By Steve Moran

This morning I spent some time on the phone with Amy Birkel, the COO of Heritage Communities, who is midway through an amazing adventure of moving into each one of their senior living communities as a new resident. 

Thirteen new homes in 13 days, which is a lot of packing and unpacking, and seems a bit reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day.

Lessons Learned . . .

When a CEO (or in this case, a COO) is willing to share lessons learned it becomes a powerful learning opportunity for the whole industry. Sometimes they are willing to share and other times not so much. Amy cut loose to the benefit of the whole of the industry. Here are the most significant takeaways:When sales teams market senior living they spend a lot of time emphasizing how it provides all this new carefree freedom, which, of course, is very appealing to residents and families. Then the day a resident moves in, they get hit will all the things they can’t do or have to do, the very opposite of what is promised in the sales phase.  

  • This is worth spending time thinking about.
  • She found there were lots of rules, or not even rules, just things that didn’t really make any sense. In one community she told her caregiver that she needed to do laundry that evening and the caregiver said, “Just call me”. Amy’s response was that she was going to do it herself but the caregiver explained she would have to unlock the laundry area. 
    There seemed to be no one who could explain why it was locked at all, but it was just another thing someone decided sometime, someplace . . . most likely for the convenience of the community and not the staff. 
    In another case, a computer was removed because someone was apparently viewing inappropriate things. It was an easy solution but not particularly good for residents and there were lots of other ways to solve the problem.   
  • She found that the amount of information she had to process on the first day was overwhelming. Most of what happens is prescribed by regulation or risk mitigation, but it is possible to get so much information that it becomes overwhelming. I found myself thinking a quick start guide would be a great idea, similar to what comes with a lot of complex electronic equipment. 

The Big, Big One . . .

This one gets its own section and I expect it to turn into a standalone article. When senior living is done right, it is the creation of a kind of family of older people who are traveling the journey of the last chapters of their lives together.  

Except that . . . with a fair amount of regularity, members of the family disappear. They die in the night, get rushed off to the hospital, never to return. One day someone is sitting next to you at breakfast and the next day they are gone. Their fellow travelers want to know what happened and the staff is largely prohibited from sharing information, due to privacy policies.  

This is a big problem that is counter-intuitive to the familial culture they have created and incredibly hard for residents. In the last few days, two people who were at one time very important in my life passed. A big part of my dealing with the loss is asking those questions we all ask:

  • When?
  • What happened?
  • What next?
  • How is the family doing?
  • Is there anything I can do to help?
  • Where?
  • Was it sudden or expected?

Letting “the rules” get in the way of “the family” grieving in a natural way is simply wrong. 

There is more, and I am sure it will make their organization better for the effort. And as a side note, tonight Amy is staying in a community that is 100% full, so she’ll have a rollaway bed in the community movie theater. I can only imagine she will be glad to get back to her own bed when the adventure is done. 

You can check out her adventure at: