Both seniors and senior living investors value communities that offer a continuum of care. With that in mind, Brookdale Senior Living, the nation’s largest senior living provider, is retooling several of its communities to better allow for aging in place.
Retirement communities that offer both independent and assisted living are more likely to attract residents from greater distances compared to freestanding independent or assisted living, revealed an April study by the Boston College Center for Retirement Research that also noted greater wealth in long-distance movers compared to their shorter-distance counterparts.
Likewise, the industry “clearly values” a continuum of housing options and services that allows communities to retain residents for as long as possible, the president of Senior Housing Investment Advisors has said, adding that “what’s good for the consumer is proving to be attractive also to the investors.”
In short, aging in place is alive and well, and the senior living product must continue to evolve to reflect that, says Roger Thiele, vice president of marketing and product line management at Brookdale. His company is in the midst of a $360 million, nearly 100-property initiative to both renovate and retool its products in preparation for the next wave of consumers.
“A part of Program Max was to identify, in any market area where we serve, the opportunities to serve our residents better,” he says. And in some cases, expanding campuses is the way to go.
In areas where Brookdale has a site that hasn’t been fully developed, it’s “very interested” in adding a memory care building adjacent to an existing campus with independent or assisted living. In other areas, it might be changing a product type.
For example, if there are three assisted living communities close together in one market area, Brookdale will consider changing some assisted living units into memory care to better represent a care continuum.
That’s similar to what Brookdale did at a Santa Rosa, Calif. community, which used to be independent living only. There wasn’t any room to expand, so Brookdale opted to change one of the campus’s buildings to be licensed for assisted living, with plans to change parts of another building to include memory care. There are a handful of similar such conversions underway on other campuses, Thiele says.
“If we do have campuses that are independent living only, we do want to consider conversion so we have that continuum,” he says.
But Brookdale is not getting away from the independent living product, Thiele emphasizes, even though occupancy was hit harder relative to the housing market downturn compared to assisted living or skilled nursing.
“The trends in independent living occupancy are not a key driver for us in deciding to do some of these conversions,” he says. “It’s more a matter of, What is consumer preference? And the preference is, when you make a move from home into a campus, it’s more appealing to be in a campus setting, and it will be more marketable when you have more care options on that campus.”
Written by Alyssa Gerace