How a ‘Listening Problem’ is Hurting Senior Living Providers

Turns out, senior living providers aren’t the best listeners—and this doesn’t bode well for their future success.

Starting now, senior living providers must prioritize actually listening to consumers, as opposed to simply dictating their needs. That’s according to Dana Wollschlager, practice leader at Plante Moran Living Forward, who discussed this issue during a PointClickCare webinar on Feb. 14.

Historically, listening to consumers is something the senior living industry has struggled with.

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“We need to spend a lot more time listening to the consumer, listening to the resident,” Wollschlager said. “We’re a pretty paternalistic group.”

Specifically, providers should begin listening to the needs of the middle-income senior, or older Americans who can spend between $30,000 and $50,000 per year on senior housing, Wollschlager said. These consumers will be plentiful in the coming years—but convincing them to move into senior living may be tough, especially given current rental rates.

To attract middle income consumers to senior housing, communities and their amenities must seem like they provide an attractive return on investment. 

“Future customers will be focused on value,” Wollschlager said. “Does it make sense for me to pay X amount, and what will I get in return?”

Keeping this question in mind will be critical going forward, as the number of middle-income seniors will continue to grow.

“I think that the greatest opportunity for senior living providers in this environment is to figure out how to provide quality, affordable housing to that middle-income older adult,” Wollschlager said. Luckily, there are specific steps providers can take to offer more affordable housing that’s still a great value, according to Wollschlager and PointClickCare Vice President and General Manager, Senior Living, Travis Palmquist.

Cost-cutting strategies

To be able to charge lower rents, senior living providers must be able to save money elsewhere. With some foresight, providers can easily save money through community design and technology implementation, Wollschlager said.

For instance, if a provider is building a new community, thought should be given to the number of common areas that actually need to be incorporated. Far too often, money is wasted building spaces that are underused.

“If I had a dollar for every time I saw a common space not being used, I could probably retire today,” Wollschlager said.

Providers can justify building common spaces by creating a programming schedule that defines how often those spaces are going to be occupied, Wollschlager said. If the space will be rarely used or not used at all, it shouldn’t be built.

Providers should also consider how future residents can take advantages of existing amenities already within the greater community.

“Do I really need a pool when I’ve got the YMCA next to me?” Wollschlager explained.

Along those same lines, providers should weigh the value different decorative accents bring to their communities, relative to their cost. Linen tablecloths and fresh flowers may look nice, Wollschlager indicated, but they may not be worth the money that’s spent on them.

“Be disciplined, don’t get distracted by the latest and greatest shiny object,” Wollschlager said. “You can’t afford it!”

Leaping into tech

Senior living has been slow when it comes to technology adoption, with some providers citing the cost of implementation as a deterrent. The fact is, if technology can help keep residents healthier for longer periods of time, providers can end up saving plenty of money. 

“If we can increase the average length of stay by X number of days, it’s going to pay for itself,” Wollschlager explained.

In order for technology to be able to increase average length of stay, it must be used correctly. Less than 20% of providers are using technology the way it’s meant to be used, Wollschlager revealed.

“For those that are using technology, you need to use it in the way it was intended to be used,” she said, adding that providers shouldn’t buy technology just to have technology.

As for overcoming the initial cost of technology implementation, Palmquist recommends providers just take the leap. But this doesn’t mean providers have to do everything at once.

“You don’t have to be great to get started from a tech perspective, but you do have to get started to be great,” Palmquist said during the webinar. “You don’t have to take it on all at once, take it on at a pace that your organization can be successful with.”

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

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