Coming soon to your senior living organization: Explosive, unexpected changes

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

I can't tell you what changes are coming to your senior living organization. But I can tell you this: They are coming.

I can also tell you this: There's a very good chance nobody you work with will supply anything resembling an advance warning. That is, until hindsight makes it hard to believe nobody saw what was rolling your way.

If it's any consolation, take heart. That is often the way change works.

Sure, we can anticipate the obvious things. Labor challenges will likely worsen. Competition upstream and downstream will tighten. Medicare and Social Security will become less fiscally viable, likely setting off new rounds of reimbursement cuts.

But what about those pesky unknown unknowns? Who can guess what kinds of breakthroughs will happen as they affect Alzheimer's disease, to cite one example. There's a whole subset of emerging senior living dedicated to memory care. What if a cure were to make dementia care largely unnecessary? Great for society overall, right? But maybe not so great for your bottom line.

Conversely, what if we were to suddenly see a huge influx of outside-the-box residents? Couldn't happen, right? Well, some of us are old enough to remember when senior living was basically in the business of custodial care for the frail elderly. How many of your current residents don't fit that description? My guess is that it's a substantial number, and growing.

Do you remember the buzz the iPhone originally created? We take its functionality largely for granted now. But it wasn't that long ago that the notion of having a phone, e-mail, GPS, the internet and most of your work documents in one device was just this side of crazy talk. Imagine if something comes along that blows that out of the water? The odds are pretty good it will.

Change is so much a part of us that we almost don't notice it. Here's a suggestion: Find a 20-year-old copy of Forbes magazine, one that lists the richest people on the planet. What you'll see is that many of those old names have been replaced. Same goes for the Fortune 500 companies circa 1998.

We have the luxury of dreading change for what it can do to us. What we don't have is the luxury of ignoring it. So get ready. Here it comes.

John O'Connor is editorial director of McKnight's Senior Living. Email him at john.oconnor@mcknights.com.

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