Take a moment to imagine yourself walking through the doors of this senior living community

By Susan Saldibar

Take a moment to imagine yourself walking through the doors of this senior living community:

The first thing you notice is the smell; or rather the lack thereof. Air purification systems create a steady influx of fresh air, free from toxins and other irritants and, free from that nauseating antiseptic odor we are all familiar with.

Dotting the walls is a vibrant collection of artwork on loan from local galleries. You overhear a resident tell another, “That painting was on the wall of my room last month. Now I have a beautiful landscape over my dresser.”

You are greeted by a staff member who proceeds to give you a tour. Not an ordinary tour, as you soon begin to find out.

Along the way, the staff member stops to chat with residents who ask about a new ‘stay healthy’ lecture series they signed up for. Several want to invite family members.

Walking through to the main atrium area, you notice lots of open spaces with an attractive assortment of overstuffed chairs and plenty of residents; many chatting with staff members who appear to be highly engaged with the residents, talking quietly with them or wheeling them into other areas.

You catch bits of conversation like “Are they using the dill glaze again on the salmon? If not, I may get the Asian salad. I always get extra chopped walnuts.” Or, “I’m going back to the yoga stretch. I liked the Pilates but the yoga is more relaxing, don’t you think?”

You smell the aroma of fresh coffee and are then surprised to spot a small corner ‘café’ set up to provide fresh ground coffee and fresh fruit bowls from their local coffee house. Oh, and you can place your order from an iPad or from your interactive TV in your room and it will be waiting for you.

Your first thought is, “Wow. This doesn’t feel like a senior community. It feels like my community.” Your second thought is, “How do they do all this and keep the price from going through the roof?”

In search of answers we sat down with Carolyn Reynolds, the energetic new Director of Marketing for Sodexo Seniors, a Senior Housing Forum Partner. Sodexo Seniors is the global leader in providing “quality of life” services. Carolyn gave us some insight into how today’s senior communities are being positioned to deliver a new style of care and how the (surprisingly economical) model works.

Times have changed.

Traditional services are out; “Experience-Centered” services are in.

As Bob Dylan wrote, “The times, they are a-changin.” They are indeed. And that change is being driven by today’s decision makers: savvy, well-educated baby boomers. And they are no longer content with the traditional service model for their parents. They are demanding (and getting) a more personalized “experience”-driven environment.

Carolyn explains the difference. “In the past, most senior care communities operated off a list of standard services, primarily provided by in-house personnel. That “one size fits all” model doesn’t take the individual into consideration,” she says. “Today’s residents and their families are looking for an extension of their current lifestyles,” she adds.  

Bringing the community into the community.

Carolyn points out that none of us want to lose that connectivity to the day to day life experience we’ve been accustomed to all these years. Even though the baby boomer children may not be residents themselves, they want an experience for their parents that brings the outside community in. “Being, what we term ‘experience driven’, “ says Carolyn, “means having access to the quality and the choices you would get in the world outside.”

It’s a tall order by anyone’s estimation. For a senior community to retain the depth, breadth and caliber of staff to pull it off would be cost prohibitive. Plus, it would detract from focusing on their core services and providing care to their residents.

The answer is “partnering.”

Partnering frees up owners and operators of senior communities to concentrate on what they do best: caring for their residents and families. Partners, as experts in their fields, are more able to anticipate and leverage the “experience-centered” changes and innovations occurring in their industry. For senior care providers, that equates to a higher standard of service for the community and its residents, without the overhead of hiring internal staff to do it yourself.

It’s an economical model that works. “We help communities strike a balance between optimizing the quality of care and the revenue they need to generate to sustain it,” says Carolyn. “We take the time to strategically align the services with the community’s long term vision in a way that will satisfy both the residents and bottom line efficiency of the organization,” she adds.

Ingredients to an Experience-Centered Community

Having access to an abundance of services is one thing, but which ones are right for your senior community? How do you know you are covering all the bases?

The good news is that Sodexo Seniors has done most of the work for you. Using their combined 50+ years of experience, along with extensive studies on perception and quality of life, they have identified what they term the “Six Dimensions of Quality of Life”. These are areas where services can have a real and measurable impact.

The Six Dimensions of Senior Living:

  1. Physical Environment: Everything that contributes to an individual’s comfort and sense of safety.
  2. Health and Well-being: Promoting a healthy lifestyle through nutritious meals, a well-balanced diet and exercise.
  3. Social Interaction: Strengthening the bonds among individuals and facilitating access to culture and leisure.
  4. Recognition: Encompassing all factors that allow an individual to feel truly valued.
  5. Ease and Efficiency: Positively impacting an individual’s ability to carry out activities smoothly and with minimal interruptions.
  6. Personal Growth: Encompassing all factors that allow an individual to learn and progress.

What are some of the services that Sodexo recommends partnering to provide?

  • 5-Star dining
  • Ancillary specialty food services (coffee, other retail offerings)
  • Salon and Spa services
  • Integrated health and wellness programs
  • State of the art technology (touch screen, centralized communication platforms)
  • Grounds keeping
  • Facilities management
  • Energy efficiency maintenance services
  • Concierge services

But where to begin? Carolyn explains the process.  “We begin by gaining a comprehensive understanding of the clients’ goals and long term vision. That helps us determine what is working and where there may be more opportunities,” she says. And they keep it simple. “Many communities will begin by partnering for a single high impact service, such as dining or facilities management,” she adds.

Outsourcing key services to a qualified partner adds considerable value which, in turn, drives higher satisfaction levels among residents and their families. The bottom line? A higher sustained occupancy rate, due to a more competitive senior care provider, who is able to change and grow with their community.

For more information on this topic, download Sodexo’s “Partnering: An Opportunity for Enhancement of the Senior Living Experience HERE: