John O'Connor
John O’Connor

We’re hearing much these days about the many challenges facing senior living — and how the sector will have to dramatically change in order to survive.

To which I can only reply: So what? Senior living operators have been doing exactly that for decades.

One of the sectors most successful chains — Sunrise Senior Living — started out as a single building that Paul and Terry Klaassen built and lived in. Their goal was to create a preferable alternative nursing home living. To say they were successful would be an extreme understatement.

That’s just one example. There are many, many others.

When she spoke at the McKnight’s Women of Distinction awards ceremony in May, Lifetime Achievement Award winner Patricia Will talked at length about the need to constantly improve and adapt. The founder and CEO of Belmont Senior Living wasn’t just talking the talk.

The multifacility operator’s newest community is Belmont Village Senior Living La Jolla. The California-based senior living setting will house a “Living Lab” that co-mingles researchers with residents — all in an effort to improve health, well-being and longevity.

Will’s clearly an industry leader, but she’s hardly alone. It seems that everywhere you look in senior living, new innovations are being tried and tested.

I think one of reason why this sector is so innovation friendly is that it is not federally regulated. State rules tend to be far less restrictive. All across the nation, the results speak for themselves.

Here’s another advantage the sector has: innovators: are remarkably willing to share ideas that work. Considering how competitive the landscape is, that trait is truly remarkable.

To be sure, senor living has its share of challenges. Costs are up. Occupancy is down. Many people who should know better continue to sugar-coat current realities and downplay how tough the road ahead is likely to be.

Still, I think that over time, the sector will regain its footing — even if the expiration date on current hardships turns out to be much later than most stakeholders would like.

For if there is one thing this sector has learned to do and do well, it is this: to adapt.

That’s a trait that helped senior living expand to more than 30,000 communities nationwide. And it will be the key to future growth and prosperity.

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.

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