At the Spiezle architectural firm’s recent Aging Forward Executive Roundtable conference, Steve Lindsey, CEO of Garden Spot Village, gave an inspiring presentation on being supportive of the staff’s best efforts. He referred to the concept he delineated as Coaching and he structured it in a way that was reflective of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The bottom of the triangle was Task focused and included basic competence and security and performance and related both of those to the supervisory roles. But the majority of the triangle was all about coaching and was focused on development of the team members. Starting with Relationships, it moved up through Contribution, Grown & Development, Best Self and Legacy which was at the top of the triangle. This structure, which is employed by Garden Spot, is designed to support each employee’s efforts and abilities to make a difference in in each other’s lives and performance as well as the lives of all of the residents. It is a paradigm-shifting structure that establishes a format that enhances the ability to “discover the BEST Version of YOURSELF and fulfill a LIFE OF PURPOSE. Just imagine what implementing this approach would contribute to the lives of employees and residents of senior housing communities.
One of the downsides for the aging population is the loss of a spouse, other relatives and friends. This has accelerated as a result of Covid 19. Loneliness is known to be a threat to your health. According to an article published by the CDC “social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death and… may rival those of smoking, obesity and physical inactivity”. Loneliness results in several other increased risks including heart attacks, strokes and depression. Of course, in this year of Covid, socialization has been severely restricted. It appears that with the help of the vaccines, we are beginning to emerge from the “lockdown” mentality and behaviors.
The benefits of socialization include reconnecting with friends and family members. Carefully engaging in small group activities and returning to things such as enjoying a meal at a restaurant with friends improve the quality of life for all of us. So, let’s be careful and joyous as we recreate what was known as a normal life.
Getting vaccinated against Covid 19 has deservedly taken up a lot of space in the media and cases are dropping as a result. Nonetheless, there continues to be hesitancy among some of the population. This seems to be based on concern arising from the spread of misinformation, particularly on social media. A strong argument can be made that getting vaccinated is not only good for you and for your loved ones, but good for the community in general. We’re not suggesting that getting vaccinated should lead to massive gatherings of crowds at the beach or inside small, tightly packed venues. We do believe that getting vaccinated has already proven to be an effective way of resuming something like a normal life. Just look at the family gatherings that were portrayed on the TV coverage of Mother’s Day. Families who hadn’t seen one another, hadn’t shared a warm hug, were finally reunited. The emotional benefits couldn’t have been more obvious. So, get vaccinated! It’s free and its good for everyone.
A significant message that must be conveyed is that seniors or older adults are not “the other” – they are us. And if we endure, we will be them. How this segment of the population is portrayed is directly influenced by the words that we use to describe them. Let’s explore how language can create a positive image of those who may have more to contribute to society because of the depth of their experience throughout their lives. Here’s one good example: replace the word “still” with “continuing”. “Still” suggests a type of surprise that seniors remain involved in their lives in a productive way. Continuing clearly communicates the fact that many older adults have not stopped being involved in giving back to the communities that are important to them. These communities might include the local area in which they live, their places of worship and service organizations. Other positive words are “mature” and “experienced”. They attest to the values that older adults bring to decision-making whether it relates to their friends and families or other organizations and activities with which they are involved. So, let’s think about older adults with positive and productive words and phrases. They’ve earned it.
Aside from the fact that “the new normal” is now such an overused phrase, what else can we say about it.? Normal is defined as “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected”. Is that really what we want to aspire to in all aspects of the senior living field? It seems to me that it is a minimum standard and that we should all strive to exceed the minimum. From a provider’s perspective, the minimum will not help you stand out among your competition. It’s a baseline which operators should seek to exceed in as many ways as possible. Average food quality won’t cause residents to want to use the dining rooms. Average amenities are the least one might expect. Using tried and true (formerly) approaches to attracting the interest of prospects may not get them in your door – physically or virtually. As market feasibility consultants, we must always evaluate how we are assessing the market for our clients. Are we doing everything we can to properly define the market area for a new development? Are we using all available resources to identify both existing and new or planned competitors? Are we making reasonable assumptions to size the target market and factor in the impact of competition? After more than 30 years as a leading firm in conducting market studies, I can safely say that seeking to go beyond “normal” has often led me to re-evaluate my approach to my work and achieve breakthroughs that increased the reliability of the results.
A lot of time has been spent thinking about what the Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) will be looking for when its time for them to downsize. When you consider the range that comprises the Boomer generation it includes people age 57 to 74 so we can’t really think about them as a single age cohort. Planning for the preferences of early Boomers may be starting now, although the average age of move-in to independent living is early 80’s! As an early Boomer myself, I’m not sure I can accurately tell you what I’ll be looking for (if anything). Maybe one the way to approach it is to talk about what we early Boomers won’t be looking for. Highly structured activities and programs that aren’t based on our input would be one thing. We are opinionated and we expect our thoughts to be solicited and given serious consideration. So, flexibility will be key and we are already seeing that in numerous retirement communities that offer various choices in meal plans, for example. Another way to look at it is what we would find attractive. Properties that don’t stand out saying WE’RE FOR OLD PEOPLE! That suggests including senior housing in mixed use communities, bringing people of various ages together, co-existing with commercial amenities such as restaurants, movie theaters, book stores, and other retail uses. More communities located in urbanized, walkable environments will be desirable. It will be important to create opportunities for Boomers to continue to contribute to the community around them, rather than leaving them feeling isolated in a single building or a senior housing campus. Let us help you plan for our future!
When we ask senior housing team members who they are competing with, inevitably the response includes other communities offering the same or similar services. Continuums mention continuums, assisted living communities refer to other assisted living communities. But that may be a narrow view, particularly as we begin the generational change to boomers. For those who had older family members residing in an age-restricted community like the ones mentioned above, if the experience was a positive one, they may lean towards making a similar choice. But for the majority of seniors, that influencer probably doesn’t exist. And the choices have expanded considerably. Of course, there is the active adult community (AAC) which tends to serve the younger seniors and may be structured as a for-sale or rental property. This type of community is likely to have excellent fitness facilities and may have some social gathering spaces, but won’t offer meals, housekeeping and the other services found in traditional senior housing communities such as Life Plan and those that limit their services to assisted living/and or memory care. And then there is the most unexpected “competitor” – the non-age-restricted apartment building. While the latter doesn’t offer any services, they are likely to have amenities such as a fitness center or may have leased space to a coffee shop or restaurant serving light fare. Many of these communities are located in urban areas where walkability to a wide variety of amenities is part of the attraction. So, it pays for you to become familiar with all the options – both traditional and non-traditional.
According to the current issue of the NIC Investment Guide, “more than 32% of the property inventory in the NIC MAP Primary Markets is at least 25 years old while only 25% of the stock is less than 10 years old”. This suggests that it is time to begin planning how to reposition these older communities. How does the leadership go about the process of evaluating the ways to make potential changes? The first step is to take a careful inventory of what the community offers including unit sizes for independent and assisted living and even memory care. And then, with the help of an experienced market research firm, gather and compare this information to what the newer properties in your market have to offer. With regard to nursing care, if that is part of the mix, take a look at how many semi-private rooms vs. private rooms are available. We know that the industry is moving to private nursing home rooms. Another step is to evaluate the types of amenity spaces that are offered and, again, compare this to your newer competition. It will be necessary to retain an architectural firm to assess what is possible in terms of physical changes to the property. And once an initial master plan is prepared, the financial feasibility of the proposed changes must be evaluated. Other possible changes would include offering more than one payment plan – say a rental option in a community charging entrance fees, as well as considering a menu of services in independent living vs. a more inclusive program. Taking these steps will result in a fresh look at an older community that should lead to a thoughtful plan that can be implemented to give it new life.