The leaders of five organizations active in the senior living space recently shared with me their insights on the biggest challenges facing the industry. Culled from their comments is a list of action items for operators in 2022 and beyond.

1. Continue to keep residents and employees safe.

As of this writing, the fate of two federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates remains uncertain, and states and individual providers are taking varying positions on implementing their own requirements regarding vaccines and booster shots. But senior living providers still must prioritize keeping residents and workers safe as well as mentally and physically healthy.

“Operators will need to continue to work to keep their associates and residents safe and engaged, irrespective of whether the federal government (or states) have vaccine mandates in place or not,” American Seniors Housing Association President David Schless says.

2. Keep telling the senior living story.

Making sure the industry remains top-of-mind and that legislators, prospective residents and their families and others have accurate information also will be important as operators try to secure more pandemic relief and improve occupancy.

“The pandemic … showed a need for us to be at the forefront telling our story — to policymakers who need to recognize our setting when responding to such crises, and to seniors and family members who are considering their long-term care options,” National Center for Assisted Living Executive Director Bethea LaShuan said. “We must make sure we have a seat at the table and that consumers understand the benefits we offer in a safe environment.”

Storytelling efforts can help address senior living’s perennial labor challenges, Schless adds.

“The industry will … need to continue to showcase the benefits of working in senior living in order to attract and retain high quality, diverse talent at both the community and corporate level,” he says.

3. Create a more representative workforce.

2022 also presents opportunities for providers to make “a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion throughout all levels of organization … to build an aging services community in which staff, leadership and the people we serve reflect the rich diversity of the U.S. and opportunities exist for all to thrive,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan says.

Argentum President and CEO James Balda agrees.

“Workforce challenges will continue but abate to some degree, but we will need to focus more toward the recognition and implementation of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging and human resources as strategic imperatives,” he says.

Sloan points to LeadingAge’s Summer Enrichment Program and collaboration with the United Negro College Fund to attract students and graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities to leadership positions in the field as industry-wide efforts toward this end.

Balda notes 2021 work via Argentum’s CEO Action pledge, webinars, trainings, discussions and roundtables. “In 2022, we’ll further the work of the industry with other association partners like ASHA and [the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care],” he says.

4. Take charge of your future. 

“For nonprofit organizations, strong governance will be critical to driving success and sustainability,” Sloan says.

LeadingAge is an association representing nonprofit providers of aging services, but it stands to reason that a clear mission and goals will benefit any type of provider.

“COVID taught us that organizations simply cannot afford to not have an intentional, articulated vision and robust strategic planning in place to ensure that they can not only respond to the current difficult climate but will also survive and thrive in the years to come,” Sloan says.

5. Innovate and adapt some more.

“Rising costs for goods and services as inflation surges to its highest level in more than 30 years will … pose challenges as communities look to rebuild census,” NIC President and CEO Brian Jurutka says. “Communities will have to continue to innovate and find additional revenue and operational efficiencies as they look to serve future residents.”

Innovation is nothing new for senior living providers, NCAL’s LaShuan says.

“I believe that COVID will make many assisted living providers reconsider certain aspects when building new communities to ensure they help reduce the spread of infectious diseases, but assisted living is used to innovating and adapting in order to meet evolving consumer demand as well as care best practices,” she says.  

Read what else these leaders had to say about labor, occupancy and other major issues facing senior living operators in the articles that appear in the “Related Articles” section below.

Lois A. Bowers is the editor of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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