John O'Connor
John O’Connor

Any way you slice it, these are exceedingly busy times for senior living operators.

Let’s start with the obvious: Thousands of communities have been kneecapped by COVID-19 and its residual damage. All across the nation, occupancy is down, staffing is more challenging than ever and costs are rising. Repairing the pandemic-related carnage has been a 24/7 undertaking.

Plus we are on the cusp of two major trade shows with notable and growing senior living representation. The American Health Care Association/National Center for Senior Living annual meeting kicks off this weekend in Nashville, TN. The following week, LeadingAge will hold its annual convention in Denver. Plus, NIC’s Fall Conference just wrapped up in Washington, DC. Those events offer a veritable cornucopia of new ideas, strategies and tactics worthy of an immediate test drive.

Then there’s the fact that we are about to have mid-term elections in early November and residents, their children and other payers (hello, Medicare Advantage) are watching you more closely than ever. That’s a lot of moving pieces for any operator to deal with.

Now before you rip up and revise your 2023 strategic plan, here’s something you should seriously consider doing: nothing.

I realize that approach sort of goes against what all the cool kids are doing, especially as service silos come down and new toys like offsite campuses take hold, new competitors arrive and the M&A drumbeat gets louder.

Earlier this week at a Yom Kippur service at Mishkan Chicago, Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann spoke at length about the importance of being present — and taking stock.

She cited a 2015 Princeton Seminary experiment that reached this startling conclusion: For many, ethics becomes a luxury as the speed of life increases. The lone exception to this trend was if the participants felt their actions –or inactions — would be judged.

Both findings would seem to have very real implications for senior living operators. Put one way, in their hurry to expand their portfolios, many operators run the risk of shortchanging their commitment to care. Not by design, perhaps. But sacrificing ethical behavior amid other pressing tasks could become a real occupational hazard.

That would be bad enough if this was the widget business. It’s not. Senior living is all about providing services (and increasingly, care) to the oldest among us. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to be.

Yes, these are urgency-driven times. But building a larger empire while losing what made you great strikes me as an extremely dubious bargain. On the other hand, to double down on the services that made your organization excellent and unique just might be the best approach of all. Even if that means not changing a thing.

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s Senior Living and its sister media brands, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, which focuses on skilled nursing, and McKnight’s Home Care. Read more of his columns here.