Innovation in Senior Housing—Necessary, But Not for the Faint of Heart

The senior living industry is in the midst of a “perfect” storm—global aging, healthcare reform requirements, threatened entitlement programs, and substantially lowered home values—that requires a culture of innovation in order to thrive, writes Michele Holleran, the founder of research firm Holleran and consultancy firm DeArment Consulting, in a recent white paper.

That storm isn’t going away, says Holleran, so the industry needs to use technology—and more—to weather it and survive.

There are plenty of senior care technologies that are either being developed or have already been implemented in some senior care settings, and Holleran names the Intel-GE Care Innovations collaboration, among others, as belonging to the technology sectors that has “certainly done its part to raise the bar on senior living innovations.”


But innovation in senior living, says the white paper, goes well beyond technology.

The lesson for would-be innovators is that they do not have to invent brand new ideas, but rather borrow ideas from other fields. To do this successfully, aging services providers are required to carry out 5 key skills outlined in the Harvard Business Review article, “The Innovator’s DNA.”

These 5 skills include questioning, observing, experimenting, networking and associating. Embedding these skills into the fabric of aging services provider organizations is step one in creating a culture of innovation.


Holleran goes on run through those five skills, giving examples of how those in the senior living industry have applied them and made their organizations stronger and better prepared for the future.

This includes Evangelical Homes of Michigan, one of about a dozen senior living providers who have implemented “CCRCs without walls” programs to provide services to those living in their community who didn’t want to leave their homes.

Other programs and models that have emerged include Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), Small House models, Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, Villages, and more technology- and policy-minded developments like implementing electronic health records, forming accountable care organizations (ACOs), and making breakthroughs on cures for memory impairment diseases.

“The challenges of the future will be the creation of affordable alternatives for those who have not put together the resources required for comfortable retirements or will not be covered by traditional entitlement programs if funds run out,” says Holleran after concluding that “Innovating is not for the faint of heart. It takes a willingness to try something new, and risk failure.”

Read the full white paper.

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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