Clean Slate Project Examines Disruptive Forces Re-Shaping Senior Living

Disruptive forces such as technology have the potential to revolutionize senior living, but there are experts in and out of the industry who don’t know how the sector will be disrupted, or if operators are willing to acknowledge the future may be now.

“People within the confines of the senior living bubble, when asked about disruption, feel that they’ve been screaming about where changes should be,” Perkins Eastman Principal Dan Cinelli told Senior Housing News.

New York City-based architecture firm Perkins Eastman launched a year-long study last January, The Clean Slate Project, that aims to look at the disruptive forces that can revolutionize senior living for both residents and operators. Perkins Eastman is gathering information from experts inside and outside the industry to look at senior living with fresh eyes. It is a study that many believe could not come soon enough.


“Operators happy we’re forcing this conversation and tired of going to conferences, writing white papers and being quoted in articles about where change should happen, and the people in a position to effect change say ‘yeah, that might happen in 10 years,’” Cinelli said.

New paradigms

It is that obstinance that is at the foundation of the Clean Slate Project’s mission. Much of this reluctance to recognize the disruptive power of tech is rooted in the history of senior living, as it evolved from church groups, group homes and settlement houses to today’s modern model. The Clean Slate Project is an opportunity to look at the industry and ask what operators should be doing now to prepare for when later waves of baby boomers reach the 75-plus age range.


A large part of that will be overcoming the long-entrenched and conservative cultures at some organizations. In those cases “culture kills innovation,” Cinelli said.

The study is being conducted at a time when industry experts are beginning to identify paradigm shifts related to financial, political and environmental trends that can impact senior living from perspectives of cost, insurance benefits, and affordability.

The most important paradigm shift may be political, which can have a ripple effect on the other factors. Policy changes related to programs such as Medicare Advantage and the tenuous future of the Affordable Care Act can have significant impact on how insurance providers will reimburse for things like rehabilitation and longterm care.

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Another paradigm shift is redefining aging as a third act. That entails looking at the resiliency and planning of operators, Perkins Eastman Senior Design Researcher Emily Chmielewski told SHN. This touches on the other three paradigms: What innovations being developed now will allow seniors to age in community? How are communities planning for climate-related events?

“We’re thinking about codes and regulations, not just if open kitchens will be allowed,” Chimielewski said.

Casting a wide net

After launching the study with an in-house literature and media review, exploring all possible disruptors and shapers, Perkins Eastman thought about who to reach out to in the second phase and cast a wide net for experts in and outside the industry.

“We reached out to innovators, thought leaders, and tech experts to gain their perspectives on current and future trends and demographic shifts, and how there might be convergence with senior living,” Chmielewski said. Perkins Eastman also reached out to experts in other departments within the firm for input and guidance.

The firm is currently synthesizing the information gathered during the past nine months and using it to push themselves on what is coming next. Perkins Eastman expects to release the results of the Clean Slate Project within the next six months. Ultimately, it is up to senior living operators to use the results of the study to their benefit.

The future may already be here. Cinelli cited the interest in Jimmy Buffett’s Latitude Margaritaville active adult communities (pictured above) as a tipping point for what future retirement communities might look like. Some insiders are still skeptical, even as Margaritaville’s pipeline continues to grow. But outsiders see it as a business opportunity for the next 15-20 years, and an example of what else they can create within the industry space.

“We need to drop the preconceived notion of what senior housing is and apply what senior housing can be,” Cinelli said.

Written by Chuck Sudo

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