Environment & Hospitality | Long-term Care

Creating Relationship and Community Based Environments for Older Adults

On the Road with Thrive Senior Living – Atlanta, GA – August 2019

by Lindsay Nelson

Our latest On the Road took me to Atlanta, Georgia where I visited with the dedicated team of Thrive Senior Living. Thrive fosters a hard-working community (they call that hard working attribute “Gritty” ) of people who ensure the older adults they serve have the opportunity to enjoy their lives to the fullest. To set the tone for what they aim to accomplish within the communities they oversee, Thrive chooses to communicate with intent and thoughtfulness, choosing words like community over facility, team members over employees, and older adults over seniors. Thrive has set out to challenge the traditional senior living models by creating relationship and community-based environments for their residents, a place for them to feel at home, to feel a part of, and to live out their lives knowing they are loved and nourished.

As I entered the Thrive headquarters called the Thrive Hive, I was presented with a personal welcome sign at reception and was immediately impressed by their thoughtfulness and attention to detail. I had arrived a few minutes early and was able to sit and listen to the sound of heartfelt chatter and laughter from around the corner, immediately setting the mood for the rest of the day.

My first host was Balencia Thomas, Director of People Experience who shared with me her passion for developing the people within the Thrive culture. We spoke about her role, what it means to her, and the importance of internalizing the meaning of experience in order to see the effects ripple from the inner offices and throughout the Thrive communities. As my first interaction within Thrive, I found Balencia to be an authentic representation of what they stand for and what they aim to provide. She shared with me the culture of Thrive, and I immediately got the sense there was real follow-through in their efforts to elevate the human experience from the inside out. Their internal development process, which highlights building relationships to create trust, creates confidence between team members and between team members and the residents. While what they have been doing has been beneficial, it is understood that they must keep evolving to continue to meet the needs of the communities they serve. They do this by staying current, listening to the residents via focus groups, asking questions and looking for feedback with surveys like their one question Trust Index. They simply ask residents and families, “Do You Trust Us.” This keeps the conversation between the residents, families and team members alive, just one of the ways they seek out continuous improvement.

As Thrive sets out to celebrate their 10th Anniversary this year, they’ve had an opportunity to reflect back to the day when Jeramy Ragsdale, Thrives’s Founder opened their first community in Georgia. Over the last decade the company has continued to grow rapidly.

During my visit I was able to hear about this rapid growth when I met with Thrive’s president, Les Strech, as he spoke of the “seasons” of Thrive . As he described the seasons, he also spoke of Thrive’s Intrapreneurial culture- the development of innovative projects and ideas within the company, the hallmark of their success. I felt the intentionality of this culture during my visit.

Highlighting this culture are regular What’s Up meetings, where everyone gets to check in to express both personal and professional highlights. Les’ demeanor was vibrant and charismatic, and his passion for the work he does was contagious. He was the kind of person whose energy you feel, which makes you see and believe that there are people out there with the intention of bringing more goodness into the world.

My host for the rest of the day was Bronston Carroll, Thrive’s Director of Cultural Alignment, who took me to one of Thrive’s communities called The Georgian Lakeside in Roswell, Georgia. Bronston is another stellar example of how internal work can shine outwards into the organization and its communities. The work done in aligning cultural attitudes was projected through the team members of The Georgian Lakeside, and Bronston’s ability to create cohesiveness between the values of Thrive and the actions of The Georgian was apparent, not only in his interaction with the team, but in the way the residents of the community responded to his overall presence.

Head and Heart Alignment

Throughout the day and in many of my interactions, I continued to hear about the alignment of head and heart. It began the moment I walked into Thrive and carried its weight until my airport drop off. I have talked a lot about the personalities of the team members, the way they made me feel and the experience these qualities brought throughout the day. It was explained to me that this is part of their selection process.

They select their team members based on an individual’s values and beliefs, on the person that they are and what they aim to accomplish rather than what their resume or job history says about them. This process begins with letting the candidate choose whether they are truly interested in working for the company. They get the freedom to decide if they believe in what Thrive stands for and are then encouraged to ask questions and learn more about the organization. This gives both the candidate and the organization the opportunity to create a relationship and a partnership. It shows investment from both parties if the individual is selected to be part of the team. If a candidate chooses to proceed, and this process includes them reaching back out to the company rather than the other way around, they are then asked why they want to join the team. The next step is to set up a second interview, and this is where Thrive sets out to learn about the individual. This is not your typical interview, but rather a discussion about values and beliefs, an attempt to get a feel for who this person is and why they would be a good fit for the team. Their success of their selection process was obvious to me throughout the day with each team member I encountered, and it was apparent through their attitudes and actions that they were there because they believed from their head to their heart in the core values of Thrive.

Memory Care

My favorite part of the day came when we walked into the Memory Care community of The Georgian Lakeside. Here, I was greeted by singing and dancing elders and team members in the front gathering room. This was my first opportunity of the day to see how the foundation of building a solid team directly impacts the residents. All of the team members are NIDE (National Institute for Dementia Education) certified, leaving them prepared to develop meaningful relationships with the residents and qualified to navigate the needs of each individual as they begin to require additional care. Observing the interactions made it very clear that the effort Thrive has put into building its culture and team has been extremely effective. I had the opportunity to speak with multiple team members in memory care. I was curious to understand how they respond to difficult interactions with residents, which I assumed were bound to happen in this line of work, and each person reacted exactly the same way. They didn’t really have an answer; the question almost seemed to perplex them. It came naturally to them to respond with nothing but love, patience, and kindness. This is who they are; they just treat the residents as fellow human beings that need care and assistance. It isn’t about difficult situations, or how to handle someone suffering from dementia; it was about treating the residents like each breath is as important as the last. With memory loss, residents may lose the ability to remember who the team members are, but that didn’t seem to faze them. Each interaction I witnessed was full of positive energy and kindness, and the residents reacted to that. In other words, they reacted to how the team made them feel. They may not always be able to recognize who these team members are, but they can tell that they are cared for and that the team members are there to help.

It’s in the Details

Another thing that was special about Thrive and The Georgian Lakeside was the attention to detail that all departments and their teams gave to their specialties. When Bronston and I arrived, we were greeted by concierge and immediately taken to one of the community’s many water stations. They provide miniature disposable cups at their water stations to make it easy for the elders to stay hydrated with quick gulps of water that are easily accessible. I took notice of this not only because it was pointed out to us, but because I was offered water throughout the day from different team members at different water stations. We also learned about the food service in Memory Care and how they are switching to a steam table so that they can serve each resident individually and create more occasions for meaningful relationship-building by allowing customization and interactions with the residents.

A wide variety of activities are available at Thrive providing options for the many different personalities and abilities of the residents. There is an outdoor area made for gathering with an option for gardening. Other activities include bingo, a movie theater, pool, fitness classes, arts and crafts, as well as private dining areas for personal celebrations. The idea is to make each and every resident feel as though his/her individual needs and wants are being met, while also meeting the resident’s cognitive needs that coincide with aging.

The dining team at The Georgian puts extra effort into providing for the residents. They have set up a system that allows for a wide range of choices based on feedback from the residents. They pay attention to what they like and dislike, and they do what they can to make it fit their budget. While this may seem simple, there are organizational processes that take time and effort to put into practice. What I could tell about the team members at Thrive was that they knew it was worth it. Their practices showed me that they would do anything they could to benefit the residents. On holidays they put even more focus on the food, the presentation, and the smells. They partner with other teams to provide an ambiance that creates an experience. What the residents see and feel when they walk into the room is a holiday celebration put on just for them. Dedication to the experience shows in the behind-the-scenes details. Behind every selection process is a person who contributes to this intentional act of caring, who finds new ways to adapt and improve current practices for the benefit of the residents.

From the Inside Out

It is the people with intention that make places like The Georgian Lakeside and the rest of the Thrive communities possible. People like Jeramy Ragsdale, Les Strech, Balencia Thomas, Bronston Carroll, the dining team, the hospitality team, concierge, and the rest of the special team members I had the honor of walking beside that day create homes for people who are looking for a place to call home. These are true communities of people that laugh, love, and treasure relationships. Watching the team call residents by their names, listening to their stories, joking with them, dancing with them, and caring for them. The atmosphere of what Thrive calls “Deep Knowing” produced joy, the relationships were abundant, and the rich culture was one from which to learn.