Senior housing has evolved over the last 20 years, and most agree that over the next 20 years, a completely new product will emerge.
This shift is largely due to the aging of the baby boomer population—those born between 1946 and 1964. Today, baby boomers range in age from 53-71. By 2037, they’ll be 73 to 91, spanning the target demographic among senior housing operators.
The senior housing of the future likely won’t be strictly based in healthcare, or strictly based in hospitality. Leading executives of some of today’s prominent senior housing communities say the model product that is rising to meet the needs of tomorrow’s consumers is a blend of both that will evolve while keeping affordability in mind.
“We keep hearing from providers about how residents want more choice, how residents’ expectations are evolving, perhaps even how their needs are evolving,” said Travis Palmquist, Vice President and General Manager, Senior Living during a Senior Housing News Summit panel discussion in July. “[This could mean a] higher level of service, some of which may be health care oriented.”
Providers are adapting with this shift in mind, particularly when it comes to building new communities and repositioning older ones.
“We do a lot of market research,” said MorningStar Senior Living Founder and CEO Ken Jaeger during a recent Senior Housing News Summit panel discussion in July. “We focus as we’re looking two, three or four years out as to how we can retrofit our older [communities].”
Designing communities for the future is not easy, but it may be necessary in preparing for a wave of new consumers.
“You need to put amenities in your communities that are going to be relevant to people in their 60s and 70s now, so by the time they approach their 80s, it’s going to be meaningful,” said Charter CEO and Founder Keven Bennema.
While a health care model was embraced in the past, the senior housing of tomorrow is taking more cues from hospitality companies to enhance the resident experience in addition to providing care. Particularly with independent living, operators are locating near amenities from shopping to Starbucks.
“For our newer product, it’s kind of different when you’re an independent living product versus assisted living/memory care,” Jaeger said. “[With independent living], we’re taking some of the ideas from the higher end hotels and from the airports and other industries, incorporating them into senior housing construction.”
At Charter Senior Living, the company has implemented unique programs to appeal to the “new” senior living resident, such as craft beer brewing and in-house cafes.
“[In a] project we’re doing in Boca Raton, somebody who walks is going to stumble upon a cafe and they’re going to look at the community and they’re going to say ‘What is this?’ And the last thing they’re going to think is ‘Is this a senior living community?’ Bennema said.
With new services and amenities in demand, however, executives today say they are focused on another question: affordability.
“The other thing is… affordability,” says Randy Richardson, president of Chicago-based CCRC operator Vi. “The reality is, the future generation is not well prepared for retirement. It’s going to be an issue; the support is going to have to come from the public sector….It’s something that’s critical to look at as we go forward.”
An individual approach
One way providers are enhancing the resident experience is to make it personal and customized for each and every resident, executives say.
An area where this can be incorporated directly regardless of the community’s age or the resident’s age is through dining.
“I was in [one of our buildings] and I went back into the kitchen and I was looking at all the resident pictures that we all have in our buildings,” said Tana Gall, CEO of Blue Harbor Senior Living. “Twenty-two years ago [with the picture] it would say ‘low sodium, no added sugar.’
Today, Gall said, meal plans are customized to be gluten-free, restricted as needed by the residents, with highly sophisticated menus and lots of variety and choice.
“I don’t call it the dietary department, you know, I call those our restaurants,” Gall said. “You used to go to the dining room. The building we’re going to open [this winter] has three dining venues. We have a 50s diner, we have a fine dining restaurant and then we have a pub.”
Quality reigns supreme
In providing for the future resident, the approach doesn’t have to be hospitality or healthcare, it can be both, executives say. But quality is the No. 1 consideration.
“I really don’t think it’s one or the other,” Richardson said. “Hospitality to me is how you deliver the service. We’re providing service and care, it’s what our primary product is and that’s delivered through people. It’s how well you train and develop the staff that delivers that service every single day so you can have consistent quality of service and care.”
A move from institutional care settings is likely to be a lasting trend, but within the senior living of the future, amenities and services can be a way for communities to stand out.
“I think we have a lot to learn from the hospitality industry in terms of building amenities,” Richardson said. “If you look at what’s happening in the hotel world today, it’s astounding…. [Our future customers] are going to be educated about those types of features and benefits and they’ll have an expectation that some of that at least finds it way into this industry.”
Ultimately, care will remain paramount, however, even in the context of a more hospitality-driven model.
“At the end of the day, if you’re not providing the right care, none of this matters,” said Bennema. “People assume they’re going to get good care when they come into any of our buildings no matter how nice or whatever renovations or whatever amenities you put into your buildings. The core reason somebody is in your building is they can’t live an independent life. So we try to ensure we stay mindful of that.”
Read more—View the full Leadership Series interviews with the executives appearing in this article: