Today about 10% of the seniors who would benefit from Assisted Living actually live in assisted living communities. The 10% market penetration has not made an appreciable change in the last 10 or 15 years. If that number were to increase just 1% to 11% (yes I know that it is a 10% improvement) it would provide huge benefits to seniors and operators.
The number of seniors in assisted living would jump 100,000. It would create more income for operators allowing them to be more innovative in serving seniors. It would allow more funding for lower income seniors. It would improve the lives of those 100,000 seniors.
While at ALFA this past week Peter Sheahan, CEO of ChangeLabs, author of the books Flip, Making it Happen and Gen-Y, and amazing speaker, talked about innovation. The presentation at its purest level was a challenge to dream big, to imagine the impossible.
His presentation focused on two significant barriers to innovation, Industry Norms and Customer Expectations. These are things that hit at the heart of Senior Housing. This week I will talk about Industry Norms and next week about Customer Expectations.
At the risk of offending some big players in the senior housing industry I would offer that when you browse the websites of both major and minor players in senior housing, they will all look pretty much the same. There will be smiling seniors eating or playing bingo. There will be smiling care givers and a smiling nurse. You could extract paragraphs of text from one community or one corporate website and paste it into a competitors website and no one would know the difference (something that would be humorous for a hacker to do).
If you want further proof, all of the studies demonstrate the number one determining factor in the selection of a senior housing community is location. There is nothing wrong with this . . . . exactly . . . but if we were honest . . . . most of us would be willing to have our mother or father in a community that was ten, fifteen or twenty minutes away if the resident experience were truly amazing.
The goal of most senior housing companies is to meet or very slightly exceed industry norms. It is just another way of following the axiom that no one ever got fired for buying IBM.
The challenge Peter offered was to not let those industry norms be your handcuffs that prevent you from creating an amazing resident experience.
Today you will find resident units will very slightly in size, and quality. There will be slight variations, in the amount of common area, the dining experience and featured activities. As communities compete with each other they all try to be the very best in one or more of these parameters, but there is never a serious effort to create a “blow it out” experience. There is a perceived, and perhaps even real, danger in going outside the norms. It will not be safe but it has the potential to be amazing. . . to be the Apple, or the Google or Facebook of Senior Housing. It offers the potential of setting the new norm.
Not only do you have the potential of setting the bar, more importantly you have the real potential to move the whole industry into that next 1%.
Next week I will explore the second and equally stifling barrier to innovation in senior housing: Meeting your customer/consumer expectations. Yep you read that right, I proofed it just to make sure I got it right.
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Finally: If you know anyone who is looking at emergency call systems I would appreciate the opportunity to talk with them about Vigil Health Solutions.
I am in total agreement with the notion of uniformity. Take a look at any AL marketing material here in northern VA and you will notice that they have taken the regulations and listed them under services and amenities. We offer three nutritious meals a day, individual service plans, care managers available 24 hours, etc. Every Executive Director knows that the number one responsibility is resident safety. The innovation will come when we begin to think about how we provide something more than just a safe environment; an environment that is recognizes our responsibility to safety AND creates opportunities to lead a meaningful life. That may require that we think about elder living rather than senior housing.
I agree with what has been said here. Too often we copy others rather than innovate on our own. AgeSong in the San Francisco area is truly innovative in our approach to elder care. Our website doesn’t look like any others, and we are teaching our unique approach to interns who are studying eldercare. As I tell my prospects “we aren’t perfect, but we try harder”, and our residents and their families notice the difference. There is plenty of business for everyone, and not every place is going to appeal to every person, but to know that you’re making a difference in the lives of our precious elders makes it worth getting out of bed each morning!
I couldn’t agree with you more…. a mere 1% change in occupancy can be the difference between making it or breaking it for some providers… it also means that non-profits can provide additional services to their existing residents…
The only question remains, how much would you be prepared to spend to get the extra 1%? and on what?
Good luck to everyone who is serving our seniors.
You go Steve, I have been trying to convince communities that standing out from the rest with great design, fun innovative interiors, and unique spaces would raise the quality of life for seniors,staff and encourage families to visit more. Every time I give a presentation I blow it out with geat design , yet often I lose the job because someone else came along with a presentation that was safe, and looked more like senior living. It is hard to believe that companies don’t want the best but ordinary seems to be preferred to extraordinary in this industry.
But guess what, I am not going to be ordinary. One of these days the light will go on and this industry will realize that innovation is a good thing. Because the boomers are coming, and we will not accept the low standards that been set and the bar will get raised. I will do my part to my part to raise the bar and I thank you too Steve for joining me in this quest. Keep up the good work.
Gary I think the idea that we provide a meaningful existence is a key element that is missing in most communities. I am hearing a few people beginning to talk about it, but not many. I have also run across a few communities that are taking some real steps in this direction and I hope to write about them in the upcoming months.
I know that AgeSong is working on doing some unique things. I am hoping that sometime in the next few months I can come over and learn more.
Blair you ask some really good questions.
Kathy I am hopeful that we are on the cusp of some really amazing innovation in senior housing. In the next few weeks I have interviews scheduled with some significant players in our industry to talk about what they are seeing. You can look forward to either some articles from me about those discussions or perhaps even some guest blogs.
What I like best is this statement: “I will do my part to raise the bar”. The more of us who do that, the more amazing the result.
I am currently talking with a distributor that gets it and we are developing a furniture line that has a design first focus. For too long function as been the main selling point,again the industry norm is to sell wing chairs with dark dreary crypton fabrics that clearly send a message “don’t Pee on me!”Unlike the furniture of my home that says “Come , sit relax, and enjoy!”
Our furniture is really attractive, and it is not “homelike” it is for a home. And unless a peice is acceptable for me to use in my own home it will not be in our line.
As for function our pieces exceed the function of existing pieces that set the norm currently. Form and function can co-exist and we are proud to bring this new look to market. The furniture line is morphing into something much larger as just about everything currently used in the design in senior living needs innovation. So we are working on many other elements that tie into that as well.
Lastly as exciting as it is to be a part of making existing communities much more welcoming and cheerful, my ultimate vision is to create those boomer villages I have talked with you about before! We are making progress here, our cottage lineup is almost complete,the business plan will be done by July 1, I think we will see this underway this year!
All that said and as excited as we are about the forward motion, each forward step has been taken slowly and with the weight of the words ,”but seniors won’t like it, and “we’ve always done it this way.” I love making a difference in people’s lives and since I started focusing on design for senior living , I have found what a huge difference I can make in an area that needs me. I just wish more people got it! But they will cause I am not stopping till they do,and I know neither will you!
Hi Steve, I would love to meet you and tell you more. Just let me know what works.
I totally agree with all of the ideas and comments above. I believe that in the next few years, as the Baby boomers really come into the equation, this issue of originality and facilities being unique is going to be the standard! The upcoming generation is completely different than any previously, and they will demand changes! Everyone in the healthcare field is going to have to be innovative in their ideas!