By Steve Moran

J. D. Power has been dabbling in senior living since around 2018 and every year when they release their data to the public, I scratch my head. This year with the release of the 2021 list, I took the time to learn more.

J. D. Power 2018

At that time, they apparently had two parallel tracks, a certification program, and a ranking program. With their first public announcement of 5 Star Senior Living having 3 communities, J. D.  Power Certified with the stated intention of all of the Five Star Communities being certified.

According to J. D. Power, the certification program was put on hold in 2020.

The 2018 rankings put Sunrise at number 1, Holiday Retirement at number 2, and Capital Senior Living at Number 3. Other companies included in the survey were Atria Senior Living, Senior Lifestyle Corporation, Brookdale, and Five Star.

Ranking Senior Living Organizations – 2019

In October 2019, J. D. Power released their second year’s ranking list with LCS being on top and Sunrise Senior Living, Senior Lifestyle Corporation, and Five Star Senior living being labeled “above average”. It was a bit of a head-scratcher with some of the listed names.

This is the entire 2019 list:

Ranking Senior Living Organizations – 2020

The 2020 results differentiated between Assisted Living and Independent Living, with Life Care Services again ranking number 1 for independent living and Brookdale and Senior Lifestyle Corporation tying for the top assisted living providers.

Ranking Senior Living Organizations – 2021

The 2021 results keep Life Care Services on top of the independent living list followed by Atria Senior Living.

In the assisted living category, Atria Senior Living topped the list followed by Senior Lifestyle and Enlivant.

What The Hell?

For those of us in the industry, every year the list comes out, there is always some “What the hell?” head-scratching about some organizations listed as being best or superior. When JD Power reached out, offering me an interview with Andrea Stokes, senior living practice leader, I jumped on the opportunity. I did warn them in advance that I had problems with the list.

What I now understand:

  • They only looked at senior living organizations that, according to the 2020 Argentum list, had at least 7,000 assisted living units or 10,000 independent living units. Meaning the total number of organizations considered was very small. 6 organizations for Independent Living and 6 for Assisted Living/Memory Care.
  • This year’s study covered approximately 1,300 senior living communities. The study is based on 3,590 responses from residents or from family members/decision-makers.
  • What they do not disclose is how the list of people to be surveyed was compiled, meaning it could be valid or not so valid.
  • The process is fairly independent. Meaning that they do the survey, then present high-level results to the operators who are offered the opportunity to purchase detailed results, and, if on the top, to use the J.D. Power badge.

My Challenges With The Process

First, congratulations to the winners. I have no doubt that having the JD Power designation provides a substantial boost in new admissions. But I struggle because:

  • The entire universe of organizations considered is way too small to really be meaningful. What if there are 50 community organizations that would have had a score of 900, beating the top companies by 50 – 100 points on a 1,000 point scale?
  • That they did not include not-for-profits or even seem to be aware of the existence of a not-for-profit list, suggests they are not serious about understanding and being a part of the industry. It suggests that it is simply about the dollars.
  • There is no transparency with respect to how they obtain the list of respondents and no transparency as to what percentage of people surveyed responded.
  • They also do not release the survey instrument so it is impossible to tell if the questions tell the real story.
  • Worst of all is that, regardless of which company you are talking about, there is great variability from community to community in terms of resident satisfaction. I promise you that every single one of the companies included in the survey has one or two buildings that are an embarrassment, places where they would not want anyone they love to live.  

I find myself wondering what will happen when some consumer picks a senior living community that is terrible because the parent organization was on the top of the JD Power list. And because that community is terrible, something unthinkable happens to that resident.

I am no attorney, but it would seem to me this would be fertile ground to plow.

At the end of the day, this survey does a great disservice to the industry and to consumers who have no way of understanding what the rankings really do and don’t mean.