October 9, 2017, Tim Mullaney, Skilled Nursing News - After boosting referrals and admissions through a pilot program, StoneGate Senior Living is launching a “Central Intake Center” at its Dallas headquarters. The new CIC is meant to create a more streamlined admissions process for its 12 buildings in the Dallas market, making StoneGate a provider of choice for referral sources like hospitals as well as individual consumers.
“We’re going from a localized approach to a global approach in marketing those buildings,” StoneGate Senior Vice President of Business Development Angela Norris told Skilled Nursing News.
That localized approach is one that skilled nursing facilities around the country are familiar with: A hospital gives a list of nearby SNFs to a patient who is getting ready to be discharged, and then that patient or a case manager has to make inquiries at each individual building.
Now, the CIC has become a single point of contact for StoneGate. At all times, four or five staff members are in the CIC handling the stream of incoming inquiries. These workers ask about care needs, insurance coverage and other pertinent information, and they have access to “bed board” technology, showing real-time availability of beds in StoneGate’s communities. In this way, they can assess which communities would be a good fit for a particular patient and whether those buildings have the availability.
StoneGate manages 45 SNFs in three states—Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado—as well as several assisted living centers. It first tested the CIC concept in East Texas, where it operates three SNFs.
In that 90-day pilot, the SNFs experienced a 36% increase in incoming referrals and a 24% increase in admissions, according to Norris.
There are some costs on the front end in setting up a CIC, notably in hiring staff for it and implementing the bed board technology, she said. StoneGate also has not eliminated any positions at the community level as a result of centralizing intake processes. So, there are no cost savings in the form of reduced staff. But the success in East Texas shows that the return on investment can be substantial by driving new revenue.
Scaling up—but not too fast
Currently, the intake center only is fielding calls from hospitals and other medical providers that refer patients to StoneGate, primarily for short-stay rehab services. The ultimate goal is to expand the CIC across the whole enterprise, for all types of housing and care. The company envisions having an 800-number on the website that will route consumer referrals directly to the CIC, for skilled nursing as well as private-pay senior housing prospects.
However, Norris is not in a rush to scale up.
“In our opinion, haste makes waste, and so our rollout was very strategic,” she said. In fact, there were two to three years of planning for this, and the last six to eight weeks prior to going live were spent trying to “break the system” to ensure that all would go smoothly once it was up and running.
Other companies, such as post-acute giant Kindred Healthcare (NYSE: KND), have opened call centers as they have tried to become not only care providers but patient population managers. However, Norris thinks this still is the exception to the rule in senior care, and she says that StoneGate is being an early mover because “the early bird gets the worm.”
“I think in the old days [winning referrals] was by delivering cookies to case managers and patients and families, but now we have to deliver not only great customer service but great information,” she said. “We have to know what’s available, what the capabilities of the buidlng are, and what [the patient’s] payor is, so that we can give them accurate information and there are no unfortunate financial surprises on the back end.”