What's ahead in senior living? Insights from NHCA President Heath Boddy

May 16, 2019Amy JOhnson

If you ask Heath Boddy, this is an exciting time to be in the senior living industry, A suspenceful one, too.

His opinion’s worth hearing. Not only is Heath the president of the Nebraska Health Care Association, he also spent 20+ years as a community administrator.

In a recent round-table discussion with the LifeLoop team, Heath talked about the rapid evolution facing the senior living industry.

“There is so much changing in this business that it feels like we can’t control,” Heath says, “and we have to ask ourselves: is it the right move to resist this kind of change? Or should we try to embrace it, and to mold what we can?”

The changes come with challenges, of course. But from Heath’s point of view, senior living leaders need to recognize the opportunities that attend these challenges, and capitalize on them while they can.

Here are three areas that Heath believes we need to watch out for.

Consumer Evolution

Perhaps the foremost concern for today’s senior living communities is how seniors, themselves, are changing.

As the oldest of the Baby Boomers begin to enter the resident population, they’re bringing a lot of new expectations with them.

There’s no doubt that consumer preferences are evolving, maybe even faster than we can adjust to them,” Heath says.

Boomers want more tech-enabled communities, for one thing; they also expect a greater degree of personal attention; they want to experience aging as an enriching period of their lives, and they’re flocking to senior living organizations who can give that to them.

While it’s important to find ways to boost resident satisfaction, Heath is careful to say that communities can’t force the issue.

“We can’t make a consumer think something, we can’t force them to be happy,” he says. “But we can make sure we give them what they need, and take actions that create a happy environment.”

Knowing what consumers need, then, and which actions to take, is half the battle. As residents continue to evolve with the times, understanding that evolution is what will differentiate the very best senior living communities.

Heath’s advice is to take that understanding seriously. Help staff pursue in-depth, 1:1 relationships with residents, to reveal what they really need. Only then will a senior living community be equipped to deliver.

The senior living staffing crisis

Administrators will recognize the problem: how can we have one-on-one conversations, in a community with 20:1 staffing ratios?

The talent crunch in senior living is well-documented. Communities across the country struggle with recruitment and retention, especially of CNAs.

“We have to keep in mind that this is not easy work,” Heath says.

Delivering quality care — and doing it with empathy and compassion — is a taxing skill, one that not everyone comes equipped with.

Compounding the problem is the soaring demand for senior living services. The Baby Boomers are the largest cohort of retirees in American history.

“I speak with administrators in our member organizations, and they tell me that for the first time in their careers, they have customers who need care, but not enough team members to look after them,” Heath says. “Usually it’s the other way around.”

He believes there’s no silver bullet solution for this problem. Demographic pressures and budgetary constraints will always be struggles. But that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless.

The best hope that senior living communities have is to create a culture of authentic engagement among their employees. By Heath’s reckoning, that requires two things.

First, to hunt for process efficiencies. Doing everything possible to eliminate redundant tasks, and streamline inefficient ones, will reduce the burden put on each staff member. In many communities, documentation is a promising place to start.

Second, to keep employees satisfied, administrations should adopt the same tactic they use with residents: listening.

“The most robust correlation in our industry is between the happiness and engagement of staff, and the happiness and satisfaction of residents and family members,” Heath says, “so ask team members what they need from their environment to support them, and empower their work.”

A gesture as simple as asking what staff need — and following through on what they say — goes a long way toward building a sustainable senior living workforce.

The pre-eminence of tech

Finally, Heath discussed the emerging technologies that will bring the industry into the future. He sees a lot of promise in the innovations being produced today. But he also sees its limits.

“There are some amazing opportunities to leverage technology to improve access. Telehealth, for example, connects practitioners to residents in very rural areas across our state, and that was never possible before,” Heath says. “But it’s hard to see how any amount of technology is going to replace the human touch when it comes to the daily activities of care.”

True enough, we’re a long way off from having a machine be able to feed a resident, or take them to the bathroom. Instead, Heath argues technology is at its best when it augments human care.

Passive, unobtrusive vitals monitoring is one example. LifeLoop, Heath believes, is another.

“Here’s what I love about LifeLoop,” he says, “I love that, no matter where I am, I can connect with my loved ones. Being involved, staying in the know in their lives — it brings family members into the fold.”

Heath argues that in an increasingly interconnected world, innovations like LifeLoop are going to make the difference between a gratifying senior living experience and a dissatisfying one.

“It’s a perfect example of using ingenuity to improve upon what we already have. LifeLoop, really is, a thoughtful and elegant answer to the question: how do we in senior living connect you with what matters?”

Home of the good life (and good senior living)

As a parting thought, Heath couldn’t resist a little home-state pride.

“I am so proud and impressed by Nebraska’s providers; they’re resilient and innovative, and even when the rules change in the middle of the game, they adapt and they figure it out,” he says.

Speaking from our perspective as an Omaha-based senior living start-up, we have to agree. The senior living industry is far from easy. But our Nebraska partners continue to astonish us with their commitment to excellence in care.

Heath speaks of when, five years ago, the NHCA adopted a vision statement, a single sentence informing the organization’s mission: “To inspire people to shape their world.”

Those of you who work in senior living — along with Heath and the NHCA — certainly inspire us.

Thank you Heath for speaking with the LifeLoop team, and to all of our senior living partners, for everything you do.

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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.