Editor’s Take: 3 Key Themes Driving Senior Living in 2018

Earlier this month, Senior Housing News hosted the sixth annual Senior Housing News Summit in Chicago, an event that drew nearly 200 senior living professionals.

As attendees and speakers networked, they also discussed what trends may affect the senior living industry in the coming months and years. Topics at hand included how consumer technology fits into senior living communities, how real estate development can go sideways, the industry’s ongoing staffing issues and why it’s a great time to be a senior living entrepreneur.

With the summit nearly three weeks behind us, some key themes have come to mind. Here are three of my top takeaways from this year’s summit:


Consumer tech trends

Security, the internet of things, wearable devices and voice-enabled technology were all hot topics during the technology trends panel. Perhaps the biggest current trend is that many of these consumer devices are being used in communities at a quickening pace—and that trend is only going to continue.

The panelists discussed challenges for implementation, security and HIPAA compliance regarding consumer devices. More importantly, they wondered whether these consumer devices would always help operators in their overall care missions.


As Moulay Elalamy, vice president of information technology at Benchmark Senior Living, noted: “Amazon is a commercial platform. They want to sell you things.” Along that same line of thinking, if consumer devices aren’t open to other products, services or customizable to some degree, they might not be worth using in senior living.

That’s because these sort of closed-loop systems won’t usually mesh well with operators’ environments. After all, IT pros did not build their internal networks to support the varied consumer tech devices, they built them to provide operational safety and security.

Risks in real estate

As the old saying goes, cash is king. But a good budget and pro forma may be your ace in the hole.

Whether there are unrealistic expectations at the start, a fanstasyland budget, rising costs for materials, or a lack of understanding of regulatory and entitlement requirements, huge missteps can happen along the line. However, not all projects end badly as one might think, panelists said during a discussion on senior housing development.

Owners, operators and developers need to manage their risk by asking the right questions, listening carefully, and circling back for discussion and feedback. Doing so can help ensure the ability to control price, schedule and quality. If there is a deficiency somewhere in the process, the question becomes, can we come up with more money, cut back on design, or cut back on programming?

For real estate acquisition and development today, if there’s legitimate market demand, someone will build there and the opportunity will be missed.

No staffing silver bullet

Staffing is a senior living operator’s greatest competitive advantage—and also its greatest challenge. Unfortunately, though, there is no silver bullet when it comes to attracting and retaining industry talent.

Each operator at the summit’s staffing panel shared parts of their overall strategy on how they manage employees at their organizations. Execution, basic blocking and tackling with performance reviews, flexibility, staff rewards, and well-defined career paths were some of the tips they shared.

While the calling to serve older adults may keep some staff on the job, money matters more than ever among others in the business. Still, there was a sense of mutually assured destruction among those on the panel—an unspoken idea that raising wages too high and too fast in markets could end badly for all operators.

In the end, it was clear that, no matter where operators lie along the senior care continuum, staffing is a grind, and elevating it remains an everyday challenge.

Written by George Yedinak

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