Senior living operators have radically changed the way they operate over the last few years. Looking ahead, it’s clear there are more changes to come as the industry sits at a crossroads between recovery and stagnation.
The shift in the industry since the height of the pandemic has created a multitude of opportunities and challenges. On the opportunity side, operators have found new ways to use technology and make operations more efficient. On the challenges side, the cost of doing business is still high on the cusp of 2023 and staffing is still not where many operators want it to be.
Jonathan Schatz, who is president of private equity firm Coastwood, highlighted the time as an “inflection point” for the industry that is sure to separate the wheat from the chaff.
”The highest quality operators are going to be able to navigate some of these structural changes that are happening in the industry whereas others are going to struggle,” Schatz said during a panel at the 2022 What’s Next Longevity Innovation Summit.
Intersection of demand and technology lead to growth
For operators, the industry is at an inflection point in a few big ways: First, from the looming influx of demand from the incoming baby boomers; and secondly, margin compression and a tight labor market. Technology and its use is yet another inflection point for operators.
Schatz cited AARP data, first published in 2013, that claims the ratio of those at caregiving age to seniors will decrease dramatically over the coming decades. The data shows in 2010, the ratio of caregivers to older adults was 7 to 1, and will decrease to 3 to 1 as the U.S. population ages. That means, he said, operators must look to innovate around staffing and operations alike to adapt to the shallowing of the labor pool.
“We think that it’s only the beginning,” Schatz said.
He added that companies are putting more thought behind data systems and are using artificial intelligence tools and machine learning at an increasing rate. The companies that invest in technology will “truly differentiate” and “offer superior service and tackle some of those structural labor-demographic issues,” he said.
Examples of operators meeting that inflection point include Irvine, California-based memory care operator Silverado, which launched a program that combines evidence-based brain health programming with lifestyle-focused living for those living with Alzheimer’s or other kinds of dementia.
The program, called Nexus at Silverado, is accredited by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) for care and training. It led to a 60% improvement in cognition when compared to those without treatment, according to the operator.
And the goal of the program is a lofty one, but one that company officials say is an achievable one: changing the paradigm through which people view and care for people living with different cognitive abilities, according to Silverado Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Jeff Frum.
“That requires innovation and continuous improvement,” Frum said during the panel. “It improved quality of life outcomes … miracles were happening.”
In 2023, Silverado will launch an “innovation institute” to evaluate new technology entering the industry, Frum said, to “determine the ROI” of the new innovations on the horizon. He added that the company was “excited about the future” of augmented reality.
“There’s some exciting stuff that is out there that we’re trying to improve the quality of life and the clinical outcomes of our seniors with memory impairment,” Frum said.
At Pathway to Living, coming out of the pandemic prompted a re-examination of operations and resources, with Regional Director of Operations Jolene Moore telling attendees the process took about one year to “streamline operational practices. ”
Over the last year, Moore helped implement standardized operating procedures across the company’s communities. That led to what Moore calls a “trifecta dream team,” bringing sales, operations and clinical departments together to improve operations and find solutions.
“Where the support is is where the most successful people are,” Moore said. “We’re setting up metrics so that we know where we’ve been.”
Lisa McCracken, who is director of senior living research for Chicago-based investment bank Zielger, said she has seen an “evolution” in the way senior living operators use technology, post-pandemic. From predictive analytics to machine learning and AI, operators have more appetite for new IT projects to improve services.
“We’re paying attention to everything related to smart hiring technologies,” McCracken said. “There’s a lot of attention on workforce right now and things like remote monitoring telehealth.”
Operations are complicated, and Amber Ju, CEO of Kithward — which helps operators improve census and bring prospects into the sales process — said it’s important to “identify who you’re working with, what platforms they use and how they use technology.”
“It’s important to have early partners who on the operator side will work with you to really innovate,” she added.
Schatz highlighted the continued investment in technology within senior living, noting that Discovery Senior LIving invested heavily in becoming an evidence-based outcomes company. The company collects data on sales, marketing, labor and feeds it into Microsoft Power Bi, a data visualization tool to make operational decisions.
“To me the best way to think about a great technology roadmap is what can we get return on investment on today,” Schatz said.
Looking ahead, Ju said pricing transparency could continue to become a reality across operators as providers look to access new customers. That will lead to a “very consumer-centric experience.”
Both Fum and Moore highlighted the need to remove agency labor from communities, with Frum calling it an “existential threat” to communities.
“We have to figure out the staffing model,” Moore said.