Changing how questioning residents are viewed can go far toward reducing tensions and increasing residential attractiveness for prospective residents.

By Jack Cumming

No one likes to be criticized.  

Many who have careers in aging services view resident questioning more as criticism than as a legitimate interest in a business on which they depend. Apple iPhone aficionados savor every rumor about the next great advance. Why wouldn’t CCRC residents have a similar interest in the enterprise that houses them?  

Moreover, many residents come from senior positions in industry and may bring novel perspectives that can strengthen senior housing. Still, such interest and such advice can seem troublesome for busy managers and executives.

Not All Residents Are the Same

Changing how questioning residents are viewed can go far toward reducing tensions and increasing residential attractiveness for prospective residents. Granted that some residents may have an impractical, individualistic, simple, narrow focus. For instance, someone may want Sunday noon dinner to be the same as that they remember from their childhood.  

Or, they may be concerned that “shelter in place” is too passive a response to imminent danger. Some concerns of vocal residents can never be accommodated. Treating such “activism” with respect and courtesy calls for a high order of emotional restraint. Let’s call these Type C residents.

Other residents, however, may be “messengers” for more widespread concerns. It’s not uncommon for residents to complain among each other but to be reluctant to voice their unease publicly or to management.  

Complainers are often marginalized within the community of residents, and communal acceptance is central to well-being in a congregate living setting. Hence, those few residents who are able to interpret and willing to voice the underpinnings of disquiet are not troublemakers, but rather a source of constructive input to management if they are heeded and supported. We might call these Type B residents.

Then, there are those few gifted residents who are able to look into the evolving future to envision changes to the core business model. This is where it becomes difficult for executives to discern those residents with vision to help build the business from those merely seeking self-affirmation.  

One of the key tasks of executive level (C-Suite) leadership is to identify talent and to smooth the way for those of talent and vision while managing the expectations of those who are skilled workers. Residents who are thus able to serve as co-thinkers with C-Suite leaders might be designated Type A residents.

Ownership Expectations

Commonsense suggests that people who sell an ownership stake in a home they own to invest in a continuing care contract will expect to have a considerable say in the business affairs of the entity in which they invest. When CCRC sales staff speak of apartments sold, they evoke expectations like those of cooperative apartment or condominium owners.  

It’s no wonder that many new residents believe that the management works for them and that they have a voice in corporate governance. Disquietude emerges slowly as residents discover over their years in residency that their advice is humored but seldom heeded.

Looking Forward

For the future, ownership is likely to continue to be a matter of controversy for entrance fee funded senior housing enterprises. For-profits can issue shares to residents in return for entrance fees, which would make the fees investment proceeds rather than prepayments on contractual commitments. For-profits can even introduce cooperative ownership concepts into the CCRC business model.  

Any such inclusion in ownership is, of course, best accomplished at the local CCRC level. Resident concerns relate to their own community. Residents have little involvement with corporate adventures beyond what affects them locally where they live.

For tax-exempt organizations, a similar result can be accomplished by forming individual 501(c)(3) organizations at the local CCRC level to hold the assets and conduct the operations. Residents can then be made voting members of the local CCRC which gives them the same kind of ownership input as is possible with a cooperative housing structure.

Understandably, providers are reluctant to give up that much control to residents. Moreover, residents who are further along the decline path are unlikely to have much, if any, interest in governance. They view the CCRC as no more than assisted living. They are happy to be supported with their needs of everyday living and they ask for little more.   

The average age of CCRC entrants has been rising steadily over the past decade as the share of CCRC residents within the demographic of all households over age 65 has been steadily declining. That means that CCRC residents are older, frailer, and increasingly mirror the assisted living population. That trend is likely to continue unless resident cries for greater respect, transparency, and an ownership-type say are heeded.