Generations, LLC is bringing Blue Zones to one of their locations to explore the vision and opportunity* for a Blue Zones transformation in their senior living communities.
The collaboration could help drive several industry trends, including a heightened focus on wellness as well as value-based payment models.
The concept of “blue zones” rose to prominence through the work of Dan Buettner. A National Geographic fellow, Buettner and a team of researchers identified “longevity hotspots” around the world and studied the lifestyles, environments and other factors at play in these locations, known as blue zones.
Their findings have been described in a series of bestselling books, starting with The Blue Zones, published in 2008. Buettner founded Blue Zones LLC in part to help municipalities implement Blue Zone principles to enhance the wellness and longevity of their populations.
Now, the Blue Zones organization is increasingly focused on working with businesses to “translate what we do at scale for municipalities and populations to something that is both accountable and measurable but also sustainable, scalable for industries we aren’t experts in — that’s the genesis of our budding partnership with Generations,” Dan Buettner Jr., VP of business development, said last week in a meeting with Generations’ leadership and business partners.
Bringing Blue Zones to senior living
Many senior living leaders are familiar with Blue Zones principles — Buettner Sr. even delivered a keynote address at the national LeadingAge conference in 2015. And for years, Blue Zones concepts have informed Generations’ operating model, Executive Chairman Chip Gabriel said.
But Generations had a golden opportunity to go even further after Blue Zones’ acquisition in 2020 by Adventist Health, an integrated health system serving more than 80 communities on the West Coast and Hawaii.
Generations already had a partnership with Adventist, which had been a co-developer for three senior living campuses.
“Because of that relationship, I was able to reach out to them,” Gabriel told Senior Housing News.
The potential partnership with Blue Zones is a natural fit in many ways, he added, noting how Generations already supports Blue Zones’ “Power 9.” These are nine lifestyle habits of the longest-lived, healthiest communities in the world. They include:
- Lots of “natural movement,” such as day-to-day gardening and walking
- “Plant slant” diets with relatively little meat
- Moderate, habitual alcohol consumption
- Social circles that support healthy behaviors
Generations has pursued these principles in various ways, including by always having vegetarian options on menus and employing chaplains to support the spiritual lives of all residents — regardless of religious affiliation — at larger campuses.
Through the arrangement, Generations is paying Blue Zones to further elevate and ingrain the Power 9 and other principles into the fabric of senior living communities.
For instance, there are plans for residents and workers at the communities to become “Blue Zone Champions,” with a mandate to educate everyone on campus about Blue Zone principles and opportunities for pursuing them.
“Education is really the biggest thing,” Gabriel told SHN. “We provide a lot of things today programmatically to benefit our residents’ health and wellness in a holistic manner, but it’s keeping that in front of them and creating that culture that hopefully people will want to be a part of.”
The future of health care
In announcing the acquisition of Blue Zones, Adventist Health highlighted that Blue Zones already has driven “millions of dollars of savings in health care costs.” This has been achieved by the organization’s work in more than 50 communities across the United States, which has been connected with double-digit drops in obesity, smoking and body mass index.
“Adventist Health has always believed in creating environments of belonging and easy access to healthy lifestyles, and we also know that the future of health care goes beyond the role of traditional hospitals by investing in our communities to improve people’s overall wellbeing,” Adventist Health President and CEO Scott Reiner said in a press release. “Adventist Health’s work with Blue Zones represents the future of health care and is a major component of our plan to redefine the role of health organizations across America and strengthens our commitment to inspiring health, wholeness and hope.”
Adventist is hardly alone in this vision for the future of health care. Payers and providers across the United States are pivoting toward this model of controlling costs and improving health outcomes by focusing more on cultivating people’s wellness rather than treating their ailments in high-cost settings such as hospitals.
As this change unfolds, senior living communities are emerging as more important settings, as places where many high-need/high-cost individuals reside. Many senior living owners and operators see an opportunity for a new model in which operations are focused more on wellness, and they can achieve financial upside by helping payers keep costs in check — or, in some cases, senior living providers are even launching their own Medicare Advantage special needs plans, with benefits tailored for residents.
Generations is among these providers making a pivot. Gabriel has joined with partners from investment firm Formation Capital — as well as the co-founder of Medicare Advantage plan provider Alignment Healthcare, and a technologist — in an effort to “break down the walls of senior living.”
Their concept is to create large campuses such as Generations’ Paradise Village community near San Diego, and to make these into wellness-focused, intergenerational destinations. People who are not residing in the senior living community might pay a membership fee to access services and amenities, some of which also would be covered under Medicare Advantage benefits.
Working with Blue Zones would dovetail with these goals, Gabriel told SHN. By further supporting resident wellness and reducing their need for costly medical interventions, Blue Zones principles will help drive success in value-based reimbursement frameworks that Generations might engage in, while length-of-stay also should improve and result in financial benefits.
The Blue Zones name also has tremendous marketing potential for all age groups, given the number of people who have read the books and are enthusiastic about the concepts. Indeed, the popularity of Blue Zones is part of a larger trend, as wellness has become a buzzword across generations. The “wellness economy” — consisting of everything from personal care and beauty products, to healthy eating and nutrition, to wellness real estate and more — will reach $7 trillion by 2025, according to Global Wellness Institute estimates.
Generations and Blue Zones are still working out the details of “how to leverage their brand with our brand,” Gabriel said.
Indeed, it’s early days for the potential partnership, which will launch with a Sept. 28 event at Paradise Village. But by bringing together a health system-owned wellness organization with a senior living provider, the effort is yet another example of greater integration across the continuum of care — and Gabriel and Buettner Jr. are excited about showcasing the potential that Blue Zones holds for the senior living industry at large.
Appealing to those with an “entrepreneurial, enterprising mindset,” Buettner Jr. said, “Think about how your expertise and industry could provide a unique expression to what Blue Zones does.”
*Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story referred to a “partnership” between Generations, LLC and Blue Zones. Blue Zones informed Senior Housing News that the two organizations have not yet entered into a formal partnership. Paradise Village is hosting a Blue Zones event on September 28 to explore the opportunity for future collaboration.