John Lariccia headshot
John Lariccia

It’s an exciting time for senior living.

As we all know, and as was highlighted across the press, occupancy across every level of care hit all-time lows in early 2021. Many families brought their loved ones home due to the threat of the virus on older Americans. New lead volume slowed to a trickle. And in some geographies, new move-ins were halted.

But all signs now are pointed up. New lead volume is skyrocketing. Move-outs have dramatically slowed, especially among voluntary move-outs. And, as a result, occupancy is rebounding with little signs of slowing.

Our data, collected from more than 1,500 communities across the United States through our customer relationship software platform, paints a particularly encouraging picture.

Since January 2021, occupancy has rebounded across independent living, assisted living and memory care, with all three levels of care at or close to 80%. And our data show that the most dramatic improvement has been in independent living, which has improved occupancy by an incredible 13 percentage points in the past 21 months.

It’s clear older adults missed the community offered by senior living. They could replicate some of the offerings with DoorDash and Instacart, but nothing replaces the human interaction you have when living among your peers. The isolation brought by COVID-19 highlighted this need, and people rushed back into the market.

What’s more exciting for operators is there’s no sign of slowing. Occupancy gains have continued month over month for the past year.

Multiple forces are fueling this rebound. New inquiries per community per month have almost doubled from pandemic lows. At the same time, lead banks have ballooned. Many older adults and their families started the search over the past three years and stopped mid-search. Those prospects ended up in lead banks. Most still are viable future move-ins, and every day we see new residents who have been in the sales cycle for hundreds of days.

Operators, though, still have challenges to reach — and then exceed — historical occupancy marks. All of those new inquiries need to be met, and consumers have a heightened expectation of instant access. At the same time, the hundreds of prospects in the decision-making process need to be fostered, educated and brought along. And all of this with record levels of attrition and turnover at the community.

Many operators are turning to technology to augment and amplify their teams’ efforts. Marketing automation platforms to nurture relationships. Videoconferencing to make tours easier to offer than ever. World-class CRMs to keep all of the efforts coordinated and on track. 

With those new tools, operators can gather and analyze information on an unprecedented level, and sales teams can personalize messages and provide a unique experience for each customer, taking into account the stage of their purchase cycle.

The future is bright for senior living. Consumers desire the value proposition more than ever. But as every operator knows, occupancy doesn’t just happen. Team members need to create the time to be responsive and build relationships to have a bridge from home to the community. With the right technology, deployed in the right way, that bright future can be now.

John Lariccia is CEO and co-founder of WelcomeHome Software, an advanced customer relationship management platform for senior housing operators.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living marketplace column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

Have a column idea? See our submission guidelines here.