Senior living executives see a sunny outlook for the industry, though there are some threatening clouds ahead.
Four panelists gathered to share insights from the C-suite on the evolving resident experience at Argentum’s annual Senior Living Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Loren Shook, president and CEO of Silverado and Argentum board chairman; Patricia Will, co-founder and president of Belmont Village Senior Living and Argentum board member; Aaron D’Costa, COO, Symerica Senior Living; and Charles Trefzger, president and CEO of Affinity Living Group discussed the changing business environment, resident expectations and family dynamics.
Trefzger: We’re seeing a greater level of care being demanded by our families and our residents. We are being called upon to be navigators of their healthcare requirements, both by regulators as well as by family members. We’ve had to become more exacting and understanding of the healthcare services that we are expected to provide. In days gone by, we would define ourselves by providing assistance with activities of daily living primarily in five areas. That has almost gone out the window in many respects for us. Now we are negotiating with insurance companies, working with primary care practitioners and trying to resolve healthcare issues.
Will: We’ve been operating now for 20 years and the resident experience has evolved as a function of the products and services we offer. When we began, there were very bright lines between independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing. What we see today is a blur.
Shook: We have two populations to look at. It’s not just about the residents, it’s also about the family in the memory-impaired population. The residents want purpose and connection. I think they want to know, can they trust us. they’re coming in very afraid, and they’re coming in having been through the mill.
If they’re cognitive enough, they feel like a burden to those that have been around them, and they have a lot of psychosocial support needs. They want normalcy of life. Normalcy means you can go get a banana from the kitchen if you want. You can go get an ice cream. You can go outside. They want trained staff.
But the families want hope. They want relief of their burden and their worry. They feel as guilty as can be, turning their loved one over to us.
D’Costa: Having been in the industry now for 27 years, I don’t ever recall a resident being dissatisfied and going to a competitor. Today, we’re seeing that based on the competition and on new places opening. It’s not just prospects that are now having choices, it’s our own residents making the decision of, “I don’t need to put up with this, I’m going to go somewhere else.” And so, we all as an industry have to do a much better job in being able to consistently deliver performance. The hotel industry has consistency in brands. And getting a good understanding on that consistency and delivery on what that brand means is important. I don’t necessarily feel the consumers themselves have particularly changed, but I think there are more options for them today. I think there’s more of a need to deliver what we say we’re going to deliver, and, because of those two dynamics, we’re being pushed as an industry in the direction of ensuring that we improve our performance.
Trefzger: I’m seeing a much higher expectation about accountability. We’re dealing with a much more informed consumer, somebody who can go on the internet and compare results across a variety of platforms and determine what they think is the most likely best solution to their problem. As a result, we have to hold ourselves highly accountable for our actions and responsible for the outcomes. From that standpoint, I would say that transparency and communication become increasingly important.
Shook: We see a more demanding individual. We definitely see, “I want Wi-Fi so I can stream my stuff.” I do think the baby boomers and the millennials want to see how we’re using tech. To have pharmacogenomics to determine if this pain medication or that antipsychotic or a depressant might work better in their mother, oh, they love that. Twenty years ago, that population would’ve probably said, “what did the doctor say?” (Now) they have their own ideas, “I read about the MIND diet, and I want my mom on the MIND diet.” It’s a different time, but it’s fun.
Will: I think the biggest change is that it used to be a bossy adult child leading the way. I think today we are seeing a much larger percentage of seniors take control of their own fates and decision-making. I recently attended a preopening for a community we’re opening in Berkeley, California. There were 180 seniors in the room. They had fabulous questions and were participating themselves. Ten years ago, I would’ve seen their kids, and then their kids would have gone home and talked to their parents about this wonderful idea that they saw. It was almost conspiratorial how we approached the customer with the exception of the severely cognitively impaired.