By Steve Moran

One of the NIC spring 2024 panels was titled “Big Retail Healthcare Strategies and the Implications for the Senior Housing and Care Sector.” The panel was moderated by Anne Tumlinson, founder and CEO of ATI Advisory. She said this:

It feels like senior living is disrupting health care without knowing it.

This was one of those BOOM moments. I wrote it down, circled it, and then starred it.


Senior living continues to struggle with what it wants to be when it grows up.

  • Part of the health care system
  • Lux living
  • Cruise ship living
  • Something else …

And it’s complicated by the fact that we have this massive group of boomers who are living longer and who we hope will embrace senior living. We are pretty sure senior living will need to be different if that is going to happen, but we are not quite certain what different means.

It is further complicated because while we boomers (yep, I am one of them) are pretty sure we don’t want what is being offered, we don’t actually know what we do want.

And that all brings us back to the question of what senior living is.

Don’t Kid Yourself

It is hard to come to grips with, but senior living is closer to health care than all those other things or anything else (with active 55+, maybe being the exception). Mostly people choose senior living because they have either experienced physical or mental decline or are in anticipation of those declines that are an inevitable part of growing older.

It is all about easier access to those things that make life worth living, security, safety, and assistance with things like medication and other ADLs. It is about not having to prepare meals and about finding purpose and community, which becomes tougher as we age.

All of that tilts in favor of the health care side of the equation.

Massive Health Care Challenges

Then we layer on massive chaos in the health care system. At a time when the aging populations needs more access, there is simply not enough capacity.

  • There are not enough hospital beds, and building more is tough.
  • Hospital stays are expensive.
  • Nursing home stays are expensive, and everyone hates them.
  • The system is designed to serve the system and not the patients or even the individual providers.
  • The primary goal of the system is to reduce costs, not to provide care.

Senior Living Is the Answer

Senior living is the answer to many of the health care system problems:

  • We know and touch residents every single day.
  • We provide a much higher quality of life for residents than hospitals or nursing homes can ever provide.
  • We are less expensive than either nursing homes or hospitals.
  • We are getting a lot better at tracking resident health and reporting it.
  • While not perfect at it, we are a million times better at wellness than are either hospitals or nursing homes.
  • Older people living in senior living (when it is done right) are having fewer hospital visits and fewer hospital days than older people at home.

We are getting there. The discussions are beginning to happen where hospital systems will figure out we can save them buckets of money and make their system members happier. This becomes the big opportunity for the middle market.