How Providers Can Combat Negative Consumer Perceptions

This coverage of the 2016 National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care Spring Investment Forum is brought to you by Mainstreet. As the nation’s largest developer of transitional care properties, Mainstreet specializes in real estate development, value investments and health care. With Mainstreet’s support, SHN is bringing live event coverage of the NIC conference, which draws developers, providers and operators within the post-acute and preventative health care services space.

The senior living industry is fragmented, poorly depicted, and often—in the minds of the consumers it targets—confusing.

But it doesn’t have to be, say senior living executives. There are three things senior living needs to continue to focus on as an industry to help resolve those perceptions, according to Benchmark Senior Living President and Chief Operating Officer Stephanie Handelson: education, transparency and passion.

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There’s a lot of confusion on the consumer side, and more transparency has to come into play,” said Handelson, who served as a panelist during a March 10 session at the 2016 NIC Spring Investment Forum in Dallas.

Transparency and education intersect when it comes to defining assisted living as a concept, agreed Ed Kenny, chairman and CEO of LCS, who also spoke on the panel.

“We’re at an interesting point as it relates to the definition as to what ‘assisted living’ is,” Kenny said.

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Assisted living can really be divided into three different categories, he said: assisted living facilities that are housing- and service-oriented, but do not have care coordination on their radar; assisted living facilities that are actively participating in care coordination; and assisted living facilities that are actively participating in care delivery.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” Kenny said. “What makes sense from a regulatory point of view?”

Providers must lead this discussion as opposed to having the discussion thrust upon them, Kenny said. Handelson agreed.

“Why aren’t we looking at states and saying there should be three tiers of licensing for assisted living?” she asked. There is a lot of confusion on the consumer side as to what an assisted living facility offers, and how assisted living facilities can differ from one another with respect to the services they provide, Handelson said.

Consumers also care about quality, and transparency into that quality, the panelists agreed.

Quality Measurement is Here to Stay

Quality is a major topic, according to Kenny, who added that its measurement is, and will always, be around—regardless of whether providers agree with the weight the tool assigns to certain quality measures. In fact, it’s the industry’s job to help the tools more accurately reflect a facility’s quality, Kenny said.

“The reality is the measurement tool is going to stay in some form,” Kenny said. “The industry needs to have a strong voice in modifying and updating that tool.”

When thinking about quality, it is important to keep customer expectation in mind. In fact, it is critical that providers focus in on customer expectation and are aware of those measurements, Kenny said.

“From the aspect of transparency, we need to recognize that that information’s out there, it’s very visible, you’re going to be recognized for it,” Kenny said. Attention should be paid to educating staff on what it means to deliver on resident experience, he said, adding that providers also need to be sure they are meeting family members’ expectations in terms of quality.

The level of transparency that these real consumers—residents’ family members—want nowadays is “very different” than it was 10 years ago, Handelson said.

“It wasn’t complicated in the past,” Handelson said. “You’d build it, they’d come.”

The panelists also discussed senior living’s negative stereotype. When it comes to its perception, the industry needs to address the negative notions, Kenny said.

“We can’t, as providers of service to seniors, have the litmus test of whether we’re doing a good job or not rest with the state survey process,” he said. “That’s a bad business model. What are we doing as providers to up our game?”

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

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