Why are senior living communities still shuffling paper invoices and making collections calls?

By Susan Saldibar

Why are senior living communities still shuffling paper invoices and making collections calls?

In a world where we can manage virtually all our monthly payments and other purchase transactions online, it’s a wonder why so many senior living communities continue to use manual or semi-manual methods to bill residents. According to Danny Ward, VP of Market Development at RealPage, a Senior Housing Forum partner, very few senior living communities have fully automated the process of billing.

In case it isn’t obvious, here’s why that presents a problem:

  • Valuable staff time is taken away from resident-centered tasks.

  • Manual tasks are tedious, error prone, and frustrating.

  • Money that could be collected early is left on the table due to late payments.

  • The community risks appearing out of step with expectations of adult children.

Why does this have to change?

Today’s adult children are not content to select a community until they know how they will be interacting with the management team. Automation plays a big part. When they ask the question “Can I pay online?” they expect to hear “Of course.” Wouldn’t you?

RealPage originally developed their automated billing system to serve multifamily communities. Multifamily operators reported an increase of 5% in payments in the first part of the month. That’s because residents were automatically reminded of their total monthly charges and had visibility into them. Realizing that this could benefit the senior housing industry as well, RealPage reached out to operators utilizing traditional billing methods. “They were more than receptive,” says Danny.

There is no reason, given available technology, your billing system shouldn’t do the following:

  • Keep track of all costs incurred within the community by a resident.

  • Provide a line item for each separate charge, such as care fees, rent and special services, salon or catering fees.

  • Automate proration of care fees due to mid-month changes that may occur.

  • Detail balance forward, new charges and utility fees, if desired.

  • Offer secure payment choices, including one-time and monthly online payments.

  • Let operators group sensitive HIPAA-regulated line items into one line on monthly bills.  

  • Print and mail out statements, saving your staff valuable time

  • Provide automated “collection” reminder alerts when payments are late.

Who needs electronic billing and payment systems the most? Operators or residents and families?

Everybody does, according to Danny.

Operators: They want to hire and retain the best of today’s resident-centered talent to grow the senior living leaders of tomorrow. What turns them off? Having to rush through conversations with residents because of time-consuming, end-of-month billing procedures. By using an automated system that ensures accurate and efficient billing, your staff is able to focus on high-value activity like interacting with residents.

Residents and families: They expect online access to bills and the ability to automate monthly payments. They want visibility over additional care fees and other charges. What are the late charges? Can I have someone else pay for the additional care fees? All this information is readily available with online billing. And, communities retain flexibility to utilize paper-printed statements for older adults who value receiving a statement personally delivered by your staff.    

What will it take to get more senior care providers on board?

As new communities spring up, they are being be built out with leading edge technology. Automated billing is a given. Communities that continue to apply old school practices to meet today’s challenges will get edged out. But they don’t need to.

“Automation brings a level of professionalism,” says Danny. “The larger providers are already doing this. It’s the mid-market that hasn’t typically had the resources to create that image. Now they do!”