Battle for Senior Living Occupancy Often Won or Lost in Residents’ First Weeks

Many senior living providers roll out the red carpet when a new resident moves in — sometimes literally — but that alone is not enough to prevent a resident from moving out months later. Instead, it’s aspects like socialization that can often make the biggest positive difference in occupancy, and keep new residents from feeling lonely or lost in the mix.

Belmont Village, a Houston-based senior living provider with 31 communities, surveys new residents and/or their family members 30 days and 60 days after move-in. The company has determined that residents who don’t make any friends tend to move out within three months, or 90 days after move-in.

For many communities, that’s a move-out they simply can’t afford. Average senior housing occupancy is still just above record lows at 88%, according to the most recent data from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).

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And residents who don’t make friends can face a more dire fate than simply moving out, according to Tammy Marshall, chief experience officer at Thrive Senior Living.

“If you can’t build that feeling of connection, they will move,” Marshall told Senior Housing News. “But worse than moving out to me is failure to thrive, which is where they just live there with no desire or zest for life.”

With those stakes in mind, senior living providers including Atlanta-based Thrive Senior Living and Evanston, Illinois-based Mather have invested time and money landing on the right formula for improving resident retention after move-in. That’s included creative ideas, such as Thrive’s version of a traditional Japanese practice.

Overall, these providers say that investments into the resident experience over the first weeks and months are well worth it, in the form of increased occupancy and wellbeing. .

Beyond the red carpet

When a new resident moves into a senior living community, they are often welcomed with grand displays. But while a community can put the red carpet back into storage and sweep up the confetti, it can’t put away residents’ fears of isolation so easily.

To that end, it’s important that communities go beyond rolling out the red carpet and start to create a sense of normalcy on day one, according to Marshall.

“If I gave you the big, flashy red carpet rollout … but on Wednesday you walk by me in the hallway and I don’t look at you or I’ve forgotten your name, those things erode trust and erode the experience,” Marshall said. “Consistency is the number one thing we go for, because consistency builds trust.”

While Thrive does welcome residents with cheering staffers and a red carpet leading to the front door, at the end of that red carpet is someone the resident has had prior contact with, usually someone from the sales team or a nurse. That way, a new resident sees a familiar face when they arrive and not just a room full of strangers.

Thrive also pairs up its residents with moai, or people with shared purpose or backgrounds. While the concept has its cultural origins in Okinawa, Japan, it was more recently popularized in the book “Blue Zones” by author Dan Buettner as a factor in longevity and healthy aging.

In Okinawa, moai are sometimes introduced to each other early in childhood, and these groups become like “second families” for their members throughout their lives. They provide emotional support and even financial assistance and are credited as one reason why people in Okinawa have extraordinarily long average life spans, Buettner wrote.

Thrive groups residents based on their interests and history, such as whether they served in the military or if they enjoy knitting — a practice Marshall calls “pairing passions.” That way, residents have a shared sense of understanding with one another from their first interaction.

The end goal is to try and help residents find similar people who can support them through thick and thin and keep them from feeling isolated.

“As soon as they get in, we try to create a network of friends,” Marshall said. “If you have one or two of those people in your life, your whole quality of life is different.”

Like Thrive, Splendido at Rancho Vistoso, a Mather life plan community in Tucson Arizona, also rolls out the red carpet for residents. But also like Thrive, the community is focused less on the pomp and circumstance, and more on transitioning residents into a new way of life.

In terms of the actual move-in day, Splendid’s Move-In Coordinator and Interior Designer Marisela Panzarella helps handle the logistics, doing everything from calling the movers and deciding where a resident’s furniture will go to making sure the cable and internet is all set up.

The community then leans on its resident-run orientation committee to welcome newcomers, according to Panzarella.

“In the first week a resident is here, the committee sets up dinner dates and appointments to do things with them,” Panzarella told SHN. “We stay behind the scenes so they can spread their wings and get a sense of the community.”

The community also has “SIPP,” or the Splendido Intellectual Pursuits Program, where residents meet to learn together. As part of that initiative, residents will share their life story as a way for everyone in the community to get to know them.

Removing barriers

A similar process plays out at The Moments, a 32-suite standalone memory care community in Lakeville, Minnesota. The community has its own moving team and offers those services to new residents on a complimentary basis, according to Robyn Johnson, president of The Moments.

On move-in day, The Moments will schedule a meal at the community with the new resident and their family. Meanwhile, the community’s movers are hard at work transitioning the resident’s things into their new home.

“It removes psychological barriers a lot of families have,” Johnson told SHN. “You finish a meal and then you go see the room, and it’s way better than anything you ever imagined.”

The Moments

By removing some of the stressors a new resident might have, they’ll have more time to develop social ties within the community.

“Those first three weeks are critical in terms of how you help that family and resident,” Johnson said. “If there’s not that sense of relief in the beginning … pretty quickly you’re looking at the possibility of not just losing them, but them becoming a more high-touch, high-demand client.”

That way of doing things appears to have paid off for The Moments. Today, the community is fully occupied with a waiting list, and is even working on adding another 60 units.

“Our moving team has had an impact on our 100% occupancy,” Johnson said.

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