Innovators Blur the Line Between Hotels and Senior Housing

Innovative senior housing ideas are plentiful—but there are several opportunities for improvement, and industry leaders are still looking toward the hospitality industry for answers.

That’s according to a report summarizing the first-ever Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures (CIHF) roundtable, which took place in April at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

At the event, a group of 29 senior-level executives, educators and other leaders connected to the senior housing and care industry discussed hospitality, design and health management, and how all three intersect and relate to senior living.


Though the senior living industry is arguably becoming more health care-focused—in part due to the increasing age of first-time move-ins—the hospitality industry is still a major influencer when it comes to senior housing design, amenities and feel, attendees agreed.

For example, residents who move into senior living communities nowadays are in search of the same level of quality they desire from their favorite hotel brands, Jeanna Korbas, vice president of design for Direct Supply Aptura, said during the roundtable. Milwaukee-based Direct Supply Aptura builds, equips, and operates senior living communities nationwide.

This doesn’t mean that residents necessarily need Ritz-Carlton style luxury; basically, future senior living residents are searching for a community that offers them the level of luxury they’ve grown accustomed to, or the level of luxury they’re comfortable with.


“It’s about experiential design and the redefinition of luxury,” Korbas explained. “The redefinition of luxury is: What does it mean for you?”

This is where even the language senior living communities use becomes important. Younger seniors moving into senior living communities have different expectations of what the community should offer them, and their language preferences echo that, according to Cate O’Brien, the director of research at the Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging, the research arm of Evanston, Illinois-based senior living provider Mather LifeWays.

Younger residents expect to eat in “restaurants,” not “dining rooms,” O’Brien explained.

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Senior living is borrowing from the hospitality industry development-wise, too, the attendees said. Mixed-use development is becoming more and more common in hospitality—and Houston-based Belmont Village Senior Living has taken notice. The senior living owner, operator and developer has a new, mixed-use project in Mexico City in the works with joint venture partner ABC Medical Centre.

“We’re creating a true mixed-use project with senior housing being one of the major uses,” said Patricia Will, founder and CEO of Belmont Village Senior Living. “Once you take out the very prescriptive rules that have happened in our space, the opportunity to innovate is quite amazing.”

When completed later this year, the 22-floor development will feature upscale dining and retail on the ground floor, 11 floors of Belmont Village senior living, and a Hyatt Hotel on the top eight floors. A medical office tower is scheduled to be built next door as part of the development, and the two buildings will be connected to a hospital via sky bridge.

Don’t write care off

Still, the changing American health care landscape has made the care side of senior housing impossible to ignore. There are definitely senior living consumers who are primarily focused on a community’s convenience and lifestyle. But senior living communities are also admitting patients directly from hospitals.

Now, to accommodate these sicker, more complex patients, long-term care communities should provide more advanced and clinically complex care onsite in addition to primary care, fitness and rehabilitation services, Juniper Communities CEO Lynn Katzmann said during the roundtable.

The changing health care landscape—and post-acute care’s changing role within it—have forced senior living communities to alter their environments, staffing patterns and ambiance, the attendees agreed.

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

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