Name changes bloom in senior living

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Lois A. Bowers
Lois A. Bowers

My friend Janet* never liked her name as she was growing up. She believed it didn't reflect her personality. So, after college and much thought, she legally changed her name to Dana*. Doing so, in her mind, gave her the freedom to blossom and have others see her how she wanted them to see her.

I was reminded of Dana earlier this week with the news that the seven-community Virginia United Methodist Homes had decided to change its name to Pinnacle Living.

Two main reasons drove the change, leaders said. Research showed that current and potential residents had a strong negative perception of the word homes, and many people incorrectly assumed that membership in the United Methodist Church was required to live or work in the organization's communities.

“Our new name positions us for the future as we strive to better serve the next generation,” President and CEO Christopher P. Henderson said.

Of course, Virginia United Methodist Homes is hardly the first senior living organization to undergo a name change. In fact, it seems as if many companies are going through same careful thought process that my friend undertook.

Just last week, for instance, Chicago-based Pathway Senior Living announced a name, Pathway to Living.

The changes “reflect the evolution of senior housing, as well as the possibilities and promises we deliver every day to our residents,” Chief Operating Office Maria Oliva said in a letter shared with Facebook friends.

Five Star Quality Care announced an official name change to Five Star Senior Living in March, formally moving to a name it informally had used, to emphasis hospitality in addition to healthcare.

“In 2001, we started the company with a focus on clinical care and have evolved it into the full-service healthcare, hospitality and lifestyle provider that it is today,” President and CEO Bruce Mackey said in the earnings call where the change was announced.

In 2016, Columbus, OH-based Ohio Presbyterian Retirement Services changed its name to Ohio Living.

“We selected Ohio Living because it embodies the essence of who we are as an organization, a community of people who celebrate living,” Ohio Living CEO Laurence C. Gumina said at the time.

Last year also saw Charlottesville, VA-based Commonwealth Assisted Living change its name to Commonwealth Senior Living, saying that it better relayed the fact that the company offers independent living and memory care in addition to assisted living.

Toledo, OH-based Lutheran Homes Society also announced in late 2016 that it would be known as Genacross Lutheran Services going forward. “Our new name reflects our expanding breadth of services,” President and CEO Rick Marshall said at the time.

The same day in October, Bellevue, WA-based Presbyterian Retirement Communities Northwest moved to become Transforming Age. “It became clear that we had outgrown our original name,” President and CEO Torsten Hirche said at the time. “While we honor our heritage, Transforming Age better reflects our mission and vision going forward.”

And in February of that year, after 65 years, Cincinnati-based Episcopal Retirement Homes changed its name to Episcopal Retirement Services. “Changing our name is a completely logical, evolutionary transition to more accurately represent what Episcopal Retirement Services has become, and where we are headed,” President and CEO Doug Spilter said at the time.

And although the name change has been delayed, in February of this year, American Baptist Homes of the West, Beacon Communities and be.group announced their intention to be known collectively as HumanGood in the future.

This list is not exhaustive, but it is pretty impressive when one looks at all of these changes listed in one place.

And they came after we barely had had time to catch our breath from two big announcements in late 2015. The first, in September, was that the former Assisted Living Federation of America had chosen the new moniker of Argentum. Then, just over a month later, LeadingAge and Mather LifeWays announced an effort to have people refer to continuing care retirement communities as life plan communities.

LeadingAge itself, of course, had changed its name from the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging in 2010 after a two-year research process to find the word or words that “[did] justice to the leadership and quality members provided” and reflected the members' realization “that there was much more to their work in aging services than homes.”

The new name, according to the organization, represented “a redefined identity that reflected the association's aspirations for the 21st century and beyond.”

And that's a word — aspiration — that is used or a quality that is described by many executives in senior living organizations when announcing a change. We want our names to reflect not only who we have become but also who we want to be.

It might be that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but in a constantly evolving and forward-looking industry, why not help people find the scent?

* I changed Janet/Dana's names in this column.

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight's Senior Living. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers. Click here for her thoughts on other words used in the industry.

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