OK, so we are still debating whether we technically are beginning a new decade or still have one more year to wrap up the current one, but either way, there is universal agreement that the year 2020 is symbolic of a new era.

As the decade turns over, should this milestone also serve as a call to action for senior living organizations to commit to a new normal? Most would agree that the answer is a likely yes.

That is not a suggestion that all that is in place today is wrong, but indeed, some things are not as they should be for success as we move through the next decade. We need to be open to change and be energized by exploring new ways to position our organizations and adjust operations accordingly. The purpose of this article is to paint a picture of key elements of change to empower senior living organizations for the new decade.

A changing workforce

Workforce pressures arguably are the biggest challenge for senior living organizations. Our sector is not alone.

What we must accept is that this is more than a numbers issue. The younger workforce is redefining employment and in many ways, we are pushing back against this tidal wave of change. They want to grow, be mentored and working in a fulfilling job. They want flexibility in their schedules, they want to determine how and when they get paid, and they embrace non-traditional work settings.

At the other end of the age spectrum, people are working longer and, in fact, the line-in-the-sand that we call “retirement” is becoming more and more blurry with time. Meaningful, full-time or part-time work well beyond age 65 will be the norm.

Are we ignoring the inevitable change and what our employees and prospective employees are telling us, or are we still stuck in a mindset where we think we know more about what they want than they do? To weather the storm of workforce shortages, we need to be different. Listen to the signs and be open to doing things differently.

A changing customer

Let us hope that by the end of this next decade we have a palatable alternative to “elder,” “senior citizen” and “retiree.” After all, by the year 2020, we will have more than 30 million individuals in the United States aged 75 or more years.

We know that terminology and labels can be a smaller element of the bigger picture, but at the end of the day, how our customers view themselves is redefining our missions to serve individuals in their “third act.” With certainty, we will need to be keenly aware of what resonates with the majority of customers while establishing a culture that has the flexibility to meet the individual expectations of those living in your communities or accessing your services. They will want to contribute and be involved, and they will not be satisfied with lip-service responses from management. They will want more immediate access to things.

We are a society that can order food from any restaurant we want and have it delivered to our doorstep with a few clicks of our phone. We can access on-demand transportation with ease. We can access medical professionals from within the four walls of our home. When these individuals move into your community, will they lose access to all of these benefits that they had “on the outside?”

We know that matters such as end-of-life decisions, how medical care is accessed and how people want to experience their third-act will change over the next 10 years. Let us also not forget the millions of baby boomers who likely will have little resources to pay for needed housing and care. Providers will continue to be challenged to identify affordable alternatives that do not compromise quality of life or care.   

Healthcare turned upside down

The entire healthcare continuum, from acute care to preventive medicine, is in the midst of a revolution, which will continue throughout the next decade. Payment reform, technologic advancements and the behaviors and preferences of the healthcare consumer have been catalysts for alternative healthcare models.

The new senior living type of organization, if committed to being a player in the healthcare arena, must be an expert in value-based systems and be confident enough to enter into risk-bearing arrangements. What is needed in the new senior living organization for the decade ahead: sophistication and scale.

The decade of innovation

This is probably one of the easiest areas in which to fall behind, and it can happen quickly. Technology advancements, web-based solutions and platforms and innovative devices are coming to the market daily.

Rest assured that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well within the longevity economy. Senior living organizations need to seek creative partnerships and use the promise of technology to attract the future customer and workforce and to position themselves to effectively compete against many of the headwinds facing the sector. Innovative models will emerge and are encouraged, as well as partnerships, joint ventures and affiliations among unlikely partners.   

Bold governance and leadership

The senior living services and care sector will demand bold leadership. We cannot afford to govern with weak boards and lead with executives who are reluctant to change.

In the past few years, we have seen several senior housing organizations hire well-known executives from the hospitality industry, from the technology space and other healthcare sectors. The lens that these individuals bring to the table will be invaluable in reshaping the sector and pushing us to think differently.

We need to retain the bright leaders we already have and should not to be afraid to go after talent from outside of the field. Boards also should be populated with strategic thinkers who will charge leadership teams to grow and to adapt to the changing times. Growing, dynamic organizations are going to attract vibrant leaders and board members.       

So as we turn the page into a new year and embark on the year 2020, let us approach our work with renewed energy and enthusiasm for the opportunities ahead. Change can be difficult, but when done right, incredibly rewarding. Wishing you continued success this year and in the decade ahead!

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