Senior living is changing as fast as seniors themselves. The level of service and care that you provide your residents today may not be enough to entice your next generation of residents. As senior living communities strive to stay vibrant and transcend market expectations, there is one question that keeps industry leaders up at night: is my community leading or falling behind?


In this three part series, we will:

  1. Identify the signs that your community is falling behind, why you must assess your physical plant, and how to build consensus to plan for the future
  2. Explore how to position your community and your brand for ongoing success
  3. Share steps for creating a strategic master plan to accomplish your community’s goals


Signs You Are Falling Behind

Senior Living experts agree that aging-in-place is the model of the modern CCRC. “For our customers today, it’s about lifestyle and living life to the fullest. If clinical support is needed, then it’s provided in-place (if possible) or in a congregate setting that looks and acts like a home,” says Jeff Evans, president and CEO of Cross Keys Village in New Oxford, PA.

If this isn’t where your community is headed, chances are, you could be falling behind. Here are a few warning signs to watch for:

  • Decreased occupancy rates
  • Low resident satisfaction scores
  • Loss of market share
  • Loss of potential sales
  • Inability to raise prices
  • New players and products in the marketplace
  • Unsatisfied workers
  • Deferred maintenance


Renée E. Anderson, president & CEO of Saint John’s on the Lake in Milwaukee,WI, believes communities must take a proactive approach – not wait for signs of loss. “Stay current with industry trends. Budget for major cosmetic renovations every 7-10 years. Ensure that your physical plant is meeting the needs of your current residents.”

Not only do you need to keep your current residents happy, you need to figure out what will attract future residents to choose your community.

“It is always time to take action,” says Evans.  “Competitors will be doing their jobs by trying to exceed you, so work to stay two or three steps ahead of them.”

For leaders like Laurie Stallings, executive director of Cypress Glen Retirement Communityin Greenville, NC, staying ahead of the curve doesn’t mean making a change just because a competitor may be doing it. When planning her community’s Memory Care Cottage, which opened in 2005, it was important to tour other facilities, but ultimately it was about creating something to meet the needs of their community.

Ken Arneson, president and CEO of Evergreen in Oshkosh, WI, takes it a step further. “We don’t want to differentiate; we want to transcend what our competitors do. We want the competition to be looking to us. We identify what makes our community unique, and we focus on transcending that.”


The State of Your Physical Plant

Without taking a hard look at your physical plant as it stands, it’s hard for the leadership team to have the data necessary to address capital reserves and make informed decisions to proactively plan for the future.

John H. zumBrunnen, president and founder of independent construction and building consulting firm zumBrunnen, Inc., Atlanta, GA, offers the 4 Rs as a basis for evaluating the physical plant and long-term maintenance issues:

1.)   Can we Repair this facility?

2.)   Should we Renovate?

3.)   Do we need to Reposition?

4.)   Do we Replace it?

What should be done with each building on your campus in the next 10 years? The historical significance of a building to the campus and other emotional concerns may play a role. Ongoing maintenance, efficiency, and marketability can also impact these decisions.

You may need outside assistance to look at the data and objectively analyze the costs to repair, renovate, reposition, or replace. “No one knows a community better than the Board and the financial consultants. We provide information and options to allow them to answer and defend their recommendations,” says zumBrunnen. “We justify decisions from an ongoing and a long-term-maintenance-expense perspective.”

“The physical plant analysis process is tedious and time consuming, but the reporting is invaluable,” says Stallings. Keeping reporting up-to-date supports the future of your community and shows residents that you have systems in place to make the tough decisions that will impact their lives.

“You may want to hold onto things, but that may not be good in the long run,” says Arneson.  “The physical plant analysis helped us learn where our facilities department was in keeping up with preventative maintenance.  Understanding that we were taking good care of things was good for Board decisions.”


Building Consensus

When it’s clear that it’s time for change, communication is key to building consensus among decision makers and achieving buy-in from your community.

“With the natural human aversion to change, there first must be communicated a compelling catalyst for change that can withstand potent scrutiny,” says Evans.  “Significant changes need to be communicated in person with opportunities for Q&A. People want to understand the change and how it will affect them. There is always a business reason to do something, but the rationale for change must also be brought down to how it positively affects you and me.”

This means the same message must communicated through multiple channels, in different ways and consistently over time. You need to know your audience and realize that some people may take longer to digest the information and see the positive impact.

“When proposing an investment in a building project, make the case with residents for enhanced quality of life, with the Board of Directors for mission expansion and enhanced financial performance, with staff for improved service delivery and increased job security,” suggests Evans. “Talk to people early so the rumor mill does not take over. Finally, provide the script to others in leadership so the message is delivered consistently and accurately.”


A Plan for the Future

When it comes to falling behind the competition, the answer is simple – you can avoid it.

“The re-development process should never end just because you have good occupancy today. You need to be thinking ahead and have a plan in place for today, tomorrow, and beyond, “ says Craig Witz, principal of Witz Company in Madison, WI. “Every day, a building and an infrastructure get older. Benchmark yourself on a national basis, not on a local basis.  New competition could come into town next week.”


As you plan for the future, let the unique aspects of your community and your brand lead the way as you bring to market your answer to the modern CCRC.

Part II of III – Positioning your community & your brand for ongoing success