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Trends: Senior housing and services grow more intertwined

September 29, 2014
by The National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing & Care Industry (NIC)
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[Editor’s note: As a prelude to its national conference, the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing & Care Industry (NIC) shares a sneak-peek Q&A held with opening keynote speaker Thomas H. Lee, MD, chief medical officer at healthcare performance improvement firm Press Ganey Associates.]

Although it may be uncertain, the future of healthcare will have a dramatic impact on seniors housing as new innovations impact the way care is delivered. These crucial insights and others will be explored by Thomas H. Lee, MD, chief medical officer at healthcare performance improvement firm Press Ganey Associates, at the opening general session of the 24th NIC National Conference Oct. 1 to 3 in Chicago.

Lee (pictured, right) has more than three decades of experience as a practicing physician, researcher and health policy expert. He played a leadership role in the development and implementation of healthcare reform in Massachusetts, a precursor of the Affordable Care Act enacted by the U.S Congress in 2010. Lee also served as network president for Partners Healthcare System and CEO for Partners Community HealthCare, Inc., the integrated delivery system founded by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.

NIC recently interviewed Lee on his outlook for the industry, which he’ll share in detail at the NIC conference.

NIC: How does improving healthcare apply to seniors housing?

Lee: This is a very important question that hasn’t been posed by 98 percent of the healthcare community, but here’s how I’d frame it: Seniors are disproportionately the patients who are front and center in the healthcare system. If the real goal of healthcare is to meet the needs of patients, then you quickly come to understand that many of the activities that drive better health are outside of what we traditionally consider to be healthcare. That’s where housing becomes very important, along with food, education, employment and other basics. Those factors dwarf what I might do for patients in my office on Friday mornings.

NIC: What’s the biggest challenge facing organizations that care for seniors?

Lee: The challenge and the opportunity are to determine what actions will produce better health for seniors, but then knowing that no one organization can perform all those functions. What we need is real collaboration and integration of organizations that work with seniors, including healthcare providers and housing groups. Companies that can figure out how to work with other organizations in the chain of senior services will have a competitive advantage.

NIC: You talk about the integration of services. Can you cite some housing examples?

Lee: The Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) is not covered in glory these days, but it does some marvelous things we can all learn from. The VA doesn’t just provide healthcare; it also takes responsibility for housing veterans. The VA understands that housing is part of what it means to take care of people.

Another example is the Health Leads, a national program that trains college kids to work in emergency departments and health centers. The students advocate for the social needs of patients and connect them to the resources they need to stay healthy, such as housing. The healthcare providers don’t offer housing but partner with organizations that do. It’s a win-win for everyone.

NIC: What are the implications for private sector seniors housing companies?

Lee: If I were in the housing business, I’d be approaching large healthcare delivery systems to find ways to integrate our work. When a housing issue comes up with a patient, it would be nice for a healthcare provider to work out the problem systematically instead of panicking. Healthcare providers need partners in housing that can address the patient’s needs.

NIC: What are two healthcare trends that will impact seniors housing and care?

Lee: Baby boomers like me are becoming seniors and have transformed every institution they’ve touched. We can assume they’ll transform seniors housing, too. They want housing that meets their healthcare needs but also makes life worth living. They want it all. They’re going to vote with their feet and will move into places that can meet their needs.

The other big trend is that healthcare will be coordinated. The need for coordination of care is qualitatively different from 20 years ago because of the tremendous advances in medical science. There’s so much more we can do. For too many people nowadays, the healthcare experience is chaotic. Patients have always been afraid of their diseases and the treatments, and that’s still true today. But now there’s a third fear, namely that healthcare providers don’t have their act together. We need to have environments where teams can meet the needs of patients so they can have the peace of mind that care is coordinated. This will increasingly be what patients demand.