Why Resident Safety Isn’t Always Priority No. 1 for Thrive Senior Living

Thrive Senior Living has launched a new initiative aimed at empowering residents to make more choices, even if some of those choices carry a risk of personal harm.

The Atlanta-based senior living provider recently unveiled a new initiative called “Safety Third” meant to combat ageism and boost the residents’ quality of life. Thrive currently operates 19 communities spread across eight states and Washington, D.C.

Too often, senior living providers prioritize safety over resident choice in a never-ending quest to eliminate all the downsides of risk. But that line of thinking — sometimes called “surplus safety” — can do more harm than good by taking away one’s personal freedom, according to Tammy Marshall, chief experience officer at Thrive.


“The whole notion of surplus safety is that it’s an oversafe environment and people are not allowed to make free choices,” Marshall told Senior Housing News. “We take away their right to choose chocolate ice cream because they’re diabetic, or we take away their right to choose whether they want to be walking or not.”

For example, residents who suffered a fall may be forced into a wheelchair by their family or loved ones despite the fact that they can still walk. But that approach smacks of ageism, or the practice of discriminating against someone based on their age.

“One fall doesn’t warrant you to a wheelchair, one fall warrants a conversation about the upside of mom or dad moving around a little longer,” Marshall said. “We’re really trying to shape the way people view older adults.”


Marshall, who was hired on at Thrive last year, knows a thing or two about resident choice. She previously served as chief experience officer at a New York City-based senior care nonprofit called the New Jewish Home, where she led an effort in boosting person-centered care.

As part of the new initiative, Thrive’s caregivers are tasked with taking into account what residents desire, barriers that may hinder that desire and what the potential upside and downside of such a decision would be. These principles also apply in the provider’s memory care settings, or when state or local regulations might otherwise prohibit free choice.

In instances where resident wishes can’t be fully met, Thrive aims to get as close to those wishes as possible.

Thrive’s salespeople are trained to talk about resident choice with prospective members and their loved ones, and the provider has woven the philosophy into its residency agreements, Marshall said. Thrive consulted its insurance carrier when crafting the initiative’s language.

“We are not saying safety is not important,” Marshall added. “It’s just not the driving force behind our decision.”

Thrive isn’t the only senior living provider putting resident choice ahead of nullifying all possible safety risks. Summit Vista, a life plan community in Taylorsville, Utah, follows a similar philosophy by letting residents enjoy potentially risky activities — like woodworking or grilling on an open flame — unsupervised or without a waiver in some cases. The community even let a resident practice for ski season by trudging up and down a flight of stairs while wearing their skis.

“When needed, we can always step in, but we prefer our residents to live their lives without restraint,” Kelly Ornberg, Summit Vista’s director of sales and chief marketing officer, told SHN. “We don’t live in fear of risk. True innovation is only accomplished with risk.”

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