Life Plan Communities Seek to Increase Engagement, Manage Rogue Residents

People living in life plan communities desire more transparency about business and operational matters, putting pressure on providers to meet these rising expectations while managing pitfalls, including “rogue” residents.

That’s according to Evanston, Illinois-based senior housing provider Mather LifeWays and its research arm, the Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging, which partnered with Ziegler, Life Care Services and other organizations to survey life plan community staff from 260 different properties for its recent report, Transparency and Decision Making in Life Plan Communities.

“For several years, we’ve been noticing a trend toward residents of life plan communities wanting more information about their communities, and more input as to how they operate,” Mather LifeWays President and CEO Mary Leary told Senior Housing News.

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In fact, 92% of survey respondents indicated that life plan community residents are currently very or somewhat interested in transparency, and 62% of respondents said residents had a somewhat greater or greater desire for transparency now than they did three years ago.

It’s possible that life plan community residents desire increased transparency and engagement due to their having paid an entrance fee to join the community, Leary suggested.

“I think that they feel more like an owner, as with condominiums, [as opposed to] just being a resident or a renter, and so they’re wanting to be more engaged as well,” she said.

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Providing life plan community residents greater transparency and opportunities to engage in decision-making with management does have its benefits—though the process is not without challenges, the survey revealed.

Building trust

For life plan community management, offering residents greater transparency certainly has its perks.

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About 91% of respondents agreed that providing increased transparency results in a greater sense of trust in community management, for instance, while 83% said it leads to higher resident satisfaction. Another 46%, meanwhile, said additional transparency gives life plan communities a marketing advantage.

Offering increased resident engagement in decision-making has similar benefits: 79% of respondents said it results in better relationships between residents and management, and 74% said it leads to a greater sense of community.

The top areas where residents desire increased transparency are expansion and renovation details, monthly service fee pricing, and sales and occupancy results, according to survey results.

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The top areas in which residents wish to be more engaged are increases in monthly service fees, expansion and renovation details, amenities provided, and services provided.

Rogue residents and guardrails

Providing increased transparency to residents does have its disadvantages, as survey respondents indicated.

For example, life plan community management who elect to offer residents greater transparency run the risk of giving a sense of additional control to “rogue” residents, the survey results showed. Approximately 47% of survey respondents named this as a key disadvantage of offering increased transparency.

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“Providers are seeing a small minority of residents with personal agendas that may not be what the majority of residents are wanting and may not be in the best interest of the overall community,” Leary explained.

Ultimately, the more these “rogue” residents are clued into the community’s inner workings, the more control they may feel they have to change the rules to their liking.

Additionally, about 60% of respondents indicated that a key disadvantage of providing greater transparency is that they’ll eventually receive requests for more information that cannot be satisfied.

This is simply an unavoidable reality, Leary suggested.

“No matter how much information is provided, it’s never enough,” Leary said. “So I think that providers need to recognize that and realize that they are not going to be able to satisfy everybody all of the time.”

At Mather, management has established a liaison committee of residents who meet with senior management a few times a year to discuss their wants and needs, Leary added. All the while, community administrators work continuously to manage residents’ expectations.

“We are increasingly focused on… develop[ing] guardrails to establish clearer boundaries between what decisions residents can have input on versus what [decisions] are reserved for management,” Leary said. “We’re also trying to make sure we fully explain reasons behind the decisions that management is making because we realize we’re not always going to make the decisions that residents want.”

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

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