'What we've got here is failure to communicate'

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

Wondering why it's so difficult getting prospects to move in? Here's my advice: Watch “Cool Hand Luke.”

In this 1967 classic, Paul Newman plays a gutsy prisoner who keeps escaping and being recaptured. During a scene where Newman's character is being roughed up, the Captain notes: “What we've got here is failure to communicate.”

Your organization may be guilty of the same, if a recent survey is to be believed. As my colleague Lois Bowers recently reported, Caring.com commissioned a national survey of 1,002 adults across the United States. The idea was to learn more about why prospects do or don't want to move into senior living communities.

The naysayers offered the following objections: they would rather live on their own (41%) or with a family member (29%). Some (18%) said they had a “bad impression” of senior living, while 8% said senior living communities are too expensive. Four percent said they didn't know enough about senior living communities.

It's understandable that anyone, much less an older person, might be reluctant to make such a dramatic lifestyle adjustment. But what happens all too often is that seniors essentially opt to live alone in places where they have few if any friends, at what turns out to be a higher cost.

Yet survey after survey finds that many people who opt to make the transition can greatly benefit. They gain new friends, they eat better food, they engage in more interesting activities and generally get to live a more satisfying life.

So here's my suggestion: Operators should consider forming a marketing council whose sole purpose is to promote senior living. There are certainly plenty of examples of this sort of behavior among other industries, including the National Dairy Council and the National Sales and Marketing Council, to name but two.

This marketing coalition could do what individual operators have been unable or unwilling to do on their own: change the conversation. By getting more consumers to realize how senior living can make their lives better, the council would go far toward knocking down many of the (dubious) objections now in play.

There is no getting around the fact that this field has an educational challenge on its hands. Far too many people who could be your customers remain mis- or under-informed. One of the best ways to change this reality is to show that seniors (and their adult children) have better options than they might realize.

Of course, failing to communicate is another option. But I've seen that movie a few times, and it never turns out well.

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

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