Trilogy Launches Workforce Initiatives, Considers New Services in Ongoing Pandemic Response

Trilogy Health Services has invested millions into employee education and retention — a process that continues as the coronavirus pandemic surges across the country, CEO Leigh Ann Barney told Senior Housing News.

The Louisville, Kentucky-based owner and operator is partnering with two colleges to provide continuing education opportunities for its workforce.

First, Trilogy employees and their direct dependents are eligible for scholarships of up to $7,500 to study at the University of Louisville, through an existing partnership between the school and Trilogy Health Services Care Tuition Scholarship program. The scholarship is available to all of the university’s 200 degree programs — undergraduate, graduate and professional programs.

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In February, Trilogy and the University of Louisville announced a program offering priority admission to Trilogy employees to attend the college’s nursing program, beginning this fall. The school will work toward accepting up to 25 Trilogy employees per semester, and up to 50 annually. Trilogy Health Services and The Bufford Family Foundation also jointly committed $250,000 towards revitalizing the U of L School of Nursing’s simulation lab.

Trilogy is also in the process of formalizing a similar partnership with the Galen College of Nursing Louisville to offer employees priority admission, in the school’s Louisville and Cincinnati campuses. These partnerships are intended to give Trilogy employees seeking a career path an opportunity to do so, and in highly competitive nursing programs.

“Nursing schools traditionally have limited spots, so they can be difficult to get into. That makes it a little bit more challenging for someone who wants to go from an LPN to an RN,” Barney said. “If we have designated spots within these nursing programs, then we can put our employees in there and that gives us a leg up.”

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Trilogy was the 33rd-largest senior living provider in the United States in 2019, according to rankings compiled by industry association Argentum. Overall, the company has a portfolio that includes 110 communities spread across Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan. The company is jointly owned by Griffin American Healthcare REIT III and NorthStar Healthcare Income.

In this interview, Barney shares details of Trilogy’s Covid-19 response including how it has segmented its communities to address potential outbreaks; the impact the pandemic is having on its development pipeline; and permanent operational changes stemming from the outbreak — including potential involvement in new service lines.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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How is Trilogy handling markets where there are surges in positive coronavirus cases?

We operate in the Midwest, so we’ve never had the large cases like the Northeast or California or the Southeast. It was a little bit different based on each state and probably had to do with how each state closed and when they closed for business.

As communities started to reopen, the biggest thing we’ve seen recently has been a larger uptick of positives from employees. We attribute that to the vacation season. We had numerous employees taking off and going places. We have a process in place, especially if they go to a hotspot, they have to get tested and have a negative test before they come back to work. We are seeing more positives from those tests. The good thing about this is now that we have testing, we can quarantine those employees and we’re not seeing the spread as significantly within our facilities. We are catching it from our testing processes that we didn’t have access to as readily back in March when things were starting.

How are the communities set up to prevent outbreaks, and to isolate residents who test positive?

We’ve split our communities into green units, yellow units and red units. The folks that are in the green units have all been tested and they’re negative for Covid-19. The yellow unit is a transitional unit. This would be where a new admission would come into the facility. They’ll go into the yellow unit for at least two weeks, and they’ll be tested. Once we have two negative tests, they’ll move off to the green.

If someone tests positive, we put them into the red unit and we only have staff that works exclusively on a red unit, so there’s no cross contamination between any of the units. They have a separate entryway, PPE is lined up for everybody within that unit. We keep it very contained and very manageable. I think that has helped us.

This was something that we developed early on in one of our campuses when we had an outbreak. And we figured that this was the best way to manage it. That also gave us more comfort in our ability to take people from outside the community as admissions, because we know that we’re not going to mingle them in with everyone else.

Has Trilogy considered moving staff working in these red units on-site?

We haven’t asked anyone to stay away from their family. Working on the red unit has been voluntary. For the folks that are willing and want to do that, there is extra compensation. Typically the people that do work in that unit, you have the ability to quarantine or maybe it wouldn’t be someone who has an underlying health issue.

What other incentives is Trilogy offering its employees?

Our foundation has historically been known for educational opportunities, as well as employee assistance. We continue to help our employees through that employee assistance program. We’ve seen more needs along the lines of child care assistance, as well as helping with food, and we may pay bills. We have seen an increase in the need. We’ve also tried to increase our foundation contributions.

Have there been any changes to Trilogy’s educational initiatives since the virus spread across the country. Specifically, what is the status of the Purdue University Global Initiative?

We did a pause on new enrollment, but everybody that’s in the program is able to continue. We expect that in January we’ll be able to open it back up to new enrollees.

The apprenticeship programs that we run, we’re still promoting, and those all come with pay increases, from the workforce grants that we were able to receive to help fund those programs. Participation in our high school internship program has also slowed due to the fallout from COVID-19: who could work and who couldn’t work; what age they had to be within the facility; as well as parents being concerned about their children. We would love to hire more of these students, but these hurdles have presented a challenge.

What other service lines has Trilogy been able to leverage for operational and cost efficiencies?

We already had our own pharmacy and therapy company. That was very helpful. Any time you can control an ancillary service, you get the financial benefits, but also the service that you need in those areas. Going through the pandemic has further reiterated for us with the importance of that, but also having us look at other things that we may want to get into in the future, that we will have more control over.

What other service lines are Trilogy considering?

Home health care and hospice are both considerations. We would look to do a joint venture — I don’t think we want to get completely within that business. At the top of my mind is lab services, because everybody’s using labs right now. That will be an ongoing process for everyone. Having our own pharmacy already gives us a base for logistics. We’re exploring what kind of business a sponsor might want to [enter].

What permanent changes to operations do you see coming out of the outbreak?

I think that the technology for temperature checks and screenings is [permanent]. We’re using it in all of our Kentucky campuses, and we’ll be rolling out a product to the rest of our campuses to make that a quicker process. Once it’s in place, I don’t see that going away. It would be helpful in the future just to screen for the normal flu.

We have telehealth in place, and we’ve seen an uptick in usage because not being able to get folks out to doctors’ appointments or having doctors come in as regularly. And if reimbursements can be changed to help pay for that, I think that would be a good thing.

We’re developing a family health app as a way to communicate [with families] about their loved ones’ health. We communicate already through text messaging and other services, but this is a more robust [platform] to give more information about what’s going on with family members’ health and wellness. I’m told that we will be piloting it within the next 30 days.

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