Engage Magazine Spring/Summer 2021

Moving Senior Living Forward with Person-Centered Care

by Kerwin Higashi, Regional Vice President, Sodexo Seniors North America – West

Kerwin HigashiPeople are at the center of senior living care. In an industry where so much has changed dramatically — and continues to evolve — that one truth has remained constant.

Six years ago, when I began in my role as the Regional Vice President in the West for Sodexo Seniors, I knew this was an exciting time for senior living. Back then, our Seniors segment was newly separated from our Healthcare segment as its own entity. It has been our opportunity to think of our senior living services as a start-up, with incredible room for innovation. Since those days, what has been the key to our success has been our emphasis on hospitality. 

Before my career in senior living, I was based in the education sector, supporting universities across North America. In universities, our emphasis has been on hospitality and innovation. Our customers live where we work, with meal plans, housing, and engaging programming. Sound familiar? A colleague once told me that at universities the parents drop off the kids, and in senior Living the kids drop off the parents. The attention to service, to making them feel at home, safe and secure, remains the same. In a university setting, we understand our customers are only with us for their four-year college career. In senior living, how do we continue to innovate and keep up momentum with our residents who certainly don’t have plans to leave us?

Engagement is critical for creating exceptional experiences for our residents. That was true long before the pandemic and became critical to navigate in an era of social distancing and isolation. Isolation consistently exacerbates health and well-being concerns for seniors. Thanks to the innovation of our teams, we have developed new ways to engage with residents and continue to deliver those special moments. I am consistently proud of the impact our teams have at the many different touchpoints where we interact with residents. 

Now, what does the future hold? At Sodexo, I’m excited about the critical pillars upon which we build our business that differentiate our services, to drive engagement with residents and also with care teams. 

At our core we are a Quality of Life services company. In every aspect of our services, we are committed to improving the quality of life for individuals, communities, and our globe. That is what motivates me. Sodexo is not a brand-forward organization. We’re not focused on our label; we’re focused on creating special moments for residents to thrive. We take the time to understand their needs, wants, and desires and deliver solutions that fit our partners’ mission and values. We’re also strengthened by our global presence; to pull from different parts of the country and the world in order to bring solutions that are right for our residents and clients. It’s not one-size-fits-all. 

Second, we’re uniquely committed to our CARES framework for customer service, based on compassion, accountability, respect, enthusiasm, and service. With CARES as a guide for our teams, our people are supported and recognized for their individual contributions and the impact they make on our residents and other staff.

Both of these pillars are deeply reliant upon our most valuable asset: people. How do we continue to engage and innovate? It’s about relationships. We build relationships with our partners, and our frontline teams are often considered by residents as family. Combine these connections with our global expertise and our trend-setting solutions, and we are able to deliver customized experiences for seniors. This is why we’re in business; this is why I’m excited to continue to evolve in the senior living industry.

Finally, it must be said I’m truly grateful to LeadingAge California for their advocacy and resources that have helped inspire and support seniors and the senior living industry. The knowledge and experience I have personally gained from LeadingAge have been invaluable in leading my teams and moving senior living forward. Congratulations to LeadingAge California for this milestone year. Here’s to 60 more years!