John O'Connor illustration
McKnight’s Editorial Director John O’Connor
John O'Connor
John O’Connor

One thing that makes Americans a bit unique is our innate optimism.

That’s not an original thought from yours truly. But it was once shared by a boss who hailed from the United Kingdom. His view was that where those beyond our shores see problems, we Yanks tend to see opportunity. Or at least, less gloom and doom.

I was reminded of his perspective this week in Dallas, during the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care’s 2024 Spring Conference. The prevailing sense of optimism in the Big D was hard to miss.

Now to be sure, attendees were well aware of the hard times this sector has been grappling with. Since the pandemic’s arrival four years ago, many operators have had to deal with multiple headaches. Among the most painful: filling units, hiring staff and making payroll.

Perhaps more fundamentally, the sector had to come to terms with The Great Recognition: admitting once and for all that healthcare is part of the package deal.

Let’s face it, more than a few operators had previously clung to the convenient façade that what they really delivered was a choice-driven housing alternative. In this universe, healthcare coverage essentially meant having a reliable ambulance service on speed dial.

Mike Tyson famously said that everyone has a plan until they get hit in the face. What COVID delivered was a lot closer to a knockout punch.

Operators now realize that they cannot expect customers to pony up $10,000 or more each month while healthcare services are ignored.

What we saw at NIC was not just an acknowledgement of a new reality, but serious discussions about the opportunities ahead. Ancillary services, new partnerships, harnessing tech tools and appeasing the bill-payers at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services led the parade.

It’s readily apparent that senior living is entering a transitionary period. And it’s also clear that more operators are ready to embrace new and improved ways of doing business.

How do they feel about that? By all indications, pretty good.

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.