As a longtime figurehead for senior housing advocacy, research communication and numerous other initiatives, the American Seniors Housing Association is taking several steps to shift its role in the industry.
Under the leadership of longtime ASHA president David Schless, the organization is undertaking a strategic plan to become an even greater resource both to members and industry participants who are not yet members of the organization. Over the coming five years, ASHA is targeting several areas where it will boost its presence, including education and leadership, research, advocacy, meetings and industry promotion.
While ASHA will still look and feel very much as it has since its inception, it also has a major opportunity to grow across several areas, Schless told SHN in a recent interview.
We sat down with him to learn more about what is in store for ASHA in the five years ahead—and beyond.
SHN: What are some of the areas of the strategic plan ASHA will be working on first?
The strategic planning will be a five year plan and will cover five different goals. One of the areas I’m very enthusiastic about and one that we are really moving on quickly will be what we’ve called ‘industry promotion.’ We are going to educate the public about the benefits of senior living and help shape perceptions of the senior living experience. We’ll also challenge some of the misperceptions such as ‘it’s always best to remain in the home.’
This will be the first concerted effort I’m aware of that will help promote seniors housing as a public service. We will invest significant resources and will develop a messaging platform and communications plan including online and social media.
Irrespective of the type of senior living you’re involved in, I believe the industry will find this extremely beneficial. It will highlight the benefits, share resident experiences, and provide statistics and data. We’re trying to affirm the many positive aspects of senior living in a very visible way. We won’t be promoting ASHA or specific properties, but this will be an opportunity to try and increase the penetration rate and we intend to do this well!
SHN: There was recent discussion over the possibility of ASHA merging with another major industry association—the Assisted Living Federation of America. How does the strategic plan further position ASHA as an independent resource?
ASHA and ALFA are two very different organizations with different areas of focus and culture. I think the area of overlap is largely on the federal policy side of things, yet the two groups have a very open dialogue. That’s an area where at some point there may be additional discussion. There is an openness to work together, and when we went through the strategic planning process, we were really cognizant of the other organizations that do work in this space. A lot of work needs to be done and the less duplication of efforts, the better.
SHN: Research is a major part of the plan. What’s in store on the research front?
This has been a crucial piece of what ASHA has done since it was formed in 1991. We have invested millions of dollars in research to better understand the consumer and the adult child. We will continue to do that type of work. Some of it we do with NIC, and some is work that all of the groups are involved in, such as the state of seniors housing research operational and financial metrics.
We see an opportunity to do even more. We will be very focused on research as it relates to promoting quality, innovation and differentiation across the spectrum of property types.
As part of our goal to advance cutting-edge research, we are going to identify leading universities and colleges that do work related to things we are interested in such as real estate, hospitality, health care and technology. We will partner with a leading university to both develop unique co-branded research for the membership and to bring these thought leaders to our meetings.
There are a lot of outstanding universities that do different things that might benefit our industry. From the Age Lab at MIT to the Stanford Center on Longevity, there are dozens of programs that may be potential partners for ASHA to work with.
SHN: How does that align with raising the next senior living leaders?
That’s another area we will focus on in the next five years: helping to develop rising leaders. ASHA is pretty unique in that it’s really a C-Suite type of membership. There’s a real desire on our part to try to identify within our member companies those rising leaders in the business and develop programming to help mentor the next generation of C Suite professionals in the industry.
This is a new area of endeavor for us, and one that has potential to be very beneficial to the industry.
SHN: What are the challenges?
Unlike other sectors where you have a lot of bright young college students wanting to work in a specific field… that is the exception, not the rule, in senior living. Our industry draws on a lot of different backgrounds across education. Within ASHA, we have a lot of resources that can be very useful to those who aspire to positions of leadership. In addition, our members can share their experience(s) with the next generation of leaders through special programming and mentorship.
SHN: Will there be more from ASHA on the state level?
We don’t have state affiliates, so one of the aspects of our strategic plan is to try to be more helpful on state policy issues. That’s an area of focus—to better understand what’s happening at the state level—and to be helpful on select issues.
We are not going to start state affiliates, nor are we going to compete with other state-focused organizations, but ASHA is in a position to help. That may be financial help to state organizations or coalitions, or other ways we can assist the industry on state matters of great concern.
SHN: What will the “new” ASHA look like after the planning process is complete?
When people ask for a quick description of ASHA, it really is much more of a boutique organization than it is a full service trade organization. We’ve never tried to be all things to all people. We’re a C Suite organization, we’re very developer and operator centric, and we work with most of the active lender/investor participants in the business. We would expect that to continue. Our focus will have expanded to include industry promotion, our advocacy and research will have intensified, our meetings will be more strategic, and we hope to be serving the industry even better than before!
SHN: How soon will ASHA’s changes be under way?
This will be a 2015 to 2020 process. Some of it we have already started on. By the end of this year we will have begun to build a very robust consumer website. Some work will have started to help us make our meetings more strategic and interactive.
On the research side, we will take our time and try to find the best possible partner we can. Our hope is that for 2016 we will have an agreement in place with a leading university to help us provide real thought leadership for the industry and we are already implementing changes that we believe will help us better represent owners and operators of senior living communities.
This has been a truly reinvigorating and energizing process. It’s all work that fits within our capacity and allows us to remain focused and nimble.
Written by Elizabeth Ecker