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5 Senior Living Predictions from a Director of Resident Experience

February 25, 2020Andrea Clauson

No one can doubt that these are interesting times to be in senior living.

Between reimbursement shifts, lively demographic trends, and an impending presidential election, it’s clear there’s a lot of change on the way.

To help senior living leaders chart the path ahead, we spoke to Sara Kyle, PhD, Director of Resident Experience at Holiday Retirement, in Florida, about what she sees coming for the remainder of 2020.

Here she lends clarity on 5 big senior living trends to watch this year.

1 - Wellness and engagement budgets will increase

Any life-enrichment director will tell you: Money allocated for resident engagement and enrichment could always be greater. But there is also a strategy to think through and being able to quantify what additional spend will change in the organization.

“When you compare the engagement budget to the resources allocated for dining, marketing, sales, etcetera, wellness and engagement typically have a smaller budget to work with, but that does not mean it is not equally as impactful,” Sara says.

However, she thinks that engagement budgets may start to grow soon. Various pressures on the industry as a whole, like occupancy challenges and workforce issues (more on these below), will compel senior living leaders to find creative means to boost census numbers and resident engagement.

“The business case for investing more in engagement is becoming clearer,” Sara says. “A robust engagement program draws in more residents, and can most definitely increase the average length of stay if socialization, movement and cognition focused offerings are fundamental elements in an activity program. Research shows us such additions are invaluable for senior living communities.”

2 - The occupancy whiplash

Senior living has struggled with low occupancy rates for some time.

The national average percentage of occupied beds has hovered in the low 80s for years — and this June’s 83.7% figure was the first year-over-year uptick since 2015. For senior living leaders this means shuttered wings, depressed growth, and low revenues.

However, Sara believes this state of affairs won’t last forever.

“Low census growth is obviously a problem,” Sara says. “But senior living leaders shouldn’t assume it’s permanent. The silver tsunami is coming.”

As more Baby Boomers age into retirement, there’s always the chance that, in some markets, the unthinkable may happen: demand will come to outpace supply.

“It’s not going to happen everywhere, but it’s already happening in some states,” Sara says. “Definitely something to watch for as we recraft our message to attract people based on want, not just need.”

3 - A new flurry of documentation

PDPM just kicked in during October 2019. Its effects on community revenue streams have yet to be accounted for. What’s certain, though, is that senior living communities are going to be proactive about capturing reimbursement.

“Nobody wants to miss out on potential revenue,” Sara says, “and if communities aren’t prepared with rigorous documentation on resident activities, it’s possible they could stand to lose money.”

This will likely entail strong investments in new documentation practices, whether those are training programs for staff, or next-generation platforms for tracking residents’ wellbeing.

“Staying on top of PDPM’s documentation standards is something that communities quite literally can’t afford not to do,” Sara says. “We can predict that communities will err on the side of caution, at least until we see how PDPM’s payments actually shake out.”

4 - Declining tolerance for data-silos

The pressures of stagnant occupancy work in two directions. On the one hand, they motivate communities to find ways to grow their census. On the other, it puts them on a constant hunt for operational efficiencies.

Translation? The days of data-silos are numbered.

“Too many of the platforms and solutions at use in communities don’t talk to each other,” Sara says. “It makes for tedious internal work to combine data points together and analyze it. Increasingly that’s something leaders aren’t able to manage with the lean operations model that is the reality of senior living.”

Interoperability is a by-word in the industry for a reason. Having platforms auto-populate with data, so that leaders can see everything they need in a glance, is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s a necessity.

5 - Using creativity to solve workforce woes

Working the frontlines in senior living has never been an easy job. Finding staff to do that work has never been harder.

A strong economy is good news for the country — but hard news for hiring managers, who are running out of room to maneuver in a tight labor market.

“Senior living communities don’t have unlimited resources to offer more attractive compensation,” Sara says. “That makes drawing in new employees really difficult.”

Further complicating the issue is the industry’s extremely high turnover rates. Annual staff departures have reached as high as 29% in some roles. So many departures quickly lead to eye-watering costs for recruiting replacements.

This means that senior living communities are going to have to come up with creative ways to entice new employees, and to keep them once they’ve signed on.

“The best way to that is to make their work feel meaningful, and to reduce the friction they feel in getting the job done,” Sara says.

The more that senior living communities can connect front-line work to residents’ well-being, and the more they can ease the routine burdens of their job, the better luck communities have with retention.

The big picture

Finally, Sara comments on one over-arching trend that will predominate the industry for years to come: a move toward understanding the resident as a person.

“Success in our industry depends on us being able to meet the evolving needs of our residents,” Sara says, “and we can only do that if we understand who they are.”

Whether addressing the challenges of changing demographics, or low occupancy, or a struggling workforce, the common solution to all of them is taking a more comprehensive view of the resident — and bringing that perspective into a community’s practice.

“The better we become at fully understanding the resident, the better we’re going to do as a community, as an organization, and as an industry,” Sara says.

We at LifeLoop couldn’t agree more.

Here’s to a resident-centered vision of care continuing for the rest of 2020!

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Designed with you in mind, 'In The Loop’ is a blog offering industry insights, news, and ideas straight to your inbox. Each month we will share industry topics and provide tips on best practices for connecting with families, engaging with residents and streamlining operations.