StoneGate Senior Living is launching a “Central Intake Center” at its Dallas headquarters, with the goal of achieving increased referrals and move-ins. The new center is focused on medical referrals for StoneGate’s 12 Dallas-area skilled nursing facilities, but the management company ultimately wants to centralize intake for its assisted living communities as well.
“We’re going from a localized approach to a global approach in marketing those buildings,” StoneGate Senior Vice President of Business Development Angela Norris told Senior Housing News.
The localized approach is one that post-acute providers around the country are familiar with: A hospital gives a list of nearby communities to a patient who is getting ready to be discharged, and then that patient or a case manager has to make inquiries at each individual building.
Such a system is not only inefficient but can lead to issues with care quality and customer satisfaction, Norris believes. In the competitive rush to beat other facilities, some post-acute providers agree to take a patient without doing thorough due diligence on their needs and insurance coverages, she said.
Now, the CIC has become a single point of contact for StoneGate. At all times, four or five staff members are in the CIC handling the stream of incoming inquiries. These workers ask about care needs, insurance coverage and other pertinent information, and they have access to “bed board” technology, showing real-time availability of beds in StoneGate’s communities. In this way, they can assess which communities would be a good fit for a particular patient and whether those buildings have the availability.
StoneGate manages 45 skilled nursing facilities in three states—Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado—as well as several assisted living centers. It first tested the CIC concept in East Texas, where it operates three SNFs.
In that 90-day pilot, the SNFs experienced a 36% increase in incoming referrals and a 24% increase in admissions, according to Norris.
There are some costs on the front end in setting up a CIC, notably in hiring staff for it and implementing the bed board technology, she said. StoneGate also has not eliminated any positions at the community level as a result of centralizing intake processes. So, there are no cost savings in the form of reduced staff. But the success in East Texas shows that the return on investment can be substantial by driving new revenue.
Expanding to assisted living
Currently, the intake center only is fielding calls from hospitals and other medical providers that refer patients to StoneGate, primarily for short-stay rehab services. The goal is to expand the CIC across the whole enterprise, for all types of housing and care. The company envisions having an 800-number on the website that will route consumer referrals directly to the CIC, for skilled nursing as well as private-pay senior housing prospects.
However, Norris is not in a rush to scale up.
“In our opinion, haste makes waste, and so our rollout was very strategic,” she said. In fact, there were two to three years of planning for this, and the last six to eight weeks prior to going live were spent trying to “break the system” to ensure that all would go smoothly once it was up and running.
Other companies, such as post-acute giant Kindred Healthcare (NYSE: KND), have opened call centers as they have tried to become patient population managers in addition to care providers. However, Norris thinks this is still the exception to the rule in senior care, and she says that StoneGate is being an early mover because “the early bird gets the worm.”
“I think in the old days [winning referrals] was by delivering cookies to case managers and patients and families, but now we have to deliver not only great customer service but great information,” she said. “We have to know what’s available, what the capabilities of the buidlng are, and what [the patient’s] payor is, so that we can give them accurate information and there are no unfortunate financial surprises on the back end.”
Written by Tim Mullaney