How Trilogy Health Services Handled COVID-19 Tragedy and Kept Their Employees and Elder Care Residents Safe

 How Trilogy Health Services Handled COVID-19 Tragedy and Kept Their Employees and Elder Care Residents Safe

Best Workplaces Employee Experience

By Dr. Jacquelyn Kung and Ed Frauenheim.

When the COVID pandemic hit the United States in force in March, Trilogy leaders tried to keep their 9,000 residents and 12,000 employees safe.

Trilogy CEO Leigh Ann Barney organized daily meetings with staffers to create new safety procedures, gather personal protective equipment and share the latest information.

“For a week, I remember being on telephone at the office, at home, outside on patio—talking constantly,” Leigh Ann says.

For a few weeks, Trilogy avoided serious trouble. But the company and its people did not emerge unscathed from what experts in elder care have described as “the perfect killing machine.”

In late March, a Trilogy facility in Indiana had an outbreak. Numerous residents experienced respiratory difficulties.

Those residents would come to Trilogy's facility from the hospital. "There was no testing at the time,” Barney recalls. Trilogy at that point was dependent on local health department testing. Results required waits of several days.

Devastatingly, despite the efforts of staff, several Trilogy residents died of complications due to COVID-19.”. And over the course of this year, across Trilogy’s entire operations, three employees also died after contracting the virus.

Although Leigh Ann believes the company did all it could at the time to prevent COVID-related casualties, Trilogy nonetheless aimed to learn from the tragedies.

The company beefed up safety procedures, including creating its own weekly testing system for residents and employees. Trilogy’s charitable foundation supported the families of the victims. And the company launched a chaplain service to supplement the counseling available through its Employee Assistance Program.

A company culture unscathed by COVID-19

Although Trilogy and its people have been rocked by 2020, the company and its culture are proving to be resilient. Employee scores on the Great Place To Work Trust Index© survey have dipped just three percentage points from 2019, with 80 percent of Trilogy staffers calling the company a great place to work.

Similar skilled nursing facilities have seen their employee Trust Index scores fall more than 7 percentage points.

What’s more, by putting its employees first, Trilogy has nearly 50 percent lower employee turnover than the industry average.

With a deep culture of service and visionary leadership, it’s no wonder that Trilogy Health Services has earned a spot on the 3rd annual Best Workplaces for Aging Services list. Activated Insights, the senior care affiliate of Great Place To Work, just announced this year’s ranking in partnership with Fortune.

Investing in employees’ financial well-being and growth

This year, in spite of falling revenues and profits, Trilogy spent millions of dollars delivering wage increases to direct-care staff. In addition, the company provided more than 2,000 employees with Walmart gift cards to pay for food, and staff with children whose schools shut down in the spring received childcare assistance.

Trilogy also doubled down on its investment to upskill and educate those who want to advance. These dollars not only improve Trilogy’s customer service and clinical care, but also help its people overcome economic and racial disadvantages.

Nearly half of Trilogy employees are furthering their skills through a structured apprenticeship program that can result in a certification and pay increases. And, one in fifteen employees are studying for a free online college degree from Purdue Global, in just the first year of a partnership between Trilogy the Purdue University program.

Because of the digital divide experienced by their staff due to racial and economic inequities, Trilogy worked to get laptops, internet access, and other resources to employees in need.

Turning crisis into opportunity

Trilogy’s leaders believe that dark times in 2020 have pointed to bright opportunities ahead.

One bright spot is the relative status of the elder care industry. “For a long time, we’ve been the stepchild of health care,” Leigh Ann says. “With the spotlight on aging services during the pandemic, we’ve shown how central our services are.”

According to Leigh Ann, elder care has arrived “at the forefront in people’s minds and has found a natural stage.”

In other words, the opportunity now exists to transform the narrative of aging services from clinical backwater to pioneer, showing the way to blend customer service and hospitality with health care, starting with service to our elders.

In this way, the industry and leading workplaces in aging services can overcome the trials of this year and continue to blossom as businesses.

Trilogy’s chief human resources officer, Priscila Mattingly, takes it a step further. She highlights the opportunity of attracting more and better talent to the workforce.

“One of the [good] things about COVID and the challenges of this year is that if you care to make an impact, you can see that you can make as big an impact here in senior living as you can in pediatrics,” says Priscilla.

Staying emotionally close at a social distance

The COVID pandemic has forced Leigh Ann and her lieutenants to change their “rounding” rituals 

Rounding is a riff on the “rounds” that doctors make to check on patients in hospitals—it captures the way leaders at Trilogy regularly visit front line employees and residents of their skilled nursing facilities.

Despite safety protocols to remain physically distant, they still found a way to do their rounds.

Leigh Ann and others have hosted barbecues at Trilogy’s 117 locations throughout several midwestern states. You’ll find her cooking for 30 or so people, giving out retention bonuses and offering encouraging words during a very difficult year in senior care.

“I can be at the grill with steak and chicken,” Leigh Ann says. “We’re socially distanced, but people can come and chat with me.”

Leigh Ann serving up food is a fitting metaphor for the way Trilogy leaders have navigated the challenges of 2020 from a foundation of servant leadership. They have sought to keep staff members and residents safe, continued to invest in employees and treated the COVID crisis as an opportunity to elevate their entire industry.

Learn how your organization can become a Best Workplaces winner like Trilogy. The first step is Great Place To Work Certification™.

Jacquelyn Kung