I dream of senior living solving this problem

By Steve Moran

I dream of senior living solving this problem. I dream of front page news stories where the title reads:

“If Assisted Living Organizations Can Figure This Out Why Can’t Disney?”

It is more than a dream. I believe we can actually figure it out. It will start with a single organization that will start telling stories about how they are full with a waiting list, even though their building is dated and their rates are a little bit higher. As you dig into their story they will tell you that their biggest problem is that they have too many applications from people wanting to work for them. That they have a 10% turnover rate due to retirement or someone who is moving on to bigger and better things.

Then another organization will figure it out and then another and pretty soon it will become the norm.

The Shame of Disney

Over the last few months, there has been a sprinkling of news stories about the deplorable living conditions Disney workers face in Orange County. Because they are paid a grossly inadequate hourly wage they are forced to live in squalor or, in too many cases, in their cars. Meanwhile, their CEO Bob Iger, in 2018 had a total compensation of nearly $66 million dollars.

The latest article from CNN Business was titled “Abigail Disney visited Disneyland undercover. She is ‘livid’ about what she saw”. She visited Disneyland to talk to workers about their lives and what she found is not pretty.

Disney responded to CNN saying they pay above the federal minimum wage with a starting wage of $15 and that they pay workers to get more education. It is the kind of thing we say in senior living, and I am convinced we can do better.

Senior Living Incongruence

Here are the kinds of things we say to prospects:

  • We are here to give you peace of mind

  • We create a lifestyle that gives residents dignity

  • We support our residents in choosing the lifestyle they want

  • Our lifestyle supports each person’s body, mind, and soul

But could we really replace the word “resident” with jobs titles like this:

  • We are here to give our dishwashers peace of mind

  • We ensure each caregiver has the resources they need to live a dignified life

  • We support our housekeepers in choosing the lifestyle they want

  • Our work environment gives our bus drivers everything they need to support their body, mind, and soul

You say, “Wait a minute, you are being unfair. we are doing the best we can and no senior living executive is making $66 million a year. If we raised pay more, we would have to charge more and that would hurt residents.”

Then you go on if you are really aggressive with me and say, “But if we are honest, they didn’t work as hard as they could have in high school, and today they live very messy lives causing them to waste so much money.”

Maybe so . . . but here is where I struggle . . . we portray ourselves as a caring sector that is comprised of caring individuals. Not only do we portray ourselves this way, we think of ourselves this way. It is our story and I believe it is true.

Then I wonder, if we are really caring doesn’t that mean we have to care just as much for our teams as we do for our residents?

I am not asking you to go into the poorhouse. I am asking you and me to try some bold experiments. We have sucky occupancies right now. If we went from 87% to 95% most of that would be profit and maybe, just maybe, a bunch of that profit should be used to show we care.

Maybe these are just the ramblings of someone who is not in the trenches, but maybe, just maybe, we could be better than Disney.