As we near the end of this decade, we wonder what new trials will face the seniors housing industry in the next 10 years. In the past decade, the industry has emerged from the throes of the Great Recession, gone through a construction boom that led to intense competition for labor and residents, and seen the rise of both memory care and active adult communities complementing the more traditional senior living sectors. But, the 2020s will bring new challenges, one of which will be how the industry can attract a greater share of seniors, including the baby boomers. With home health care improving its care offerings and other technological advances making it easier for seniors to stay in their homes, raising the seniors housing penetration rate, or even just maintaining it, may be harder than we expect.
Seniors housing will need to better demonstrate its value to potential residents, either with its health care-oriented services or its lifestyle tack, or both. Something that may be important to attract the boomers is optionality. The cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all kind of senior living offerings may not cut it for much longer. We have gotten used to watching whatever we want on demand, having meals from almost any restaurant delivered to us through an app, and ordering something on Amazon Prime with the strict assumption that it arrives on our doorstep the next day. So why shouldn’t seniors have the same kind of choice when living their lives in one of our communities?
Discovery Senior Living has been experimenting with creating a more customized experience at its communities through its SHINESM memory care program. Already rolled out to 36 communities across the country, their strategy starts with an exhaustive questionnaire with both the adult children and the resident to identify their preferred foods, personal history and obviously health status. Discovery also wants to know their preferred meal times, what their sleep patterns are and at what times of day they tend to be most active. That allows Discovery to adapt to the resident’s schedule, rather than force them into a schedule that is easiest for the community. It’s like they’re trying to fit a round peg in a round hole: a novel concept.
In regard to group activities, Discovery also strives to keep them small, based on resident ability. It’s certainly not the most efficient method but probably results in a more useful and enjoyable experience for the residents in the group. Discovery is also aware of creating a better experience for the adult children, customizing how often and in what form they can receive updates on their parent and stay in contact with them. That can even include video highlights of what they did since the last call, if you want it.
This kind of added service certainly comes at a cost. Discovery acknowledged that the staffing ratios and salaries in its SHINESM program are higher than the rest of its portfolio. And the operating margin saw about a 200-basis point drop at the beta sites testing the program, but rents were not increased at these test sites. That means, of course, that rents will have to be raised across the program, but Discovery found that people are willing to pay a premium for this level of customization and choice. Not everyone will be able to afford this, but senior living providers can certainly learn how to give their residents more agency over how they live their lives.