RETHINK Talks: An Interview With Reliant Rehabilitation

This SNN Talks interview, sponsored by Reliant Rehabilitation, took place during a live Q&A session with Reliant Rehabilitation Director of Strategic Partnerships Shelley Horst at the SNN RETHINK event in Chicago held on September 1, 2021. The interview has been edited for clarity. 

Skilled Nursing News: Shelley, tell us about your role as Strategic Director of Partnerships, and how providers here at RETHINK can reimagine their marketing and sales strategies. How have you helped providers over the last 16 months with their hospital relationships?

Shelley Horst: Thank you so much for letting us contribute to the conversation about census development. It’s such an important topic right now, I think everyone’s struggling with this initiative. When Reliant partners with our customers to provide that rehab, we become part of that interdisciplinary team. We embody that mission to provide excellent patient outcomes, patient care and customer service while also making sure we’re developing census because our customers success is our success. Without patients, none of us can do our job.


We have worked to bring market data analytics to our partners because we feel that’s the best way to help them make a strategic marketing plan. We have a variety of tools and information to help customers highlight their outcomes, testimonials, and success stories. These are great piece to take directly to the consumer and their referral sources as well.

Definitely. We talked a little bit earlier this morning about how business development has taken on a new meaning where every single admission counts. Talk to us about building those relationships as we transition through the world we’re living in today.

Horst: Right now, we haven’t been able to use our traditional marketing techniques during COVID. It’s been very difficult and discouraging to our business development teams. They’ve had to rethink how they are marketing, and the ones taking a transparent, solutions-oriented response seem to have done the best. Taking that data back to your hospitals, understanding it, then adapting your business model so it’s customer service-friendly to our referral sources is important. Ultimately, our customers are patients, but we also market to the referral sources every day.


In that context, talk a little bit about how those relationships have changed over the last couple of months given we’re moving forward, hopefully out of this limbo. Talk about the transformation of that relationship today.

Horst: When we look at the data, we’re seeing that SNF referrals have still not fully recovered. We have to really think, “Okay, how are we marketing and what can we do to recover?” Home health referrals, on the other hand, are on the rise. We know the patients are there, but they’re going home instead of coming to skilled nursing. It’s about reshaping that conversation and building that trust, not just with our patients, but also with our hospital partners.

We need to get in front of them with our outcomes, provide data that tells that story and remind them that if a patient goes with home health too soon after an illness, it won’t be as good of an outcome as they want to see. We need to remind them of our importance as a post-acute partner with better return of acute rates in that situation. When we do that, we’re able to reshape the conversation and align with what they need from us. I think that open that conversation with some transparency from them as well too.

Talk to us about some of the best practices for reinvigorating in business development with clients that you work with today.

Horst: I think the best practices that really shift the needle center around customer service and the patient experience. We make sure we’re providing that to our partners, their patients, and the facilities, and investing in that customer service training with their staff will make a big difference. I think we need to be reminded of those things. I know that’s difficult right now with the staffing issues we face, but even instilling small changes can make a big difference. Making sure that their customer service message is clear and defined for the entire interdisciplinary team is critical.

Sure. That transcends from that customer service aspect into marketing today and reinvigorating the online marketing experience. Talk about how you’re working with clients and coaching them on their online marketing strategy.

Horst: This is so important because in some markets, this is our only opportunity to reach new customers. It’s an excellent chance for us to offer transparency and offers a tool for educating the community about what we can provide. I was a social worker for many, many years before I got into business development, and one of the things I consistently saw is that people don’t know what skilled nursing is. They don’t have to, they don’t want to think about it. They don’t often know about its benefits or what skilled nursing has to offer.

It’s an educational opportunity through our websites and social media. Seniors are much more social media savvy than they used to be, so they utilize that for learning about your facility. Good or bad, they go to Facebook for information. We can provide information there. It’s a great place to highlight outcomes and success stories for patients, giving them information about their Medicare benefits, managed care benefits and what skilled nursing provides. I think it’s a great place to showcase this information.

It’s hard to educate and reeducate in certain areas. Talk about how providers can think about the process of changing that perception, given the state of the world that we’re living in.

Horst: Highlighting the message and becoming a resource to our referral sources and customers is key. We provide a service that unfortunately gets a bad rap sometimes, and it’s not fair. There are a lot of skilled nursing facilities that provide such great care. I think it’s about education and consistent messaging.

We’re going to talk a little bit more about messaging in the next panel, but first impressions are incredibly important. Talk about how to change that experience in terms of bringing new residents in and educating the family.

Horst: We have lots of opportunities to make that first impression. Our business development people can’t go bedside as much as they used to. There are lots of opportunities for first impressions, whether that’s a family that comes through the building or a family that calls with an inquiry. But if these opportunities occur after hours or on weekends, we often fall short. That’s when most people make inquiries or come to tour, and if you’re not available, they’re going to move on to the next. It’s important for our skilled nursing partners to have a good protocol for after hours and weekends because a lot of things can happen outside of 8:00 to 5:00.

The biggest first impression though is that first day of admission. I can’t express that enough. We do such a great job marketing and bringing the patients in, but then we fall short on the day of admissions because we lack the protocols to set our teams up for success. A good, first-day impression on the patient prevents you from having to be in a state of service recovery throughout the entire stay.

Those protocols of that first-day impression, if you had a magic wand and could do whatever you would want, what would that experience look like? 

Horst: I think that we often must cater to our hospitals and offer to accept patients according to their discharge needs. This sometimes doesn’t always make for the best patient experience. It starts with having those transparent conversations about how to make that an easier transition from their end to your end, but then your interdisciplinary team has to understand how important it is to greet that patient and attend to their needs. Some things can’t be avoided, but the things that we can avoid can make a huge difference. I find that families and patients are very understanding if you can explain what happens and set the expectations because they often come with an unrealistic expectation about what we can do that first day. I think that makes a big change in the patient experience.

To wrap up, if the audience could take away two or three things to bring back to their teams and say, “how do we make an impact today? “What would those two or three things be?

Horst: I think the biggest thing we can do right now is, look at our census goals and make sure we’re pulling good market data analytics to drive these conversations with the hospital. Sometimes we’re short-minded with our census developments, and we need to have more of a long-range goal. The second thing is focusing on customer service.

Right now, with staffing issues, I understand that’s a difficulty, but even if you can make one, small change and step that up for your team, it can help move the needle. Third, look at your partners right now. If your rehab partner isn’t helping to align with what you need, and they aren’t adding that census development support and help, then you need to rethink what that model looks like for you.

This article is sponsored by Reliant Rehabilitation. To learn more about how Reliant can help your therapy program, visit or send an email to [email protected].

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