What is the one thing missing from almost every senior living conference? Do you know?

By Steve Moran

If you are a regular reader of Senior Housing Forum you know that I believe strongly that business thrives best when it keeps its customer clearly in focus as its purpose. Profit is essential, but improving customer value is the core mission.

The Craziness

There are more than 300 senior living events/conferences that take place every single year in the United States and Canada. At each one, a bunch of senior living professionals and senior living leaders gather to figure out how to do a better job of serving residents and families.

All good, right?

Here is the big quiz question?

What is the one thing that is missing at all of these conferences?

Puzzled or do I have you thinking?

Yep, that’s right. The one thing that is missing is meaningful, participation by RESIDENTS and family members. These are the people we are having these conferences about, the people who are most impacted by what we do and don’t do.  

  • Can you imagine having a conference about how to better serve minorities without any minorities present?
  • Can you imagine having a conference about empowering women that has only men or maybe a token woman or two?

Those last two would spawn outrage that would be heard around the world.

Your Being Unfair . . . What About?

The one conference where you do see some residents attend is LeadingAge. However, except maybe for a token resident panel that sometimes happens and sometimes does not, they do not have a serious seat at the table. And I am not picking on LeadingAge, because I bet at most senior living conferences there are zero residents.

I will confess that when at the few conferences where there are residents, it feels more like a “take your kid to work” exercise. Yet, we should be seeing the residents and their families having a real place there. And — as I talk to these residents — they always start the conversation with “I am only a resident . . .” or “I am only a senior . . .”.

You might also argue that most assisted living residents don’t really have the cognitive ability or physical stamina to be very participatory — and this is a fair argument. But, in that case, what about family members?

Not Just Anyone Can Build the Vision

I’d be nuts if I said that just including any resident is going to ensure that providers have the benefit of the resident perspective. It takes a resident who is still cogent and who has a business outlook that is consistent with the provider’s business values.

In my own case, for Senior Housing Forum, one of the most stimulating members of our team is Jack Cumming, who lives in a senior living community in Southern California. He is a Princeton alumnus, a retired actuary, and one of the wisest, kindest people I know. He not only mastered actuarial mathematics, but he earned a graduate degree in history at the same time. He’s a bit of a renaissance man.

That combination of financial analysis with human understanding enables him to bring thought-provoking perspectives to our councils that lift our understanding. Jack has a unique vision for the future of aging in America and for the opportunities that present themselves for senior housing.

This Is Not Right

I would note that you will see Jack at a number of events that are open to the public. I know he spends many thousands of dollars a year out of his own pocket to attend because he is passionate about making what we do better. But even with the ability to pay, there are many events where he can’t buy his way in because they are invite-only.

I bet at all of them there will not be a single resident. And, yes, my conference and event organizer friends . . . I am talking to you!

If we are honest, this should not be the case. We should have residents and resident families as active participants. And who knows, they might teach us something.