The last 18 months have been extremely challenging for the senior living industry, but the leaders on this panel are ready to move onward and upward as they prepare to meet the bottled-up demand of seniors ready to make the move to their communities. Stephanie Haley-Andrews, SVP of Resident Care, Spectrum Retirement Communities, Shannon Watson, President / CEO at Baptist Retirement Communities of Georgia, Christy Van Der Westhuizen, Director of Sales & Marketing at MBK Senior Living, and David Sawyer, CEO / Founder of TSO Life, come together to discuss what is next for the industry.
Change is a word that took on a new meaning to operators during the pandemic, and the panelists discussed what changes are here to stay, and what changes may no longer be necessary. Van Der Westhuizen notes that all the rapidly changing information and demands instilled “the need to communicate quickly, and with a sense of transparency,” and she believes that is a positive change that will continue to be important moving forward. Her communities at MBK took to video to be transparent with their residents, team members, and families, by sending weekly “what’s good in the community” notes to keep a sense of honesty and joy even during challenging times.
Watson believes that COVID-19 has moved seniors and senior housing to the forefront of the public’s minds, which creates a unique opportunity for growth, change, and education. She discusses how the isolation many seniors at home experienced during the pandemic has created a shift and a desire to move into a community where they can find connections.
Sawyer, being on the technology side of the industry, states that in the future, senior living needs to step up its integration game by “having data flow more freely between systems and creating a seamless experience for the operator.” He encourages technology vendors to focus on integrating much better, to which Haley-Andrews agrees that less redundancy would ease day to day operations within communities.
Occupancy is the buzzword on everyone’s minds in the industry right now, and the good news is, the panelists agree the demand for senior living is back and may even grow bigger than before. Van Der Westhuizen says, “occupancy is rebounding a lot faster than we anticipated,” and she contributes that to her team doing the hard work when it was easy not to. The relationships that her sales teams built during COVID-19 have been crucial in bringing new residents into their communities. Sawyer adds that as a collective, we have to “make senior living a want instead of a need.”
From a marketing standpoint, all the panelists agree the key to getting new faces in the doors is showing the reality of what life is like within their communities. Watson, “if you can show people content of residents who actually live in your communities and not just stock photos, that makes the difference.” Sawyer adds on to that, and notes that senior living needs to market themselves as a place people want to live as well as cater to the changing trends and desires of the potential new residents. He challenges operators to look at their engagement calendars and question if this is a place they would want to come spend time, and if the answer is no, to start reflecting on ways to change that experience.
As far as what is next and what they want to see in the future, Watson also believes in the power of more intergenerational connections and opportunities within the industry, as seniors have so much to offer younger generations, and vice versa. Haley-Andrews and her communities are focusing on a holistic approach to care, “and providing evidence-based practice and care to show better outcomes.” As a former Disney cast member, Van Der Westhuizen is all about “experience based senior living,” and she hopes one day to own communities that do just that, provide an exceptional experience and quality of life to the residents. Wherever the future of senior living takes the industry, it is no doubt that with leaders like these at the helm, there is nowhere to go but up.