Name Changes in Senior Living are Big Business — But Worth the Risks?

Senior. Retirement. Assisted living. All are terms familiar to senior housing marketing. But a new wave of name changes is taking communities and companies away from their traditional branding.

These name changes, some say, have both advantages and disadvantages. In some cases, providers may find a broader market reach and an overall better reflection of residents.

On the flip side, name changes may not be the best idea when it comes to online searchability.


Willow Valley Communities, a Pennsylvania-based continuing care retirement community, has recently dropped the word “Retirement” from its name with an aim to better reflect the energy of its residents.

“We made the change because the word ‘retirement’ was becoming less and less relevant to the spirit of our residents at Willow Valley Communities,” said John Swanson, President of Willow Valley Living, Willow Valley Communities’ development and management company, in an email statement to SHN. “Definitions of ‘retire’ include ‘to withdraw, as for rest or seclusion,’ and ‘to remove from circulation.’ Our residents are vibrant and engaged in life. The word ‘retire,’ with its negative connotations, fails to capture the vitality that our residents bring to the communities.”

Swanson says having the word “retirement” in Willow Valley’s name stood in the way of its services.


“As a senior living field, we sometimes create barriers for people to what we have to offer, things that make people say to themselves, ‘I’m not ready for this.’ We felt having the word ‘retirement’ in our name was one of those barriers,” he says.

Similarly, Enlivant, formerly called Assisted Living Concepts LLC, changed its name in March as part of a yearlong comprehensive rebranding effort that began with a new owner and a new company headquarters. Before the rebranding, some ALC-operated communities came under fire by regulators who said they were providing substandard care. The company was also slapped with a lawsuit from former landlord Ventas, Inc. (NYSE:VTR) for violating its lease with Ventas Realty. But with a new name came a fresh start for the troubled company.

“We really wanted a name that better reflected our refreshed commitment to enriching the lives of those we served,” says Monica Lang, Enlivant vice president of corporate communications. “The name ‘Enlivant’ just really resonated with people and it captured our renewed sense of passion to serve and the new vibrancy and vitality.”

As part of the company’s rebranding, all of its 210 communities have undergone name changes in some way. Potter House in Amarillo, Texas, recently unveiled its new name Plum Creek Place, which became effective April 1.

“I think it just reflects [the company’s] attitude of having a new day, instead of seeing assisted living communities in a poor light, as ‘nursing homes,’” says Plum Creek Executive Director Bonnie Cantor.

With terms such as “retirement” and “assisted living” in their names, some communities are pigeonholed into providing one level of service or another — but by dropping these words, they may open their doors to more business.

“In a lot of cases, they’re trying to broaden their offerings to attract a wider range of care and potential residents,” says Doug Fusella, president and chief operating officer of New LifeStyles Media Solutions, an online guide to senior living communities. “What they’re trying to do is make sure they’re not ruling themselves out when people are looking for senior living options.”

One organization has found that its Christian name was not only getting in the way of attracting residents, but also corporate partners. Lutheran Social Services, a New England nonprofit that offers a variety of services including senior housing, will be changing its name to Ascentria Care Alliance, effective Sept. 1.

“I think people made a lot of assumptions about who we are, most of which are not true — and I think that’s really inhibited us from being able to reach the right people,” President and CEO Angela Bovill told 90.9 WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station. “Corporations really have a hard time having a narrowly religious … organization as a partner because it may actually offend their own employees or it may be something that just doesn’t represent who they are.”

But name changes can come with some serious risks too — one of which could affect online marketing and searchability.

Last year, new legislation in Georgia sought to close the gap between personal care (assisted living) homes and skilled nursing care by giving larger assisted living facilities the opportunity to provide more extensive services that help residents age in place. This legislation, though, put naming restrictions on the industry, allowing only licensed communities to use the term “assisted living.” Because of the restrictions, some said people would have a hard time finding assisted living communities online.

So by voluntarily taking “assisted living” and “retirement” out of their names, would other providers experience the same problem? Senior living experts say no.

Margaret Wylde, CEO of market research and advisory firm ProMatura Group, says organizations don’t need to use labeling terms in their names in order to be found, they just need to be able to market their brand.

“I think adult children will find the websites and look into them, and it has nothing to do with the words ‘assisted living’ in the name,” she says. “It’s just branding and education. It’s getting rid of words that have a negative connotation and replacing it with words that have no connotation.”

By marketing themselves as senior living communities, as opposed to independent or assisted living, Fusella says this gives organizations “the ability to put all their eggs in one basket from a search engine point of view. They can focus all their advertising dollars on keywords like ‘senior living.’”

Still, providers face another risk: resident satisfaction. To some, a community’s name may represent high quality service and care, but when that community changes its name, a red flag may go up for residents, Fusella says. A name change may make seniors and their families more skeptical about a community — causing them to worry about ownership and quality of living.

“One thing that the older demographic wants is less change,” Fusella says. “And any time there’s a name change people are going to think and worry about continuity [of service].”

But residents at Willow Valley and Enlivant have been receptive of their communities’ name changes. And this is only the beginning of a wave of communities looking to rebrand themselves with new names in the coming years.

“I think we’re going to see a lot of this in the next few years. Finally people are recognizing that we have really great products — great buildings, great staff — but we’re still stuck with the old terminology that doesn’t reflect our communities,” Wylde says.

Written by Emily Study

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