The pandemic has left its mark on the senior living industry — good and bad. As another new year begins, some industry experts share trends and predictions for what lies ahead.
Technology likely is going to transform the competitive landscape for continuing care retirement / life plan communities and other long-term care settings, according to a senior living trends survey from professional services firm CLA.
Survey respondents indicated that new residents are moving in with higher expectations for and comfort with technology. Fifty-eight percent of operators participating in the research said they plan to invest in new technology in the next five years, whereas 37% indicated that they are in the process of or planning to develop custom programs and apps to leverage data.
The pandemic has continued to shine a spotlight on the importance of technology in senior living, an industry that never realized the full power and potential of the enterprise, according to K4Connect. Changes that many residents — and communities — made to everyday living during the pandemic likely will be everlasting, according to the company.
OneDay Vice President of Client Success Eric Varin said that the search for the right technology will continue this year. The trial-and-error period of finding the right technology stack is front and center in senior living, with a focus on marrying healthcare services and hospitality, he said.
K4Connect Chief Growth Officer Keith Stewart predicts that more technology industries will invest in aging services that serve the older adult population, including major device manufacturers, business-to-consumer electronics providers and wellness / lifestyle companies.
Stewart said “the line is blurring” between active adult / 55-plus and early levels of care, including independent living and aging in place at home. This blurring, she said, follows the wellness trends led by companies marketing fitness tracking devices and health technology.
Gig services — primarily ride-hailing and on-demand delivery — also have started to make their way into the older adult market. Stewart anticipates that these services will expand as the demographics shift further toward wealthy baby boomers with technology-related expectations.
K4Advisors Chief of Staff and Managing Partner Cindy Phillips foresees that technology will help operators find ways to engage and serve older adults in more ways before they make a move to senior living. Educating prospects on the benefits of the senior living lifestyle and beginning the onboarding process into a community are options.
“In 2022, we’ll see senior living communities start serving older adults in many ways before they move in, helping to build affinity from the start,” she said. “Communities could consider wellness offerings, virtual content invites to dining or special events, a marketplace or travel club, even priority with healthcare / short-term rehab.”
Phillips also anticipates that more communities will create a position dedicated to championing resident technology.
“COVID certainly cemented that technology is here to stay, and communities need to invest in resources to support it, accelerate it and integrate into activities and wellness programming,” she said. “We see this recognition of the importance of technology and adding some structure to how it is reviewed and implemented in communities with resident technology advisory groups, IT directors and the occasional chief information officer at the operator level.”
Access to labor will continue to be a “considerable challenge” into the future, according to 98% of respondents to the CLA senior living trends survey.
“A reasonably high level of open positions, coupled with approximately one-third of respondents indicating that they do not believe the current skill sets are what will be required in the future, will bring to focus the importance of both managing the current workforce, while at the same time looking to new skill sets that may align with future needs at communities,” the report from CLA reads.
Last month, a panel of industry leaders said the sector will continue to face workforce and operating challenges in 2022, but panel members said they were carrying a sense of optimism into the new year, indicating that technology and innovation will drive recovery.
OnShift’s recent Workforce 360 Survey Report and the NIC Executive Survey Insights of operators similarly forecast that staffing shortages would continue to plague the industry, requiring employers to get creative in their recruitment and retention efforts.
Varin said that operators will need to bring increased focus to the employee experience to address the staffing challenges facing the industry. Retention bonuses, signing bonuses and increased wage, he said, will not be enough.
It’s well known that the next generation of senior living residents is looking for a curated experience that offers a community, a sense of purpose and a place to thrive. They also are looking for health and wellness options to help them live their best lives.
The occupancy battle is aggressive, OneDay’s Varin said, and companies need to innovate the senior living journey for customer expectations to be competitive.
Technology offered greater visibility into residents’ health, leaving senior living operators in a strong position to differentiate their care offerings through customization and preventive measures, Varin said.
To succeed in healthcare in the coming decade, ATI Advisory said, the industry must “continue to propel innovations that integrate and coordinate services” for a complex care population. States, the federal government and foundations, ATI said, must continue to “push the envelope on Medicare-Medicaid integration.”
ATI said it expects the move toward healthcare at home to come to a head, saying it is “filled with promise, but also peril.” ATI said its focus in the new year will be on implications for Medicare beneficiaries and their families, as well as the best way to align financing with person-centered, coordinated care delivery.
ATI said it also will address capitation and provider-led risk models.
“Disrupting care delivery for the better requires a lot of capital and the returns to attract it,” according to the Washington, D.C.-based advisory firm. ATI said it is committed to a better care delivery experience for the increasing complex care needs of older adults and that it intends to address that issue by building bridges between providers, payers, policymakers and investors.
The CLA senior living trends survey found that strategic planning is the key to future success. Focusing on the long term includes conducting visioning exercises with board members, creating a companion financial plan, converting data into usable insights and following up with a master plan, according to the report.
“2020 swept the world of healthcare into the unknown,” CLA Senior Living Principal Mario Mckenzie said, adding that providers are “at the end of great opportunity.” “Demographics show rapid growth in the number of individuals aging over the next 20 years, providers have access to more data than ever, and financial and business plans often include a large outlay of cash loosely aligned with strategy.”
The battle to build back net operating income margins is fierce, Varin said, leading to increasing rates in 2022. Senior living sales professionals, he said, need to be less reliant on incentives, and bricks and mortar, and more reliant on selling value.
Stewart said that senior living has operated somewhat independently under the healthcare vertical business line but will start to behave more like others — commercial, multifamily and hospitality — as more for-profit real estate investment trusts start investing in the industry.
The consolidation, mergers and acquisitions of 2021 also will have a lasting effect into this new year, he said. Overall, Stewart said, it will make for a more professionally managed market with higher service levels and offerings.
“The more liquidity in the space will attract more players and, ultimately, more money into the market,” he said. “The pros are a rising tide will carry more ships; the cons are, many companies will struggle to adapt to a more competitive marketplace.”
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