By Rich Molfetta, chief operating officer, LIVIA Health & Senior Living
Demand for senior living is on the upswing.
A recent report from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) found that 78 percent of the senior living units that were vacated during the pandemic have been reoccupied. In second-quarter 2022, occupancy reached 81.4 percent, up more than 300 basis points from the pandemic low of 78 percent in second-quarter 2021.
Census still remains a challenge for operators that are running their business with fewer residents than in prior years, but there is a light shining through the COVID cloud.
As residents begin a new chapter of their lives at senior living communities, many are now prioritizing a high-caliber living environment that offers a flexible lifestyle. These new demands present senior living providers with the opportunity to embrace a hospitality-based approach to property development and care services.
To lean into this approach, senior living facilities should embrace three key factors: quality care, elevated design, and maintaining day-to-day normalcy and flexibility for residents.
Emphasizing quality care
High-quality care is greatly sought after by those who live in senior living facilities and their loved ones. As a result, a new wave of senior living is adopting a style of care influenced by the caliber of service and attention to detail provided by luxury hotels.
In the wake of global lockdowns and quarantines, recognition of the importance of social connection has increased. For seniors, having a rich social life not only benefits their mental and physical health, but it can also prevent elder abuse in senior living facilities. According to the Nursing Home Abuse Center, seniors who are isolated and have limited social networks are at the highest risk of facing physical, emotional and domestic abuse, as well as neglect and financial scams.
As seniors relocate to seniors housing communities, maintaining a connection with their established social circles can be a challenge. Physical limitations, distance and busy family schedules can all create barriers to interactions with familiar faces. This puts the responsibility on senior living providers to help facilitate a sense of community.
The New York Times recently highlighted a 208-unit senior living complex in San Francisco where the wellness staff is trained by the Mayo Clinic and an onsite care coordinator helps residents achieve their mental, emotional and physical health goals, including social and philanthropic objectives. Through these initiatives, residents are able to maintain a lifestyle similar to what they were accustomed to outside of the complex.
Residents of senior living facilities want to feel connected to, supported by and bettered by the people caring for them. As such, senior living providers are feeling external pressures from residents’ loved ones — a point made by Chicago Pacific Founders (CPF) chairman John Rijos at the 2021 American Seniors Housing Association Mid-Year Meeting.
“‘It’s now not just caring for people in terms of feeding them and providing entertainment and activity; it’s really taking on a lot of the responsibilities that the adult children took on and saying, ‘That’s now our responsibility — coordinating care,’” he was quoted as saying.
Tapping into elevated design
The sterile, uninspired rooms characteristic of many senior living facilities are no longer a viable option. This is especially true as trends shift in favor of design elements more frequently associated with luxury residential developments and high-end hotels. The bottom line: Residents do not want to live in spaces that feel like a hospital.
In Manhattan, a 19-story building consisting of 76 assisted living and 80 memory care units was likened to a five-star hotel in an August 2022 article by Robb Report. As part of the senior living development’s upscale, hospitality-inspired experience, future residents can take advantage of a spa, dining bistro, landscaped outdoor terraces, art studio, theater and fitness center, all in addition to a dedicated care center, which includes memory care.
Whether utilizing assuasive color palettes, bringing in more natural sunlight or incorporating green spaces, a facility’s living environment can significantly impact residents’ mood, health and overall happiness, suggests an article from Senior Lifestyle.
Maintaining normalcy and flexibility
When moving into a new senior living facility, residents prefer as few changes as possible to their daily lifestyle. They also seek flexibility in their routines, whether it relates to food and beverage options, room and community layouts, or activities. Their lifestyle shouldn’t have to dramatically adjust to their new environment.
Similar to how hotels and resorts offer a variety of activities and dining experiences, senior living developers are emulating this approach to provide offerings for their residents. The previously mentioned Manhattan development, for example, will offer residents the option to attend off-site excursions, as well as music classes and workshops through the Metropolitan Opera and the Lincoln Center. The development will also tender an in-house library, readings by New York writers, open mic nights and concerts.
It is also important for senior living management to recognize that not every individual wants the same living space arrangements. Some residents may prefer opportunities for social interaction, whereas others are more independent and prefer to have a private room and bathroom. Providing multiple options, such as both secluded and communal spaces, is another way to offer seniors more lifestyle flexibility.
Mealtimes create another opportunity to cater to resident wants. Restaurant-style dining with an emphasis on nutrition is surpassing the lackluster cafeteria-style meals that are often served to senior residents, the Senior Lifestyle article reports. Many facilities are now incorporating convenient bistros and cafes that serve healthy snacks and coffee options all day — moving away from the set schedule of breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The senior living industry is changing. Savvy operators will consider and incorporate these new options to offer a more refined and enjoyable experience for residents.
Richard Molfetta, an industry professional with over 15 years of business success and operational innovation in skilled nursing and assisted living communities. He currently serves as the Chief Operating Officer of LIVIA Health & Senior Living, a New Jersey-based owner-operator.