As the wellness trend in senior living grows, operators are finding new and creative ways to offer those services within their communities — and in 2022, wellness is not just for the wealthy.
While wellness services have been a staple in higher-end communities for years, providers are now offering them in middle-market communities. Although doing so is no easy feat given how costly some wellness services are, some senior living companies are threading that needle by using technology and employing specialized roles that promote resident wellbeing.
Two operators — Chicago-based Vi and Fort Wayne, Indiana-based Priority Life Care, exemplify different ends of the cost spectrum; with Vi catering to more affluent residents and Priority Life Care focusing more on middle-market ones.
“Wellness doesn’t have to break the bank,” said Assistant Vice President For Living Well at Vi Tony Galvan during the recent DISHED WELLNESS Senior Housing News event in Orlando.
Priority Life Care serves affordable to mid-market communities. CFO of Priority Life Care Iyvonne Byers said the company takes a “three-pronged approach” to wellness in the company’s 30 communities with an emphasis on the “body, mind and soul.”
Vi serves higher-end, luxury clientele with a similar approach to wellness in its 10 continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), Galvan said, referencing a “holistic, multi-dimensional approach.”.
ROI of resident wellness
An important part of delivering any service in senior living is to determine its return on investment (ROI). That is an easy feat for categories with fixed costs and clear outcomes such as dining or health care; but it is not always the case with regard to wellness, which is not easily benchmarked.
While an operator can track resident satisfaction with a survey or count rehospitalizations per month, they cannot as easily measure whether a resident feels well. And Vi and Priority Life Care have adopted the philosophy that ROI can be measured indirectly. For instance, while a wellness program might represent a so-called “cost center” on the balance sheet, its impact may be felt in other ways that affect the bottom line in other ways.
Vi has developed a team of management and director positions for independent living along with other lifestyle specialists and coordinator positions.
The staff are responsible for setting strategies for improving resident wellness and delivering on a “living well” approach for residents. Lifestyle specialists also focus on fitness-specific programming, from personal training or group fitness programs.
“We’re interested in looking at the residents and finding out what their goals are rather than having a top-down approach,” Galvan said.
By providing residents with tools to form their own groups, clubs, committees and programming, Galvan said Vi is able to maintain a philosophy that wellness is not a singular type of programming, but rather a strategy implemented throughout the entire community’s operations. As such, he emphasized that all levels of a community’s staff must buy into supporting resident wellness.
Galvan said that tracking ROI for wellness specifically can be a tough exercise, given how nebulous the category is. But by tracking resident fitness data, he said the staff at Vi have helped improve strength and cardiovascular health among residents, thus improving their length of stay and hospitalization rates while boosting the community’s occupancy.
While the need to track some resident data is important, getting each resident to participate isn’t paramount, with Galvan noting that Vi uses anecdotal insights from residents as a way of roughly gauging their wellness outcomes.
Priority Life Care also keeps residents connected to their local areas, from attending plays to finding group activities that improve resident morale and wellness. Staff also plan events around national holidays or other special calendar dates as a way to boost resident wellness without much added cost.
“Our life enrichment directors are amazing at making any day extraordinary,” Byers said. “We’re very much blessed with a staff like that.”
Byers said Priority Life Care supports resident fitness goals and noted that each resident journey is different. Regardless of an added cost of a wellness-focused program, Byers said the expenses are worth it provided they help improve residents’ quality of life. Byers added that if residents are happy, they will be more inclined to make referrals to the community for prospective residents. Although that is an indirect effect of wellness, it does factor into revenue in the end in one way or another.
“That’s really how we measure that ROI,” Byers said. “For us it’s really about understanding the individual and their family.”
Using technology to drive wellness
Senior living operators in recent years have upped their technology games, from robotics entering the space to artificial intelligence systems aimed at reducing resident falls. But many of these new capabilities and functions can also help promote wellness in residents without much added cost.
Although some technology is helping residents live more purposeful, connected lives; others improve efficiency for staff. That, in turn, helps them spend more time with residents.
Byers said leaders at Priority Life Care take a three-step approach to integrating technology within the company’s communities by evaluating the experience for the resident; identifying how technology could improve staff efficiencies; and viewing technology-specific vendors as partners.
With those tenets in mind, Byers said Priority Life Care seeks vendors to “bring us something new,” and that can help residents achieve wellness goals.
“I don’t want to say that mid-market isn’t providing less of an experience because that’s not true,” she added. “I think I would call it more of a grassroots-type of thing rather than technology driven.”
At Vi, Galvan also embraces the viewpoint that technology is important to wellness outcomes. In fact, he envisions a future not long from now where all lifestyle staff within communities will have to have varying levels of technical education around the basics of IT.
“Technology will become so entwined with resident safety, wellness and socialization that it will be woven into services residents enjoy in our communities,” Galvan told SHN earlier this year.
Galvan also said operators needed to do a better job of taking more credit for wellness-oriented programming, and to improve marketing of those programs to prospects and their families.
The nuance of some of the programming can often get lost in the shuffle of a community’s marketing approach, he said. For example, it might be hard to illustrate via digital marketing a community’s program that uses spices and ingredients to evoke fond memories among residents.
But doing so is important — and it is something the senior living industry would not be the first to do.
“We talk about the amazing programming but not the why underneath it because there is a wellness benefit to it,” Galvan said. “That’s an area where we could take more credit for what we are already doing.”