April 02, 2020

Anne Sackrison: Keeping Seniors Safe in the Pandemic

When every one of your senior residents is deemed "high-risk" in a pandemic, how do you change course as an operator? Anne Sackrison, COO of CSI Support and Development Services, shares safety, communication, and operational strategies.

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Anne is the Chief Operations Officer for CSI Support & Development and has been with the organization since 1997. She has worked in the certification, IT, liaison, and education departments prior to her current position as Chief Operations Officer. Anne lived and volunteered for an independent, student cooperative at MSU for five years while earning her Bachelor’s degree in journalism and minors in photojournalism and education. Anne is a member of the National Affordable Housing Management Association (NAHMA) and has earned her NAHP-Executive and Green Property Manager designations. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering as the robotics coordinator at her son’s school, tending to her little free library, reading, gardening, photography and exploring new places through travel with her family.

Audio Transcript

Glennis Markison
Hi. I'm Glennis Markison from HappyCo. Welcome to Voices where we feature fresh perspectives from multifamily. Our guests share their voices on emerging trends, leadership strategies and much more. Today, our guest is Anne Sackrison, Chief Operating Officer at C.S.I Support and Development Services, a senior housing operator, and will be advising her peers and senior housing on the critical operational and communications changes they need to make to keep their high-risk population safe during the COVID-19 Outbreak. Hi. And thank you so much for joining us on Voices.

Anne Sackrison
Hi Glennis. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, I mean, before, before we even discuss the COVID-19 outbreak and the way that it's forced C.S.I to change operations. I'm really interested in setting a stage a bit. And I'd love to ask what makes operating senior housing just different in any sense, from traditional housing, even before a crisis like this? 

Anne Sackrison
Well, our housing is not just senior housing, but it's cooperatively managed. So the people who live in our collapse must see your citizens all, participate in the management of it. So we really promote social integration, which has a positive effect on physical and emotional well being. Our communities really, really thrive because they have so many opportunities to be active and social and really in control of their own apartment buildings. So we have really had to take a pretty serious look at how we operate because we rely so much on that member involvement and, you know, expense decades telling our members, please get out of your apartments and participate and be involved. And now we've gone from that from decades and decades to please stay in your apartments. Don't come out until we tell you to. And it's just been very challenging and against our nature.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, and in terms of standard senior housing, what are some of the ways in which senior isolation remains? I mean, if you could, really, I haven't even more to house C.S.I. size model stands out. Does traditional senior housing even usually necessarily make a lot of effort to engage residents with social activities?

Anne Sackrison
No, we have a lot of members who moved from traditionally-managed senior housing into our co-ops, and what a world of difference it makes. It's life-changing and they go from being in their apartments to coming down to meetings and planning their own activities and helping to write the budgets for their co-ops and working with whole teams. And for a lot of our members who know, maybe they lost their spouse and they raised a family, and it's like they have a whole new lease on life and they are running there were running for office. If they manage their own cooperatives, many of them run to be on our board of directors, and it's really life-changing for them. It's a whole new chapter in their lives.

Glennis Markison
You know, I just think that commitment to engaging people who can often be, you know, left aside and sometimes even forgotten, honestly, that the fact that you're giving them that opportunity for enrichment in connection, I think is magnificent. And so obviously turning to the Coronavirus outbreak, what has been your biggest priority right now? I mean, what if some of the main challenges you're facing and also in safety how are you, how is the world looking different on your operations level? 

Anne Sackrison
Oh, wow, the world is very different. This has been a pretty long month. It feels like it's been about a year. So about in February, the Coronavirus entered our radar and got our attention. It seems like we had a particularly bad season with colds and flus. And, you know, there were just most days there were a lot of people out of the office sick, and it just was a really strange winter. So, in about mid-February, we started paying attention to the CDC guidelines and sharing what we were finding with our members and as the days went on, that heightened awareness just elevated to a crazy level and about the end of February, we decided that we needed to start thinking about worst-case scenario and start creating a plan because we did not have a plan for a pandemic. You know one of those things that you should be in your emergency response plan, but with property management, there's not a lot of time where you, what should I do today? How about we work out a pandemic response plan just in case that happens, right? No, absolutely. So it forced us to completely stop in our tracks and really dig into this and honestly, 2-3 weeks ago, when we were drafted our plan and working on this every day, we thought, there's no way we'll have to go to worst-case scenario.

Glennis Markison
Well, so what did that look like just to interrupt for a second? What is the worst-case scenario for someone offering senior housing?

Anne Sackrison
Well, we were hearing that it was, you know, that the senior population is particularly vulnerable and it scared us. We've got 6000 members and 60 different properties in four states, and the idea of a highly contagious disease that's spreading through the world, heading our seniors would just be absolutely devastating. And because of the way we operate or were very social and encourage everybody to come out of their apartments and be together and go to meetings and learn things, you know, that made us stop in our tracks and think about what are we going to do to stop this so that we don't get to the point where this is spreading where co-ops. So we developed this plan and really, the plan has two goals. It's to keep our members and staff healthy number one and number two to do our part to flatten the curve so that we don't overwhelm the healthcare systems, our communities. And the two most important components to our plan is safety and communications and early education is a big part of that. So the first thing we did was we looked at essential duties for the staff and prioritized what we do. And this meant dropping everything we were doing and focusing 100% of the day and weeks on the COVID-19 and how things were progressing and what we needed to do to prepare and kind of get a little bit ahead of it. And I am so grateful that we started working on this in late February because when it started getting really, really bad in week or two of March and progressing in a really rapid rate, we were kind of already ahead of schedule, which was really good.

Glennis Markison
And that plan to dive into those details. I mean, what did it look like in terms of buying hand sanitizer? What did it look like in terms of other disinfectants and honestly, the nationwide shortage of some of those supplies? If you could really navigate what you knew to buy, how you were getting it and just how you were applying it across to protect 6000 people in four states?

Anne Sackrison
So we first thing we did was we increased the custodial duties at all of our collapse. And in our offices we met with whether it's ah, an employee or a contract ID worker and larger studio. We watched through everything that we needed them to dio. We talked about making sure that they just infect all the touchpoints in the collapse and in the offices. We were very clear with the staff and the members what the Custodio staff was doing so that there were no assumptions that all I thought he was cleaning, that I didn't realize I phoned. So I should be sanitizing my phone and we made very, very clear on all sides that everybody understood what the expectations were. We also ordered hand sanitizer just before who wins went, Yeah, so we it took a little bit longer than usual. It wasn't Amazon overnight delivery, but it was, you know, within the week, so it wasn't so bad. What an sanitizer on every staff members dust. But it wasn't too long after that when there was, Ah, great shortage. And we're still trying to work on getting all the supplies that we need everywhere. But our staff has been great. You know? They go to a store and they find something. The scoop it all up, knowing we're gonna we're gonna need it. So things like hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, tissues, gloves, face masks. Told my husband I'm I need to borrow all those 20 extra face masks you have in the garage that you're using or home renovations. Many to take him to the office because we need them. 

Glennis Markison
Whoa, you gotta. This is a story of resourcefulness. Honestly! 

Anne Sackrison
Everybody's really come together and, you know, we're sharing supplies, and we're putting, you know, one person in each office in charge of them. So we know what we have. And we're also coming up with and researching different ways to sanitize. So whereas we all like to be able to just grab that package of disposable disinfectant wipes well, they're just not available anymore. So, we've taught our members you know what you can do to make your own disinfectant. How much bleach you need per quart and that it dissipates by the end of the day. So you need to use it up and then don't count on it to being effective disinfectant after that.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, and I'm wondering, too. How were you sending this message Across Four states and 6000 people on a signage level by email. Like, what was the communication effort around this, and especially with group spaces that they were used to very excitedly, kind of entering common rooms and gyms, Just the sign it around those and then the decisions and the communication around closing them?

Glennis Markison
Okay, so first thing we did was and this is really this was probably around the end of the first week of this month, we decided to cancel all non-essential travel, which as the days went on, everything became non-essential. So all of that has stopped. And then all of the meetings in the collapse and because Queen, the co-ops, in the offices staff, everything just came to a halt. We've canceled all meetings unless they are things that could be done on the phone. So we're doing a lot of conference calls. You've all become very proficient. And skyping, which up until a few weeks ago, actually, up until last week, there were some of us myself and floated. That was a little nervous about Skyping, you know, especially when you're working at home and you're not put makeup on throwing your hair and pointy tail. But we've decided that that really doesn't matter anymore. And it's really great to be able to talk to the staff we have. We have meetings every single day. We have a debriefing meeting at a national level of all the senior staff every morning at 11 and it lasts a couple of hours and we Stipe through that call. And it's great to see everybody's smiling faces and, you know, they're furry co-workers come and visit us now and then on those calls and our kids walked by and it's a reminder that we're all going through this on a personal level besides professional level and we're all human and we're all just kind of getting through this one day at a time, and then for the members we have found ways to still connect with them or some of the meetings. We've got a few task forces one on diversity, one on volunteerism and went on security that were existing groups and their meetings. Still, conference calls. They're not quite ready for spite of their media conference calls, and it's going really well. We still have about 2/3 of the members showing up, and they're really grateful because it gives them a chance. Toe not be thinking about being stuck in their apartment. They're thinking about positive things. They're connecting with their fellow cooperators us. And it's really great that regular calls with the presence of her co-ops, to find out how things were going on that calls with our leasing chairs were all volunteers. And we have a call scheduled soon with our co-op Congress. They're the group that's in charge jobs launching our board of directors elections, which is happening very, very soon. So we're trying to think of ways out of box how we're gonna handle that going forward.  

Glennis Markison
Yeah, and I think besides posting all the signs, you're talking about and really communicating with these task forces so that they can spread the word further on what's safe to do right now and what's not. I'm interested in just weighing in on the psychology of working with and for the residents being part of a high-risk population. I mean, that label is so, you know, important on the one hand to protect people, but also very painful to accept. And so how has it been communicating just tone-wise, That message that there is a high risk, and yet keeping people as resilient as you've for decades, you know, made them feel that they can be?

Anne Sackrison
They have been absolutely wonderful. I mean, there's a few that we have to keep reminding, but for the most part they are doing a great job. We're writing memos and sending them to the collapse through the liaisons, which in traditionally managed apartment buildings would be called property managers. We call them liaisons because they worked with our volunteers and they've been So I'll write a memo, to get some information out and then we got a whole team of people who are translating into seven languages within an hour of writing the memo and then the liaison team emails that or faxes it over to collapse and then an officer makes sure that it gets posted on a central bulletin board. And also, if it's really, really critical that we need to make sure everybody knows about which most of them have been lately, then they go under everybody's door as well. And then we also post things on our Facebook page, which has been really great. And there's definitely been an upsurge in people getting on our Facebook page and our social media. So I'll post the memos there and within, I mean, as soon as I post something I'm getting likes, I'm getting comments. It's like they're waiting for us to communicate with them. And it's actually been kind of therapeutic for me, too, because when I need a little break from the nuts and bolts of dealing with the crisis and the response, I can get on there and have a conversation with some of our members and they're so wonderful and appreciative and they're helping to promote ways to of way that isolation and all of the bad things that come with that. They've been sharing things with me that I can share with everyone like just fun things to do like Patrick Stewart has this, his Facebook page, where he's reading a Shakespearean sonnet a day in front of a video.

Glennis Markison
So wonderful.

Anne Sackrison
Things like post a joke or post what you're grateful for today. And people have been really communicating between each other and with us, and it's been good. I'm hoping to see more of our members on that is the days go by.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, and this is such a lovely kind of look at the resident perspective. I mean, I'm curious, too, on the staff level, just how are you engaging with your staff to not only motivate each other, but to motivate residents? It sounds like you covered some of it, but you're coming from this really expert lens of a co-op model, so if you could actually kind of frame your answer around a senior housing complex who's not really done all the legwork you guys have over the decades to connect people, how should their leaders be thinking right now about motivating staff and connecting with residents? I mean, just weighing in on the concrete strategies of social media and more papers under the door? I'd love from a blank slate perspective of not having done that legwork. What would be really valuable right now for senior housing leaders to change?

Anne Sackrison
I think, even if it's not a cooperatively managed apartment building, it's really important for the staff to connect with members. So are like our liaison staff is reaching out to the key. Go to people at the co-ops on. And that's not just the officers and the leasing chair, but also the floor reps on each floor whose job it is just gonna represent their floor and keep track of each other or look at the daily door tags. Make sure everybody's Oh, okay, they're calling their floor reps and encouraging a floor reps to call each other on the floor. So, I think that even if it's not a traditionally advantage, or even if it is a traditionally managed apartment building, not cooperatively managed, if the staff could make that connection with some key people that live in their sights and get them to spread communications, you know either the with phone or with their own Facebook pages and virtually connect with people. I think that helps a lot because then neighbors who are, you know, separated by an apartment wall feel like they're in a community that's you know they're not so isolated. It reminds them they're in a community and there are people on both sides of them and up and up and down that are in same position. And it's tough. It's tough being stuck at home. Who knows how long this will last!

Glennis Markison
Yeah, no, I mean, I think diving in two more to the staff perspective, How have the leadership? But, um, C s I changed PTO policy disability and then kind of in the same vein of staff changes. What's the importance of privacy right now to how you're communicating about someone in quarantine, et cetera. So just juggling the waist policies are changing in real-time around PTO disability, and also just the emphasis on privacy, because obviously a concern is very dear to keep 6000 people safe but on the one hand, you know, you really can't overwhelm local health system.

Anne Sackrison
Yeah, so that is definitely something we're very conscious of. And those daily calls we talked through all these scenarios and as things develop, try to figure out the best way to handle them. Ah, we did have out of 60 co-ops, we have had one so far. And it happened last Friday. We got a call from the local health department that someone was tested positive for the Coronavirus and they are not in the co-op. And they were not planning on sending them back to the co-ops from the hospital until they were not contagious. So we had to relay that to that co-op to let everybody know that you need to be extra, extra careful. The way we have been talking to our members through our memos and online and phone calls is you know, unfortunately, you guys are very vulnerable population and safety is our number one priority and because of the just crazy level of contagiousness that this disease has, you just need to assume that it's everywhere, including in the co-ops. And so we need to do everything we can to prevent a spread through the co-ops or to anyone in the co-ops. So every day we are getting together and figuring out if we need to tighten things up like we started out by saying, please avoid using the common area spaces, and a couple of days later we said, you know what? Common areas spaces are closed and we're blocking those rooms when we can. We're putting up, uh, barriers when we can't just open rooms just to prevent people going in there. We're putting things in place like only one person on a small elevator or two people on a large elevator only, one person in a laundry room at a time. It's a small laundry room, the two if it's a large laundry room and every day we've got to determine we have to bump up the level of precautions in order to protect our members. And this has been tough for us, too, because normally all of those decisions we would leave up to the coop what we have the same. Left the coop decide when it comes to house rules and policies and procedures within their co-op, as long as there not in violation of their housing or any of our current policies, you pretty much leave things up to them. But we've had to change the way we do that, and every day makes tough decisions and not really giving them a choice. But we're finding that they're very grateful that we're just going ahead and doing that for them because, you know, we're not in a situation where we can bring everybody down to the community room and ask them how they'd like to do it and vote on it.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, and if you could weigh in a bit more on the staff protections, just around PTO and short term disability. I mean, how are those difficult decisions unfolding?

Anne Sackrison
We started talking about the changes in procedures for that. It was still the end of February when we were having that conversation, and we loosened up our sick time policies. We loosened up, our short term disability, And this was before they were even talking about the acts that was just signed. So even before, and that was that was even talked about we had loosened up all of our procedures on that, and we let staff know that even if you're out of sick time, we do not want you to come to work. If you are exhibiting the symptoms that are coronavirus symptoms. So you want to stay home? Um, if you're feeling okay and you want to work at home then we'll figure that out. But if you're not feeling okay, that's okay, too. We're gonna figure it out together. But we need everybody to be really safe and not come to the office sick. In addition to that, you looked at essential duties that had to be done in the office. And we figured out which staff could work at home, even though even if it wasn't something we normally did. And we looked at needed to be in the office and the group that needed to be in the office, we asked them to stagger their schedules. And it, especially with when all the school's started closing on staff, was actually quite relieved that we were very flexible on that. Because we have, we have one staff member now who works two 12 hour days on weekends and then works another half day in the office during the week in the evening so that she can take her children and their homeschooling and still her job done. So we've staggered everybody's hours at the office so that people aren't working at the same time, and once the stay at home order started happening in the states that we're in with the governor directions, we took another look at that and kind of went into phase two where maybe we know some people can, you had them in the office, but now we need them to work at home. And if they don't have, maybe if they don't have eight hours worth of work to do at home, that's okay. They'll do six hours of work at home and we'll pay them for a full day. And the reaction the response from staff has just been outstanding. They've been so, so appreciative on how flexible we've been, and they know that we care about them and, you know, we care about our members, and because of that had a lot of there's been definitely people not coming in and using sick days, which is fine. But we've had a lot of people who they've just been working like, they're just they're amazing people, that they work so hard. And you can tell that, you know, they're putting in well beyond their eight hours because they care about our members and the care about the work that we do and they're willing to think out of the box and the innovative and helpful. And I'm just so so great for the team that we have.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, and I just wanna wind down and be respectful of your time with just two more quick questions. I think forecasting and finance is a big issue right now. I mean, how's the funding looking is there because you are a non-profit, I mean, are there ways that people can make donations? Are you guys thinking you're OK in terms of your budgeting, of keeping operations going? I mean a) how is this changing financial safety for you guys and b) what could you see from the community as far as donations, et cetera. That would be a benefit to the residents.

Anne Sackrison
Well, as far as financially, that is definitely one of our essential duties out. No money coming in from hard because we're affordable senior housing and we have rents coming in for members and we have a lot of bills to pay for all of our co-ops. And so all of those things have to get done. Payroll has to go out, and those are essential things that are not gonna stop no matter what. And most of that we could do remotely. So we haven't really seen a financial issue with all of these changes. I mean, we're still we're paying people. We would have paid people anyway, so it's not like that has cost us anything more. My understanding is the new legislation, the bill that was passed last week, that the federal government will pay for the extra sick time that people are entitled to now under this bill. So there's some paperwork in that, but it's not something that will cost us anything. Where we could use some help is donations off personal protection equipment that would that would help a lot. That is definitely becoming more and more difficult to find right now. Our concern is our maintenance staff in our custodial staff. And when they have to go into an apartment because of an emergency, and they need the equipment to protect themselves and to protect the members that they're serving from those germs spreading. So that would be very helpful in receiving donations on those.

Glennis Markison
Yeah, and I just think a final question quickly. What are you hopeful about? I mean, this has been a very trying time. And so what have you seen? Just one or two nuggets from residents or a staff interaction that means you think while we're gonna be okay? You know, we've set up such a good base of operations here. We're working as hard as we can to make things okay, but just something hopeful. One or two things that you really think we'll get you through this and you think would benefit others.   

Anne Sackrison
So, the first thing I would like to say is that the response that we have received from the members has been absolutely amazing. I have one message that I received a couple of days ago, that I listened to at least half a dozen times. And, you know, she says she really appreciates our communications because they're simple and concise and back to base. And that definitely helps get me through the day. I've shared that message with a lot of our staff members too, so that's that's really awesome. I feel like they were we must be doing the right thing because we're definitely controlling the spread in our coops and our members are very appreciates. That's the one thing the other thing I'd like to say is there are some silver linings in this. This is really forced us to stop saying, Well, we've always done it that way and start thinking out of the box. And I think that what's gonna come out of this horrific situation is some new embracing of technology. Our communications have been outstanding. I have never been unable to talk to all of the staff on my teams every single day. You know, in a normal situation, because we're just all busy running around taking care of our own jobs and having that everyday check-in with technology has been outstanding. Our communications have become very strategic, very consistent, very deliberate and I see that carried forward when we're on the other side of this and how all of the new nuked new protocols and technology uses. Really good going forward.  

Glennis Markison
Yeah, I just I'm so grateful that you took the time to share this with us, and I mean, I think this will benefit so many in the senior housing realm and beyond. Honestly. So I just want to thank you again for taking the time and being here on our Voices podcast.

Anne Sackrison
Oh, I really appreciate the opportunity. And, thanks for reaching out for us and letting us participate in. It's on all of us to do our part to handle this crisis. So happy to share what we've done and what's worked for us.

Glennis Markison
If you'd like to hear from other voices in multifamily or learn how to share your voice, head to Voices dot Happy dot Co. You can find voices on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcast player. Voices is produced by Happy Co. The leading real-time property operations platform for multifamily and student housing. We're on a mission to elevate property management to community management. Prioritizing staff and resident wellbeing. That starts by listening to you the voices of multifamily. I'm Glennis Markison. Thanks for listening. Also, feel free to take a minute and rate or review this podcast. That will help us continue to share the voices of multifamily.

Our Host

Glennis Markison

Glennis is a writer and producer from San Francisco. Taking the city’s trains and buses with riders of all ages and backgrounds inspired Glennis to go into journalism and share people’s stories for a living. As HappyCo's Senior Content Producer, she’s excited to highlight diverse voices and share stories from within the Multifamily industry.

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