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It was the concept of consumer choice that led to the formation of the senior living industry, and it will be choice that drives the industry’s success in the future.

That was part of the message that Argentum President and CEO James Balda relayed in remarks at the association’s annual meeting last week.

“One of the primary reasons this industry was created and has flourished as an alternative to institutional care over 25 years ago was a vision that individuals should and could be able to age in place with their needs met in a setting that is social, residential and full of life,” he said.

Another reality of senior living, however, is that residents often are more able to vote with their wallets than are residents of institutional settings. That’s where consumer choice can be a motivator for the industry, Balda suggested.

“In a consumer-based, service driven economy, the customer drives demand,” he said. “If, as service providers, we don’t fulfill that demand, the demand shifts elsewhere, just as it did nearly three decades ago.”

To meet changing preferences over the next decade, Balda said, the industry will need to “provide more choices and more customizable product options for consumers, up and down the acuity scale” and according to other measures, making sure that regulations in place support those efforts. He also sees a future where the industry harnesses technology and data, integrates further into the healthcare system and value-based care, and takes advantage of available capital.

“Shouldn’t we be working to ensure that every senior has the opportunity to choose to live in a community such as ours?” Balda said.

Demographics bode well for the industry, but smart businesspeople know that sheer numbers won’t guarantee success. Operators need to get people in the door, and then make them want to stay. To do that, providers will need to make some choices of their own.

Lois A. Bowers is the editor of McKnight’s Senior Living. Read her other columns here.

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