Few industries have been as uniquely hard hit by COVID-19 as senior living facilities. The very first known COVID-19 outbreak in the United States happened at a Kings County, Washington long-term care facility beginning in February 2020, and it was quickly followed by other senior facility outbreaks.
Any community of people over 65 with communal dining and amenities is high-risk. White Horse Village in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, with its focus on providing seniors an active and creative lifestyle in the countryside, is both a continuing care retirement community and a skilled nursing facility. Its leadership knew it needed to revamp how it did things at the start of the pandemic.
An ongoing partnership with Newark-based digital firm Blue Blaze and Associates set it on the right path.
When White Horse Village became a Blue Blaze client in 2018, it was all about refreshing the brand as new leadership came onboard. One feature Blue Blaze created, along with Horn Entrepreneurship startup 360VR Technology, was a virtual tour of the community, including the apartments and cottages, dining areas, fitness centers and clubhouses.
What started as a tool for family members who lived out of town to check out the community without having to travel or take off work would become an extra valuable asset when COVID-19 hit and in-person tours of the facilities were halted.
“That was really a fun collaboration,” said Wendy Scott, principal and chief strategic officer for Blue Blaze. “We launched it in February, right at the time when everything was starting to shut down, so the sales team had this tool in place ready to go.”
The virtual tours are at least partially credited for White Horse Village seeing an increase in occupancy in 2020.
“We had 87% occupancy in August of 2019,” said Susan Abtouche, VP of mission enhancement and sales for White Horse Village. “We’re up to 97% during a pandemic.”
Things like implementing safety measures like temperature checks before they were mandated, in which Blue Blaze was also instrumental, helped, too.
“We were watching what was happening in Washington and the places that had been dealing with it longer, and following their lead,” said Scott.
The virtual tours earned Blue Blaze a Gold dotCOMM Award, an international award honoring excellence in web creativity and digital communication.
The ongoing White Horse Village contract also earned Blue Blaze a Platinum Hermes Creative Award for the custom design of a downloadable multi-page marketing kit folder with inserts. Hermes judges evaluate and honor the international creative industry’s best branding, videos, advertising and the like.
Abtouche said that the Blue Blaze team’s commitment to getting to know the community, including a series of focus groups, helped to capture the active community’s personality.
“We’re really trying to understand the community and what the vision is for the future, because they are growing,” said Scott. “We wanted to lay that foundation. We went through a marketing persona exercise, communication channels, looked at how to make it user friendly.”
White Horse Village continues to navigate COVID. Visitation is restricted and meals are delivered to residents, among other things. But the org looks forward to putting devices into the hands of every resident for virtual communication with family, telemedicine, and smart home features like adjusting the thermostat. Blue Blaze is working on the communications aspect of the project.
“As a senior living community, you have to not be gun-shy about using technology,” said Sandy Taccone, principal and CEO for Blue Blaze. “They’re rolling out new technology for their residents — wireless network, smart home technology, geothermal — they have a mindset of not sitting back, but looking forward.”-30-