By Steve Moran

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I visited with a 90-year-old man who has been living in the same independent senior living community for seven years. He had a list of complaints that included the food and a lack of cleanliness in the common areas and in his unit. (He went three weeks without having his sheets changed.)

When we first visited on Thanksgiving Day, he was strongly thinking about moving into a new community but had not made the final decision. He invited me to lunch so that I could see for myself what he was talking about. By the time I got there five days later, he had made a deposit on a new community.

He is at least the second resident to leave this community for a new one. In addition, his community has lost half a dozen team members to the new one. This did not have to happen; it should not have happened. Here is what went wrong.

What Went Wrong?

The thing that makes this question so difficult to write about is that it is a bunch of little stuff that collectively pushed him over the edge.

  • I had lunch with him and another resident. We sat at a table for 20 minutes before anyone came over to see what we wanted to drink and take our orders. It was not like the dining room was bustling. It felt like everyone was simply going through the motions.
  • The menu had eight everyday items (which is what I ordered from) and one daily special. The new community has a robust everyday menu and five or six daily choices. I found myself thinking that as a vegetarian, I would not be able to live in this community, with its limited choices.
  • A second resident joined us for lunch and also talked about cleanliness. She told me that there is a single spot of blood on one of the hallway floors that has been there for three weeks — something that would take two minutes to clean up. And no one has noticed — or at least noticed and thought it was their job to clean it up.
  • While food is the one thing that often gets tons of complaints at many communities, it was his other big complaint too: that the variety and quality were simply not very good. Add to that the mediocre service, and the overall impression is terrible.

The Final Thing

The final thing that really bothers me is something he did not talk about at all. He has been living in this community for seven years, which would make you think that over time he has developed some deep friendships with other residents and perhaps even with team members. Not once did he express any regret about leaving his friends behind.

I can only assume that he has none, and this is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all, because the one thing that senior living offers above all other benefits is the ability to create community, to create friendships. I guarantee that if he had close friends there, he would not have left.

You might argue the community has no control over this, but they do. They have a powerful opportunity to create experiences that result in deep, meaningful relationships or not.

At the end of the day, I came away from the conversations and the visit believing that leadership has, for whatever reason, become comfortable with mediocrity. This comfort is costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. And more importantly, it is hurting people.