By Steve Moran

Since early on in the COVID pandemic I found myself thinking this is senior living’s time to really shine. Thinking that we are amazing at transforming the lives of older people. And that we are going to do this by demonstrating that we are nearly always the best choice for living a purposeful, meaningful life for older people.

I am not so sure we have learned much and it drives me crazy. Here are the lessons we could have learned, (and it is not too late to learn them):

  1. Bigger, Fancier, Luxurious Senior Living is Not The Way to Achieve Market Dominance – I am not opposed to luxury senior living. It plays an important role, but it covers just a narrow slice of the population and, more importantly, it becomes a substitute for really thinking about programing beyond hospitality-style luxury.
  2. Becoming the Meaning Maker for Older People – During our virtual conference for life enrichment leaders, Dr. Bill Thomas applauded life enrichment directors for being the meaning makers for their residents. This is exactly the right approach to senior living. It is the way to market dominance in the aging space. A look at activity calendars would suggest that we have not learned much.
  3. We Need to Be the “Empowerment Zone” for Residents – Empowered to make new deep friendships, empowered to mentor a young person, empowered to start a new business or rescue an old one, or empowered to go to work for a wage in the senior living community they live in.

    I know it sounds crazy, but I bet in nearly all of the independent living and many assisted living communities, life enrichment could be led by a resident at least as well as the person you have leading it, and more likely a lot better.
  4. The Single Most Important Thing We Do is Provide a Congregate Living Experience – This is a lesson that was really pounded home to me by my friend Russell Rush, the creator of the R3R1 sales system. He closes better than any senior living salesperson in the country. And his entire focus is that moving into senior living means living in a community, in a tribe, with other people.

    We do provide safety; we do provide help with ADLs; we do provide care. But, SO WHAT? You can get all of those things at home. Sometimes for more money and sometimes for less. But the one thing you cannot get at home is community.
  5. Team Members Deserve a Living Wage – Sure we did hero pay. Many communities even increased their base pay. But most, the vast majority, are still not paying a living wage for the geographic area in which they operate. I have heard all the arguments about why it can’t be done. But think about it like this: 
    1. How engaged are your team members really going to be when they are working for 2 employers 50-70 hours a week?
    2. How focused on your residents are they going to be if they are not sure they can pay the rent, the babysitter, or pay for their kid to go on a school outing?
    3. How effective are they going to be if they come to work sick because they can’t afford to miss even one day?
    4. How effective can they be if they live their lives scared to death of life?
  6. We Need to Be All Things Growing Old – I get it, there is no apparent path to profits, to cash flow if we are the go-to resource for what it means to live a great meaningful life as people grow older. Why bother putting time and attention into those folks who will never move into senior living because they have no money or they just won’t ever move in?

    The answer is pretty simple because, over time, visiting your local senior living community as you get into your 60s or 70s could be as ubiquitous as signing up for Medicare and Social Security benefits, something every single person does by the time they hit age 65. I dream of it becoming a part of the right of passage of growing older, like nearly every one of us did when we turned 16 and trekked to the DMV to take our driving test.

It is not too late for us to reinvent. We have time to move away from just being the “old folks” home we want to avoid as long as possible.