The COVID-19 Update: Keeping Residents Informed

In the early spring, as COVID-19 became more and more prevalent in the national news, Residents were eager to learn about what was happening at Willow Valley Communities. While a number of communication channels were already in place to keep Residents informed, it was John Swanson, Chief Executive Officer of Willow Valley Living, who recognized the need for an additional platform to share more information in a clear and timely way. In order to provide regular information and updates about COVID-19, Willow Valley Communities elected to produce a daily news broadcast that would air on the community’s in-house television system, WVTV, right into Residents’ homes.

“Once we decided to produce a daily broadcast to share and educate Residents about COVID-19, things happened very quickly,” said Stacy Musser, Senior Director of Resident Life and Wellness. “In just over a week we had our stage set up as a news studio and trained Team Members to support the production.”

Stacy said even though Willow Valley Communities already had most of the equipment needed, it still had to be reconfigured, and the Cultural Center Theater’s stage had to be converted into a news studio. All of the cameras had to be moved onto the stage, hundreds of feet of cable had to be run, and the
backdrops and stage lighting had to be meticulously set. Through Willow Valley Communities’ teamwork, everything came together, and on Monday, April 20, 2020, at 4:00 pm, the COVID-19 Update went live for the first time.

Brian Rutter, Chief Marketing Officer, Willow Valley Living, is anchor for the program and interviews guests. Pam Kinsey, Infection Prevention Manager at Willow Valley Communities, provides clinical updates about COVID-19. Many of the Team Members involved on a daily basis of the broadcast are part of the Resident Life and Wellness Team: Neil Hershey, Theater and Technical Systems Manager; Ryan Hardy, Theater and Audio Visual Technician; Krista Aston, Resident Life and Clubhouse Manager; Theresa Strange, Resident Life Coordinator; and Cullen Feister, Marketing and Advertising Coordinator. But there are many other Team Members who contribute along the way, either to the content or by appearing as guests on the show.

Brian said the main focus of the program is COVID-19 and how the pandemic is being addressed at Willow Valley Communities. The broadcast is a way to announce updates to procedures on campus and also a place where Residents can get their questions answered. Residents and family members may submit their questions through a dedicated web page, WillowValleyCommunities.org/Coronavirus, which also provides information about how Willow Valley Communities is addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many factors go into deciding which guests will appear with Brian on the show. “We always think of our viewers first,” he said. “What would our Residents like to know? What do our Residents need to know? Who would be the best authority to give them that information? Those are the guests we bring onto the program.”

Preparations for the show are always taking place, with stories and guests being lined up — sometimes up to the last minute — to keep things as timely as possible.

Neil said that on a typical news broadcast day, it takes four Team Members to run the technical aspects of the show. Krista was first to operate the teleprompter, but when The Clubhouse reopened, Theresa took over that role. Cullen operates the video switcher, selecting what the audience sees among the various cameras and any media included in the show. Ryan operates the audio console, controlling the microphone levels, as well as the computer that runs all the media, like PowerPoint slides, videos, or graphics. Stacy oversees everything and provides direction.

The broadcast originally began as a daily show, but subsequently transitioned to three days a week, then two days a week, and currently airs one day a week, Thursday. (If it becomes necessary, the broadcast could again be aired more frequently.) The show is aired live at 4:00 pm and repeated later the same day at 5:45 pm and 10:00 pm on WVTV. The broadcast has also been added to the Life Lived Forward app so Residents can watch it even when they are not at home. The link stays live until the day of the new broadcast, giving Residents the ability to watch it again.

The program provides real value to Willow Valley Communities’ Residents, according to Brian. “I know that because of the number of Residents who have told me — via email, cards and notes, or in person — how frequently they tune in,” he said. “I’m very pleased that we’ve been able to offer this timely platform.”

Stacy said, “I am proud to work with such an amazing team who will do whatever it takes to make things happen. They continue to prove this to me, time after time.” She added, “It’s been a lot of fun working with Pam and Brian and the guests. There is a great camaraderie among the team. While producing an informative program for our Residents, we find time to make each other laugh and have fun.”

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