Perhaps more than any other, the senior living industry will need to make significant operational, structural and attitudinal changes in the wake of the coronavirus crisis – not only to protect residents, but to restore prospects’ and the public’s faith in senior housing.
But first, let’s give credit where credit is due: even in the midst of crisis, there is plenty of good news to be found. Despite tragic lists and reports of illness and death from COVID-19 in senior communities, many of them have been remarkably healthy, resourceful and innovative in their efforts to keep residents safe, yet still engaged.
Nevertheless, fair or not, eyes will be watching senior living. Crisis can never again be considered “something that will never happen to us.”
Long before anyone had ever heard of the now ubiquitous COVID-19, IVY Marketing Group began developing the first crisis communications solution designed specifically for the senior housing industry. Called ResponderHub™, our cloud-based, HIPAA-compliant software and mobile app can help senior communities prepare for, prevent and respond to crisis of any kind.
Backed by nearly 30 years of experience in marketing and public relations for the senior housing sector, IVY can also help you tell your community’s positive stories – because the media is going to talk about your community, and getting ahead of it and counteracting the negativity is paramount.
Ninety-six-year-old Henry Kissinger said, “The challenge for today’s leaders is to manage the current crisis while building the future.”
This comment from the politician and diplomat who has seen nearly a century of some of the world’s greatest challenges could’ve been made decades ago. But it was made just a few short weeks ago, and it punctuates the precarious precipice on which we stand right now.
Panelists from “Our Time to Shine,” a weeklong virtual summit in April 2020 on the forecast of senior living, offered key insights into the future of a market racked by crisis:
- Senior living will never be the same again – but we can tell a new story. According to Steve Moran, “Our Time to Shine” summit organizer and Senior Living Foresight publisher, this is senior living’s “new normal.” We must accept it and learn from it. It is impossible for all senior communities to be COVID-free…or flu-free or any number of contagions-free. While this is a sobering reality, it does not have to be the end of the story; rather, it can be a new beginning.
- Acute care will shift to a community-based approach. According to physician, professor and thought leader on human aging Dr. Bill Thomas, healthcare and aging services belong together and will be integrated. “Ninety percent of this global pandemic is unfolding in people’s homes and senior communities…we have devoted tremendous attention to ensuring adequate hospital resources, but there’s been no comparable effort to date to ensure adequate resources at the home- and community-based level,” he said, adding that it’s not the hospitals that are going to get control of this virus, it’s the senior communities.
- Senior living must move from a model of care to a model of purpose. Today’s senior communities have done much to improve quality of life for residents. However, the general perception remains that they are places that care for ailing old people – in crass terms, “where you go to die.” What’s more, there is a debilitating lack of understanding in the media of the differences among independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing. Senior communities must shift focus and, thus, perception from a care-centered model to a culture-driven model that prioritizes joy and the value of vibrant, meaningful, purposeful living.
- Activities directors must be vaunted. In line with a culture-driven model is a greater emphasis on the importance and compensation of staff members responsible for creating and facilitating a joy-filled life. Activities and lifestyle coordinators “should have the best parking spots,” quipped Dr. Thomas.
- Technology and telehealth will explode. The coronavirus has created a sudden and urgent need to consult with medical professionals over the phone or video conference. This will only continue, and senior communities must adopt the necessary technology to facilitate it. According to Dr. Thomas, “In the past senior leaders could defer investment in technology with no penalty; now we’re being thrown off a cliff. Competitors will be investing in technology, and aging services have to catch up.” Thomas suggests that senior communities might also be wise to implement use of a telepresence robot.
- Prospects must be treated as residents. “The things we’re doing to keep residents engaged during COVID-19, we should also be doing for prospects,” said Deanna Ziemba, senior consultant with Sage Age. Technology allows prospects not only to take virtual tours, but to participate in the activities, socialization and resources that residents themselves have. “We can be amazing at keeping [prospects’] spirits up…and they can make beautiful connections from home with our residents,” said Ziemba.
- We must be totally transparent. There can be no downplaying or euphemizing the extent of illness and death from COVID-19 or any other contagious diseases within senior housing. Not only does the CDC require reporting, but communicating with anything less than complete transparency will be perceived by families, residents, prospects, the press and the general public as dishonest, ingenuine, naïve, out of touch, tone deaf, and insensitive. Also, with transparency comes cooperation with precautionary measures from residents and their families.
- We must tell our positive stories. Sharing good news will not only get ahead of the negative press currently plaguing senior housing, it will positively impact sales now and in the future. Communities must show and tell their fabulous stories about happy residents and innovative staff who are keeping them virtually and emotionally close, while practicing safe social distancing. These accounts will engage and inspire prospects and foster trust in senior housing.
- Resident integration should be embraced. The wise Dr. Thomas foresees a community living structure in which residents of all abilities will be integrated, rather than separated (and, therefore, stigmatized) by cognitive or physical limitations. “It’s healthier to be surrounded by people with differences,” he said, noting that a homogenous population encourages a “bully mentality,” even in senior living.
- The Baby Boomers are still coming. The first wave of the Baby Boom generation arrived in 2011, when people born in 1946 turned 65. By 2030, 10,000 people of this generation will reach retirement age every day. Regardless of what the pandemic brings, that’s a lot of people who will want or need a purpose-driven living environment. What’s more, recent polls show that the life-hardened Baby Boom generation is the least fearful of contracting the coronavirus and suffering its potential implications.
Major change is coming indeed. Together, ResponderHub™ and IVY can help you navigate crisis communications and dilute the negative wave of publicity by sharing positive news from your community.
Call us at 630-790-2531 or click today.