When Mandy Ketcham walks into Highgate at Yakima, where she works as a Community Relations Coordinator, she’s not thinking about her to-do list. She’s greeting the first resident she sees, sitting down with them in the lobby to ask about how they are doing and making sure they have everything they need.
“At Highgate, we are resident-oriented,” she says. “In skilled nursing and in some other assisted living or memory care communities, they are task-oriented. You can feel the difference.”
As a premier senior living community, Highgate’s focus is on the resident — on each resident individually. This philosophy of care dates all the way back to when its first community opened nearly 25 years ago.
“Full Care for All has been a long-term commitment the organization has undertaken, starting back to the founding of our organization with the opening of Highgate at Bellingham in Washington,” says Chief Executive Officer Marjorie Todd. “It allows us to provide an environment where each individual resident can thrive and have a purpose in his or her day regardless of the type of care they need.”
But what does “Full Care for All” really mean for Highgate residents? How does Highgate deliver on this commitment to customize care services for as much as people need and not more than they want? And what might you see in communities that don’t adopt this same approach?
Here is a behind-the-scenes look at Highgate’s Full Care for All philosophy and why the best senior living communities don’t just provide care for “residents” — they tailor care to each individual, who has their own unique life story, set of interests, different health issues, and distinct needs.
“We’re not just fitting them into the same mold.”
“Almost all of our communities have a couple who have chosen to live with us due to our commitment to full care for all, specifically in cases where one spouse is well and the other needs care,” Todd says.
That’s because, at Highgate, there are many times when the couple can stay together and both get the assistance they need.
For example, if a husband is relatively healthy and independent but his wife is struggling with memory loss, they can move into a Highgate community and live in the same apartment. The wife will receive the care she needs, and the husband will receive the caregiving support he needs. Plus, he’ll have more time and space to address his personal needs and interests.
“Couples like living with us because the well spouse can feel the relief that comes from turning over the care of their ill spouse to us and the ill spouse feels less of a burden on their partner,” Todd says.
Adds Marcie Suppe, Director of Resident Services for Highgate Senior Living: “We’re not just fitting them into the same mold because they live in the same apartment. We bend over backward to meet people where they are and provide them the care specific to them.”
“I’m not going to do it for you.”
But sometimes full care for all can look like next to no care at all.
Many older adults choose to move into Highgate while they’re healthy and independent. They can take advantage of the housekeeping services, fine-dining options, and social programming that’s offered at a premier senior living community, and only receive care if and when they need it.
“Full Care for All means that regardless of the care needs you have, we seek to adjust our service so that you remain comfortable in your home,” Todd says. “It means people can need no care, some care, or a lot of care, and that is OK by us.”
When someone does need assistance, Highgate team members provide the help they need, not more, not less.
“If someone has small needs, it’s just as important to us to help them maintain their independence,” Suppe says. “For example, one of the first things people need help with is showering. That doesn’t mean we stick them in a shower chair and wash everything for them. Mostly, I’m there unobtrusively to protect their dignity. I’ll help with the shampoo, wash areas that are hard to reach, and help rinse, but I’m not going to do it for you.”
Highgate believes that when people can make their own decisions and are encouraged to be independent, they are stronger and happier.
“We wouldn’t push someone in a wheelchair if they can benefit from walking,” Suppe says. “If you put someone in a wheelchair, they’re going to stay in a wheelchair. If I do all the buttons on your shirt, you'll lose your ability to do buttons.”
As an example, Suppe shares a story about a woman who moved into memory care at a Highgate Senior Living community: “At that time, she was falling five times a week and her doctor gave her about six months to live. What we did was we supported her rather than kept her in her wheelchair. When she got up, someone was right at her side and she was able to get up and walk. We worked on her strength. It was not overnight, but the falls decreased. Eventually, she got to the point where she could walk comfortably without falling. Now it’s six years later and she’s still with us.”
“It’s not often that I have to tell families we can’t meet their loved one’s needs here.”
If a resident does have high care needs, Highgate is equipped to handle it.
“One thing I love about working at Highgate is that we’re able to help so many different people no matter the level of care,” says Marlena Azure, Community Relations Coordinator at Highgate at Great Falls. “It’s not often that I have to tell families we can’t meet their loved one’s needs here.”
Each state has its own laws, regulations, and licensing standards for assisted living communities. In Montana, Highgate has the Category A, B, and C licenses, which means the communities can help people who are completely dependent on care providers and team members for more than four activities of daily living.
“That's more the care you’ll receive in a nursing home,” Azure says. “There are a lot of communities that only have A licensing, so they’re not able to help a lot of people. With our nurse here seven days a week, we can take on people with complex medical conditions, such as sliding scale insulin.”
“We use preferred care partners so that our residents can bond and feel more comfortable.”
This is all possible because Highgate hires caring and compassionate staff — and plenty of them.
“Some assisted living communities say they offer a high level of care, but oftentimes, they don’t back it up with how they staff,” Suppe says. “But if you have 14 people requiring full care and two-person transfers, then you have to adjust your staffing to meet that. We don’t keep our staffing the same all the time. We look at the needs of the current population of residents. If we have a lot of high-care needs folks, our staffing flexes".
In addition to having high staff-to-resident ratios, Highgate places a high value on the relationships that form between care partners and residents. By assigning a Preferred Care Partner to the same group of residents every day, residents form close bonds with their care partners. Plus, Highgate’s team of registered nurses assess residents more frequently than is required by state regulations, Suppe says.
Thanks to Highgate’s Full Care for All philosophy, residents can remain as independent as possible, for as long as possible, yet they have access to the care they require at a moment’s notice.
To learn more about Highgate’s three other core philosophies, download Each Day to the Fullest, a guide to Highgate Senior Living’s unique approach to senior care.