Senior Living CEOs: Go Big on Data, Not on Discounts

It’s clear senior living has jumped on the technology bandwagon, but can all of the innovative tools bring a low-performing operator to the top?

Some industry leaders think not. Speaking last week at the Senior Housing News Summit in Washington, D.C., they revealed why tech alone cannot save the day, and what the industry is still lacking when it comes to big data. In a wide-ranging discussion, they also hammered home why some providers need to realize that certain marketing techniques should be left for used car dealerships.

Big Data


With all of the technology out there to bring in data for senior living providers, there is still a disconnect between how senior living is utilizing it versus other industries, Larry Cohen, CEO of Capital Senior Living (NYSE: CSU), said during The Leadership Series panel, moderated by Travis Palmquist, vice president and general manager of the senior living division at EHR software company PointClickCare.

“[Big data] is the missing link for this industry. We still operate with antiquated systems that are not integrated,” Cohen said. “We don’t have real-time tools to make good decisions, operationally.”

Capital Senior Living has partnered with health care providers partially to help build up its data, Cohen added in response to Palmquist asking about plans to tackle big data.


“We’re in conversations with some major health care systems, hospital systems and other providers,” he said. “One of the reasons we picked Genesis [HealthCare (NYSE:GEN)]and other providers to partner in our buildings is because they help develop some of that data.”

Aside from deciding which data gathering platforms to use, choosing which data to collect is equally as important, said Brenda Bacon, president and CEO of Brandywine Senior Living. The Mount Laurel, New Jersey-based company owns and operates senior living communities in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia.

“Our biggest challenge is deciding what data we need to collect,” said Bacon. “When we say we’re like being in the home, then how much data does someone have at home? Very little, so between no data and what a hospital collects, which is enormous, is where we need to be.”

Tech Won’t Save The Day

Technology and the data it provides can drive better care, but what providers need to know is that technology alone will not make a bad situation better, Cohen explained.

“At the end of the day [tech is] not what’s making the difference,” he said. “We are a very high-touch business and it’s all about people. It’s the ability to sustain that culture of really empowering the on-site staff to be compassionate and caring and execute well. All these other conversations are additive, but it’s not what’s going to make us really provide a great service to the seniors that live in our communities and their families.”

For Dallas-based Capital Senior Living, its oldest building dates to 1976 and is one of the top performers. So, it’s not necessarily true that everything must be new and shiny to be successful, it’s more about the value proposition, added Cohen.

Marketing Misses

Pricing is also a hot topic throughout the health care industry, but senior housing can’t be sold like you would a car, Bacon explained.

“I saw an ad for a competitor of ours and its says ‘Spring Sale $99/day All-Inclusive’ — now that is for the care of your mother. Nobody wants to put their mother in the cheapest place that’s having a sale,” she said. “It is brand destroying as far as I’m concerned.”

Elmcroft Senior Living is on board with this thought process and has stopped doing deals and sales completely, said CEO Pat Mulloy.

“We made the same decision six months [ago]. We just put a brake to it…we’re selling services for your mother,” he explained. “This isn’t buying a used Volkswagen for your kid to go to college.”

Louisville-based Elmcroft Senior Living operates 83 senior living communities throughout 18 states. There are brand new developments going up in the South that are charging $2,500 per month, Mulloy added—a cut-rate price that is not going to be sustainable, he believes.

“You can’t stay at a Hampton Inn for $2,500 a month,” he said. “It’s ridiculous and is going to come back to bite them [operators] in the shorts.”

Written by Alana Stramowski

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