While countless studies show that leisure, recreation, physical activity and socialization are essential to seniors’ well-being and well-span, seniors in traditional care facilities can still have limited access to stimulating programming. This problem became even more acute over this past year of the pandemic as seniors faced isolation and reduced access to meaningful activities.
One senior healthcare professional has spent the last four years seeking to disrupt the whole industry by changing the model of care in his facilities, while piloting new models and conducting research to benefit other operators.
Lee Tuchfarber launched his operating company, Renew Senior Communities, in 2016 with the specific intention to transform the industry model. He’s built what he calls a “dream team” of professionals from inside and outside of the industry to manage four senior care communities in Colorado.
Outside experts combined with senior living industry professionals generate new ideas
Lee curated a dream team by combining senior living experts with decades of industry experience together with leading specialists outside the industry. The goal is to enhance and even extend the wellness span of seniors with the support of meaningful experiences based on science.
Prior to launching Renew, Lee spent 12 years working in senior housing development. In that role he got an inside look at the senior care industry and was unimpressed with the traditional approach to senior housing management.
He says, “I realized there was the opportunity to do a lot of innovating in this industry. A true state-of-the-art senior living community has far less to do with real estate than it does with the actual operation.”
Lee relies on his team’s decades of senior living experience to navigate the complexities of the industry. But, he admits that it can be hard for these same professionals to break away from the industry’s traditional mindset. He says, “There are a lot of great professionals out there who have been doing this for 40 years, but when people get routinized, they get set in in old ways that just seem to work.”
To balance this, Lee has curated a team of leading specialists from outside the senior care industry to work with the veterans on his staff. Together they are setting new standards for enhancing the senior living experience.
“At the outset our goal was to identify individuals accomplished in operating senior housing communities and then combine that with a blend of credentialed individuals from outside the industry to really innovate.”
Renew staff includes a neuropsychologist, Dr. Sonia Mosch, who has the know-how to structure onsite research at the facilities. She has a whole array of interesting skills and experience, including dementia expertise as well as working with professional athletes. Her experience helping athletes in the NHL and National Soccer League overcome obstacles has proved invaluable as the Renew team and residents faced unprecedented challenges this past year.
The staff worked with Dr. Mosch in wellness groups to help abate and even reframe the confluence of stressors staff are dealing with during the pandemic.
Lee says, “We have elite caregivers, and they function as a team. When we come out of this, we’re going to be better people and transformed in some ways.”
Gale Bernhardt is a former Olympic triathlon coach, who brings fitness and diet expertise from the elite training field and adapts that to seniors at Renew. “This allows us to get out-of-the-box ideas releated to nutrition and adapt them to seniors,” says Lee.
They also brought on a Zagat 30 Under 30 chef out of Charleston, who worked under Michelin star rated restaurateurs and James Beard awarded chefs. “This has been beneficial to the senior housing domain, which is notorious for not having the most interesting food. We elevate the diet proposition for residents.”
Residents in the two Renew facilities in Colorado enjoy a full calendar of active experiences including day trips (prior to COVID), community-wide lectures from academic and medical experts, intergenerational programs, chef demonstrations and crafting.
Research-based care for senior living and collaboration
Built into the Renew model is a commitment to healthcare technology and senior care as well as doing research. Lee realized the sheer quantity of seniors they support on site means they have the opportunity to conduct research studies over time.
Their goal is to focus not only on senior care for current residents, but also the future of senior wellness. They do this by collaborating with nearby research institutions like the University of Colorado and the University of Denver. “We can measure baseline key metrics over time and then measure results. This can be done by studying the impact of intergeneration collaboration or the presence of horses,” says Lee.
Practically, this means that when they offer residents a program with children, they can also conduct a study about the results with the goal of publishing the clinical results to benefit other operators.
The Renew team also prioritizes research in digital healthcare technology and even attended the CES conference in Las Vegas in the past. They’ve been able to develop use cases and pilot technology for senior care, such as an iPad-based augmented reality technology that is FDA for early detection of Alzheimer’s.
The research happening onsite means they have access to renowned neurologists, physicians, Alzheimer’s Association professionals, who provide high quality lectures for residents.
Throughout all of their endeavors to support seniors, Lee says they have one goal: providing seniors with more independence, greater quality of life, and longer, healthier lives.