing 1:1 room to room activities. You and your team patched together new ways of working, built new norms to establish what’s strangely starting to feel like the “new normal.”
Yes, at times fear rocked confidences, created communication barriers and still as a profession, we persisted. Emerging from that cloud of confusion we strengthened our professional “muscle” now know, there is no turning back to old ways and limitations.
“It’s not about planning our way to the future anymore. It’s about acting our way to the future,” suggests Linda Hill, the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and chair of the school’s Leadership Initiative. Professor Hill, regarded as a leading world expert on leadership, contends that the new operating model hinges on agility: “Everything is now a working hypothesis…acting on available data, learning on the go and dynamic course correction.” Or as my business coach says, “it’s like building an airplane as you fly.” Hill suggests getting things done by embracing “creative abrasion” or the “competition of ideas and diversity of debate and dialogue is essential in enabling leaders to formulate a business response during a crisis.” As leaders “create an environment in which you have access to individuals with diverse skillsets and viewpoints and are empowering these individuals to freely share their voice,” shares Hill.
Three Ways To Emerge From The Pandemic Stronger Than Before, an article from chiefexecutive.net identified “by seizing opportunities for empathy, simplification and innovation, we strengthen our organizations, our teams and ourselves.”
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. Author of five #1 New York Times bestsellers states: “Empathy as no script. There is no right or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgement, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message “you’re not alone.”
Simplification, something that felt missing before the pandemic. Competencies, strategic priorities, while important to the viability of a business often made the living environment complex and overshadowed the “people” at the heart and mission of a service organization. Perhaps this moment will remind us of the fundamental needs of joy, discovery, purpose, and engagement. Must we return to large groups for everything? To quantity over quality because it “looks good” on the calendar for marketing? The pandemic taught us to be adaptable so let’s keep flexible dining, continue to strengthen 1:1 programs and create purpose and simple moments of joy with residents.
Innovation is a natural skill of Activity Professionals. Something, Lisa Bodell, CEO of Futurethink, says “The only thing more resistant to change that a human being is a company.” This resistance cultivates calcification and when the winds of adversity, like the pandemic did blow, companies often break. Activity Professionals demonstrated great creativity and courage by reinventing and redeploying activities. This was an active choice to respond rather than shut down and not act to engage residents no matter what.
In the midst of the pandemic Remarkable Healthcare of Fort Worth, Texas posted a most inspiring statement that fueled my persistence:
“We know things are hard right now, but there are a few things we have learned that
cannot be taken from us.
Love, hope, happiness, and each other!”
THIS IS THE TIME to redesign the role of Activity Professionals, harness the power of change and move forward, as a profession. Equipped with a vision of Activity Services that empowers people and knows NO limits. Borrowing words from the song “This is Me” from the movie, The Greatest Showman…” We are bursting through the barricades and reaching for the Sun.”
Together, we can light the way.
Nancy Richards, NAAP Education Council
Four Part Series
Article #1 June 27, 2022
Disrupted: Mental Health Impact of COVID-19 on Activity Professionals in Senior Living
NAAP Mental Health Membership Survey July 11, 2022
Article #2 November 10, 2022
From the Frontlines of the Activity Profession: NAAP Membership Survey Results & Reflections
Article #3 January 2, 2023
Potential Solutions: Supporting the Clinical Demands of Activity Professionals
Article #4 February 16, 2023
Activity Services During the Pandemic: How One Discipline Emerged, Adapted and Cultivated Hope for Senior Communities