Argentum Panel: COVID May Have Forced Operators to Change for the Better

by Jeff Shaw

NEW ORLEANS — While the COVID-19 pandemic was a tragic and challenging time for seniors housing operators, many are now looking at the ways the industry can improve as a result. Those operators can see, in retrospect, how the way they were forced to respond to the crisis will pay dividends for years.

“We’re looking at adjustments that should’ve always been done this way,” said Stephanie Harris, CEO and principal at Arrow Senior Living. “That’s one of the silver linings from COVID.”

Harris made her comments during the “Insights From the C-Suite” panel at the Argentum Senior Living Executive Conference held in May in New Orleans. Over 2,700 attendees attended the conference.

Mercedes Kerr, president of Belmont Village Senior Living, moderated the panel, which also included Adam Kaplan, founder and CEO of Solera Senior Living, and Doris-Ellie Sullivan, president of Retirement Unlimited Inc.

Harris said Arrow has now started involving its residents and employees in how the company runs, what she describes as “crowd-sourcing decisions.”

For Solera’s part, Kaplan says the company nearly doubled its wages, making it more competitive with other industries. “We couldn’t just rely on great culture,” he said.

Solera is also focusing on the healthcare aspect of its seniors housing communities.

“We pride ourselves on being hospitality driven, but we have to more thoughtfully implement healthcare into our business model,” said Kaplan. “We have done that with therapy clinics, and we just launched a pilot for our first in-property primary care clinic.”

That clinic, he added, both improves outcomes and offers a new revenue stream.

At Retirement Unlimited, Sullivan said the company learned more about keeping residents safe and how to leverage technology, as well as “going back to the basics” of service and communication.

“We made a lot of changes that made sense at the community level. We eliminated a lot of reports that didn’t make sense,” said Sullivan. “We wanted to keep our residents safe and keep them within our walls, but explore telehealth and those types of things for the future.”

Kerr agreed with the technology aspect, saying that COVID helped operators find “our digital voice.”

“Because we had to communicate with prospects or even with staff and candidates differently, it elevated our game when it came to our digital footprint. This is here to stay. These are changes that will endure and have made us even better.”

“COVID helped us to focus on the things we’re very good at, care being one,” added Kerr. “We did an exceptional job communicating with residents and families. There were some things we’ve always been good at that we really doubled down on.”

— Jeff Shaw

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