By Steve Moran

While at the Senior Living 100 conference a few weeks ago, I finally got clarity on this big, burning question senior living keeps asking itself:

Are we health care or hospitality?

It has become clear that we are health care with a strong hospitality component. Embracing this truth makes the case for senior living much more compelling.

The Logic

Here is the logic:

  • People choose senior living only when they age — something that is so self-evident you might think listing it is ridiculous. But underlying this truth is that as people age, things change — needs, wants, desires.
  • People move into even active 55+ because they are different from when they are younger. These are differences that are largely related to aging decline or the anticipation of decline. While it is primarily a lifestyle change, meaning someone has earned enough money to live a more leisurely life, you would not find 35-year-olds or 45-year-olds who have retired early wanting the same thing.
  • When older people make the move to independent living, it is again motivated by mental, physical, or energy declines, or anticipation of that decline. Not quite health care, but acknowledging that bigger changes, bigger declines are coming. No one moves into independent living thinking, “I’ve got another 20 or 30 years of healthy adult living ahead of me.”
  • Finally, assisted living and memory care are clearly health care. Residents (or more often their families) choose these levels because they need help with things they could once do without assistance, and they anticipate further declines.

Lifestyle Only — the Problem

The problem with presenting senior living as primarily an option is that we are suggesting that it is simply an ordinary option like living at home, or on a cruise ship, or in a golf or pickleball community — that we are not that special, unique product that will ensure the highest quality living experience from the moment they move into a community until they breathe their last breath.

Value-Based Care

“Value-based care” is the newest senior living buzz phrase, but as a concept, it is powerful beyond belief. Hospitals and health care systems are facing huge, insurmountable problems with cost and capacity. Senior living is better placed than any other option to be the safety valve that can and will pick up the slack.

Hospitals, payor sources, health systems have a lot more money to work with, and they will pay assisted living organizations that can help a lot of money to provide services that simply are not available elsewhere.

We should be celebrating this clarity. It will make our businesses better.