It’s always a treat to hear Bob Kramer speak about industry trends and the future of seniors housing and care.
My most recent opportunity to do so happened last month on the occasion of the announcement of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care founder’s next venture, Nexus Insights. Kramer and I spoke about the launch of the company, which aims to help clients “rethink aging from every angle.” In the process, he shared three ways he thinks that senior living surely will change, and another way it will change at least temporarily, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Two of the most obvious transformations are ones related to technology that were made to accommodate social distancing requirements and other safety restrictions implemented by communities.
The first one helps senior living communities be able to keep delivering some of the traditional benefits of senior living to residents — socialization and the prevention of loneliness compared with living alone in a traditional home. Communities that weren’t doing it before are finding ways to help residents connect with their loved ones via platforms such as Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts and Zoom, either by using the technology directly on residents’ or the community’s devices or as part of another technologic system used by the community. And operators also are using these vehicles, as well as internal communication systems, social media and website posts, to keep residents, families, staff members and the general public informed.
People have become accustomed to regular digital communication from community management and will expect it to continue after the pandemic has ended, Kramer said. That includes partners in the aging services and healthcare continuum.
“If you’re not using digital communication to communicate consistently and to demonstrate real transparency to residents, to residents’ families, to staff and to the healthcare providers that are working with you and with your residents, and to healthcare payers, you won’t survive in the future,” he said.
Efforts to prevent or contain the spread of COVID-19 also have accelerated the use of telehealth in senior living, Kramer said. Use of the technology can mean fewer visits from outside a community and less necessity for residents to leave the community for needed medical care, thus lowering the risk of virus transmission. And it can help residents maintain their health.
“In my opening comments at the Spring Conference, I talked about how in the future, when it came to healthcare, consumers would demand, technology would enable, and payers would pay for bringing healthcare to people where they live, especially frail elders, rather than taking them to healthcare,” Kramer said. “Well, I never would have imagined the speed with which that became the norm.”
Now, he said, residents and their families will expect telehealth to be available all the time in senior living communities, because they know it is possible, they are comfortable with it, and they believe it poses less risk to older adults’ health and well-being.
“If you’re going to tell a resident’s family, in essence, ‘Well if something happens to Mom, we just call the paramedics and she goes to the ER,’ they’re going to go, ‘No, that’s not acceptable to us,’ ” he said. “And payers are not going to put up with sending somebody that they are holding the managed Medicare plan risk for to the ER every time there’s an issue at 2 in the morning.”
The comment by Kramer that I found most intriguing, however, had to do with the industry’s value proposition.
At a time when many senior living communities are moving away from a strict hospitality model to address the needs of residents with increasing health and wellness needs, Kramer believes that the pandemic ultimately may lead senior living to return to highlighting its original value proposition of social connectedness. That’s because some prospective residents and their families now may view the home as a safer place to be and because technology has expanded the number of settings where care can be provided.
“Care needs to be there [in senior living], and it needs to be great,” Kramer said, “but if our value proposition is just care, there’s not a bright future for our sector.”
Time will tell whether consumers’ newfound wariness of congregate settings, smaller living spaces and dense cities is temporary or lasting. Short-term and perhaps long-term design changes may result. But these technology uses seem here to stay and will only evolve.
Fortunately for those in senior living, Kramer will remain available through Nexus Insights and also through his continuing work as senior adviser for NIC to help the industry evolve as needed.