A case study on how Covenant Living Communities and Services benefited from Polaris Group's Offsite MDS Coordinator Program.
Meet Covenant Living Communities & Services
Covenant Living Communities & Services is one of the largest not-for-profit senior housing organizations in the United States. For over a century, Covenant Living has provided living support and care to seniors across 19 campuses in 10 states.
“Covenant Living is both a provider and leader in long-term care,” explained Peggy Connorton, the organization’s Associate Vice President of Healthcare Regulation, Compliance, and Quality. “Our goal is to provide the best possible care to our residents and their families. You can see that commitment to service on our campuses, as well as in our legislative advocacy work.”
Partnering with Polaris Group: 13 years of support and expertise
In 2009, Covenant Living began looking for an equally service-minded partner to help prepare two campuses for their state surveys. The organization hired Polaris Group and the relationship quickly blossomed from there. Since 2009, Polaris has conducted annual mock surveys across all of Covenant Living’s campuses, as well as supported key strategic and operational initiatives.
“I started working with Polaris in 2016,” shared Connorton. “We do regular mock surveys, PDPM audits, and other compliance work together, but it’s more than that. I see Polaris as an extension of our team. They’re always there to help if we need insight on a regulation, advice on a process, or help filling a role. We’re very invested in relationships at Covenant. Polaris is too, and that makes them a great partner.”
COVID-19 challenges and the offsite MDS Coordinator solution
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in March 2020, Covenant Living turned to Polaris as that trusted partner.
“We dealt with a lot at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, but one acute need was an MDS Coordinator. We were concerned about bringing a new person onsite since so many staff were already out, so we asked Polaris if they could create an offsite solution for us,” reflected Connorton.
An offsite MDS Coordinator is a relatively new concept for the long-term care industry. Offsite coordinators are usually used by small, independent, and rural stand-alone facilities.
“The Polaris team rose to the challenge. They said yes, let’s do it, and they built us a high-quality program. They had a coordinator and a plan in place in no time.”
The offsite MDS Coordinator program in action
Covenant Living’s first offsite MDS Coordinator was Polaris Nurse Consultant Wendy Strain, now Polaris’ Director of Consulting Services.
“Polaris has extensive experience with MDS staffing, onboarding, and training. When Covenant came to us, we thoughtfully adapted those functions for an offsite environment,” explained Strain. “We applied the same thorough processes and rigor we use for any program.”
Polaris’ program has three pillars, all of which have impressed Connorton over the last two years:
Hiring, onboarding, and supervising exemplary candidates
Polaris Group's offsite MDS Coordinator program uses nurse consultants and independent contractors who are supervised and managed by Polaris Group’s Director of Staffing. Candidates go through multiple screening interviews, a practical ability test, and interviews with client senior leadership.
“Every MDS Coordinator we’ve worked with has been a true expert in assessments, processes, coding, and everything else that goes with the job,” confirmed Connorton. “The offsite program really expands our access to talent, and Polaris is great at finding us candidates who know the job and also fit our requirements.”
Setting high standards for communication and collaboration
A good MDS Coordinator constantly reviews documentation, collaborates with care providers, and assesses patients. Offsite MDS coordinators need to work even more closely and effectively with clinical staff to get the information they need for assessments.
“I was hesitant about an offsite MDS Coordinator at first,” admitted Connorton. “You’re used to having that person down the hall, physically accessible in their office. However, we’ve found that Polaris’ offsite MDS Coordinators are just as integrated with our team as onsite staff. We don’t miss a beat not having an MDS in the building.”
Delivering continuous process improvement
Whether offsite or in the building, Polaris MDS Coordinators are expected to leave the MDS role better than when they joined it. Process improvements and staff education are priorities for any Polaris-placed candidate.
“Polaris has found us really strong MDS Coordinators who have helped educate our team. Our coordinators are knowledgeable on the MDS, knowledgeable in Medicare compliance, and great at identifying reimbursement or coding things that we’re missing. It’s like having all of Polaris’ expertise on your team,” shared Connorton.
A lasting program: offsite MDS Coordinators as a solution to the staffing shortage
While COVID-19 infections have decreased, nursing home facilities continue to struggle with staffing shortages and a lack of prospective talent. Connorton sees offsite MDS Coordinators as one solution to those issues.
“We’re still using offsite MDS Coordinators, and the program is more valuable than ever. We want our MDS Coordinators to optimize our reimbursement for care delivered and to keep the campus compliant. They can’t do that if they’re onsite, getting pulled to cover other staffing gaps.”
She continued, “It’s pretty incredible what we’ve achieved through this program and how much it’s grown. It really shows that Polaris is an expert in the field. They’re just a wonderful partner for us and it’s been tremendously beneficial working with them.”