By Bill Lowe, CEO and President of Chicago Methodist Senior Services
Each year at Chicago Methodist Senior Services, we experience exciting changes, complex challenges, and remarkable opportunities. They compel our staff, residents, and community members to adjust and adapt to new climates.
As CEO and President of CMSS, I recognize the only thing constant is change. This requires me to be strategic, forward-thinking and unafraid to take bold action. It also requires all of us at CMSS to continually ask what residents want and need from a home and community, and then optimize our approach to respond.
As we all begin the new year and new decade, I’d like to share my thoughts on where I believe the future of senior health care services will take us and how CMSS is ushering in a welcoming, inclusive future of care through expanded memory care services, enhanced life enrichment opportunities, and growing LGBTQ+ programs. Our hope is that through continual improvements like these, we can build even better, more welcoming homes for older adults with varying needs, preferences, and abilities in the year and decade ahead.
Expanding our memory care capacity
One of our biggest goals at CMSS is to continue down the path of becoming a memory care center of excellence across our continuum of care. Many of our communities offer memory care services, but we’ve always believed we can do more than just provide a home for residents experiencing memory loss. We can offer a place to belong and enjoy more good days. Our efforts to grow the innovative research and programming arm of our memory care services in 2020 will translate to even better experiences for residents.
For example, the Embodied Labs training is a unique opportunity for our staff members to experience virtual reality simulations that allow users to gain perspective on what life is like for older adults who deal with various diseases or impairments such as Alzheimer’s, hearing impairment, Lewy Body Dementia, etc. The Embodied Lab experience allows CMSS staff to improve resident-staff communication and teamwork skills and gain a better understanding of health conditions through a first-person perspective. We intend to continue to deepen our involvement with Embodied Labs in the year ahead.
Additionally, we’re currently contributing to the Songs by Heart Research Study led by the Northwestern Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center and the Northwestern Bienen School of Music. The study is examining the positive benefits of individualized therapeutic music on older adults with varying levels of memory loss. We’re looking forward to sharing our discoveries later this year.
Through programs and studies like the ones mentioned above, our intent is to improve patient-centered care for residents experiencing memory loss. In turn, we hope they feel even more at home at CMSS.
Enhancing life enrichment programming
It’s no secret that CMSS is growing its art and music programming because we recognize that nothing brings people together like creative expression.
Last year, we raised over $100,000 to support our Sounds of Healing program at the Annual Spring Benefit Brunch. That fundraiser has already paid dividends, as we’ve worked with a range of talented musicians and organizations dedicated to using music as a tool for care and friendship. For example, in the last year, Musicians on Call brought in “The Voice” winner and country singer Cassadee Pope to perform in resident’s rooms, and older adults sang, clapped, and danced during Civic Fellows of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performances. In 2020, we’re developing even more partnerships with organizations like these that have made our communities truly feel like home.
The growth of our art programming is also nothing short of inspirational. The Bringing Art to Life Chicago (BATL-C) program, pairs area high school students with CMSS residents experiencing memory loss and combines Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programming with the arts. Students work with older adults to help them document memories and stories through arts and guided activities such as experiencing our new Urban Sensory Garden. The best part is that the BATL-C program is only scratching the surface of what’s possible. We intend to build more sensory gardens throughout the CMSS communities and grow the number of participants, students, and residents involved in BATL-C.
Both art and music programming are examples of how we encourage intergenerational friendships in an inclusive community. Our communities such as Wesley Place and Hartwell Place include older adults with differing levels of care including short-term rehabilitation, skilled nursing, and memory care. They’re all able to interact with each other and various volunteers, staff and community members, which creates a welcoming home. We can’t wait to build toward more opportunities for connection through art and music in 2020 and beyond.
Welcoming in more LGBTQ+ residents
CMSS stands firmly on the values of equality, fairness, and inclusivity. We’re intentional and overt in our outreach to LBGTQ+ older adults because they deserve seats at the table within CMSS communities. Our staff recently underwent Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) training where a majority of our team learned how to better care for members of the LBGTQ+ community. CMSS received the platinum level certification — the highest level a nonprofit can achieve.
In 2019, CMSS acquired West Suburban Senior Services (WSSS) in Bellwood, IL. WSSS’s partnership with SAGE presents opportunities for members of the LGBTQ+ community to hear from informative guest speakers, socialize with one another at a regular Friday lunch, and attend discussion groups, in addition to other regular programming.
Wherever LGBTQ+ older adults may be living, we want them to know that CMSS communities will always hold the door open for them. It’s yet another way we’re building toward even more inclusive, welcoming care. Integrated communities will be a pillar of CMSS’ approach in the new year and as we embark on this next decade of service to our community.
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