The Evolving Senior Care Industry: How to Address Senior Housing Shortages

As Baby Boomers age and enter retirement, the United States’ aging population is quickly growing. This senior population increase results in additional need for healthcare, senior care, and housing solutions.

Chris Ebert

Chris Ebert, principal at Ankrom Moisan

The National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) released a report that highlights the gravity of the growing housing need. The NIC predicts that by 2025, we will need an additional 156,000 senior housing units for the age 80+ group. Additionally, 549,000 units will be needed by 2028, and 806,000 units will be needed by 2030. The report highlights the fact that the ratio of the senior population to the adult child or caregiver population will continue to narrow as the Baby Boomer generation ages, further highlighting the need for senior housing and care.

However, the current construction pace may not be able to keep up with this demand. As a result, seniors may have limited housing and care options, face higher housing costs, and have limited options when it comes to housing quality or location.

Understanding Construction Challenges

Chris Ebert, principal at Ankrom Moisan, explains that the rapidly growing senior population is challenging for senior housing and senior care development. “I think there will be considerable difficulty for the construction industry to keep up with current demand, with the biggest factor being how developers and financiers will bring middle-market products to the market at a price point that consumers will accept,” he says.

To keep up with increasing demand, senior care communities can explore new construction, renovations and additions to existing buildings, as well as ways to maximize the current available space to increase capacity. Ebert encourages communities to evaluate how their existing spaces are being used day-to-day. “Are they being used as originally intended? Can spaces not constantly in use serve multiple functions, and free up some space? Can technology, such as electronic medical records, be implemented to also free up spaces?” he asks.

Planning for Senior Care Community Expansion

If a senior care community is considering expansion, taking some strategic initial steps can help contribute to the project’s success. “Simply acknowledging that an expansion needs to be planned for is a big step in the right direction,” says Ebert. He explains that from a technical perspective, the community should make sure that the electrical, plumbing, and other systems are simple, and that future projects can easily connect to those systems.

Additionally, he says it’s important to consider how future expansion will impact the community’s dynamic. “For example, will the existing dining location serve the new expansion, or will a new one be needed?” he poses. “When designing new spaces, even if the facility has a clear vision for the space, design them to be flexible, so that changing needs and new technologies can be accommodated without major cost impacts,” Ebert recommends.

Preparing for Expansion and Renovation Timelines

A community also needs to consider its project timeline and its increased capacity needs. “The more care that is being provided, generally the higher the cost, which also means a longer construction timeline,” says Ebert.

Ebert also notes that from a regulatory and construction standpoint, active adult communities are often no different than standard multi-family housing. “Independent living apartments at life plan communities are also marginally different from standard multi-family apartments,” he explains. “Therefore, the quickest way to expand is often to add active adult or independent living apartments. In some jurisdictions, careful design can allow these apartments to transition to licensed assisted living in the future, and to support third-party in-home care providers.”

Even if a senior care community is planning an expansion in the next five to ten years, Ebert says there are steps they can take now to understand how long that process will take. Renovation and expansion process timelines can vary considerably, depending on several factors.

“Part of the process that is often overlooked is the impact of items that need to be researched before the design,” says Ebert. “For example, an older community that doesn’t meet current planning or zoning requirements may have been ‘grandfathered’ in, and any significant change would require an extensive planning process. With public hearings, it’s also entirely possible for an existing community to be perfectly consistent with the zoning and not require any zoning process at all.”

In a similar vein, older facilities that are out-of-date will need to be brought up to current building code requirements during the renovation and expansion.

Ebert recommends that his clients develop a facility master plan to understand how such issues could impact future projects. “A good master plan should identify opportunities for expansion over a five- to 10-year time frame, identify related regulatory hurdles, and give communities an idea of the timing needed for various projects,” he says.

But senior care communities don’t just have to manage project timelines and expectations for stakeholders. They also have to focus on how the project will impact residents and staff. “One of the most challenging aspects of expansion projects is managing the impact on, and expectations of, the current residents,” Ebert explains. “We’ve seen residents be the greatest supporters of a project, and also their greatest detractors.”

Ultimately, a senior care community needs to carefully choose its expansion and renovation partners, since they will be responsible for everything from helping to translate ideas into a design and for overseeing the project’s day-to-day progress. And, with the growing need for housing and care, senior care communities are poised to see significantly increasing demands in the coming decades. Now is the time to start planning and expanding to be able to help meet such demand.

Topics: Facility management , Featured Articles , Housing , Information Technology , Senior Environments , Technology & IT