Niche Services Drive Occupancy, Raise Profile for Senior Living Communities

Some senior living providers are standing out in their local markets by catering to residents with unique needs.

In particular, two companies — Randall Residence, a senior living provider headquartered in Lawton; Michigan and Wilsonville, Oregon-based Avamere Companies — have developed operational models that blend traditional senior living with services for residents who have experienced a traumatic brain injury or who are Deaf, hard of hearing or DeafBlind. Randall Residence has 11 communities spread across Michigan, Ohio and Illinois, while Avamere operates 65 communities throughout the U.S.

The trend of senior living communities specializing in a niche service to help cut through the noise of their local markets isn’t new.

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For instance, Chelsea Senior Living offers a program for residents who have gone through an acute psychiatric episode at one of its senior living communities in East Brunswick, New Jersey. And Juniper Village at the Spearly Center, a 135-bed skilled nursing facility run by Juniper Communities in Denver, serves young and old residents with behavioral and mental health needs.

More generally, the senior living industry has become more complex, with residents moving in older and frailer than they were in previous years. And providers are forging new relationships with health systems and payers, both of which are looking for new ways to keep older adults out of higher-cost health care settings like the hospital.

Those factors could make it more viable for senior living providers to offer a more diversified blend of health care and hospitality services. That could include specializing in a certain medical service, or providing a specific kind of care that most other similar communities don’t.

Niche service success

At Lakeshore Woods, a 40-unit Randall Residence assisted living community in Fort Gratiot, Michigan, caregivers aid residents with traumatic brain injuries (TBI), not all of them older adults. While TBIs are complex conditions that range in severity and scope, many people who experience them can thrive in assisted living programs if they can still manage many of their daily activities on their own.

Randall Residence first acquired Lakeshore Woods last year, and before then the company hadn’t given much thought into expanding into TBI services. But the community came with a handful of TBI units, and the provider was intrigued at the prospect of diversifying its services to tap into a new market, according to CEO Christopher Randall.

“That was one of the reasons we chose to acquire the property,” Randall said. “We thought it was a niche that might have application for other properties in our portfolio or a consideration when assessing future acquisitions.”

Caring for TBI residents is not unlike caring for someone living with cognitive changes, another fact that made the move more sensible to the company.

“The similarities to memory care training and programming makes it an easy crossover,” Randall added. “It’s a different niche that builds on the skillset that we already have.”

And, there may be lessons to learn on the TBI side that could find new applications in the company’s memory care operations, he added.

Lakeshore Woods currently has two buildings which contain 20 assisted living, 10 memory care and 10 TBI units. But that number will grow to 36, 20 and 20 units, respectively, after a planned expansion project that is due to break ground this fall.

‘Unmet market’

Another community that caters to a specific resident population is Avamere at Chestnut Lane, an assisted living community in Gresham, Oregon, that specializes in care for Deaf, DeafBlind and hard-of-hearing residents.

Managed by Wilsonville, Oregon-based Avamere, Chestnut Lane is among the only senior housing communities for Deaf and DeafBlind older adults in the U.S., meaning residents flock there from across the country. The scarcity of those services means there’s usually a waitlist for the community’s 70 units, according to Executive Director Renée Vairora.

“The biggest and most important way we tailor our care to the Deaf and DeafBlind is by communication,” Vairora told SHN. “Most of the staff are Deaf and they are fluent in American Sign Language before we hire them.”

The community also employs support service providers whose job is to support DeafBlind residents in a one-on-one basis while shopping, reading mail, making video calls, and attending activities or appointments. Even the community itself — designed by a Deaf architect — caters to its residents with large common areas, open balconies between floors, extra-wide hallways, and a dining room on the 4th floor for safe evacuation.

Offering such specialized services has helped Chestnut Lane stand out from its competitors.

“There is an unmet market of Deaf people that need assisted living and we meet that need,” Vairora said. “We have had residents move here from New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Hawaii, Canada, and Mexico.”

Despite its usual waitlist, Avamere at Chestnut Lane is still not as well-known as it would like to be, Vairora added. The community has started to focus its marketing efforts nationally in order to spread its reputation far and wide.

“We would love to have more Deaf and DeafBlind facilities in the United States so that residents do not have to leave their family and travel across the country to live here,” Vairora said. “We would love to see more Chestnut Lanes all over the country.”

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