Assisted living operators looking to improve residents’ perceptions of their communities should focus on improving the sense of camaraderie there, according to a report released Monday by the American Seniors Housing Association and ProMatura Group.

“Every company probably does different things to try to make people feel welcome when they move in, but this suggests that there are reasons to be operationalizing how you make sure that residents are connected with other residents,” ASHA President David Schless told McKnight’s Senior Living.

To write the 100-page report, titled “People, Place, Programming: Quality of Life in Assisted Living,” Margaret Wylde, Ph.D., and Kristen Paris, Ph.D., surveyed 2,322 assisted living residents in late 2015 and early 2016 about themselves and their experiences living in an assisted living community.

Camaraderie had the highest impact on residents’ perceptions of three key quality indicators: feeling at home, willingness to recommend, and value for the money spent.

It’s “probably not what you would expect to see at the top of the list,” Schless said.

“When you think about all of the things that we focus on as an industry in terms of providing great service and great amenities and a great physical plant, all of those are important, to be sure, but this really identifies the importance of fostering relationships and connections and friendships,” he said. “The study really underscores the opportunity that your staff has at the community level, when somebody moves in, to try to find people whom they might connect with.”

And it’s not just up to the executive director, Schless said. “It’s really having all of your staff be attentive to these things,” he said.

And that includes discouraging unfriendly behavior between residents, Schless said.

“We have residents who may be less than welcoming,” he said. “Not only is it not OK on a personal level, but it’s not good for your business … to allow people to [say], ‘You can’t sit at this table.’ …You don’t see a lot of it, but it’s there, and it’s not good, and it needs to be addressed. It doesn’t just go away on its own.”

Improving the sense of camaraderie among residents, family and employees, Wylde and Paris wrote, should result in the improvement of many perceptions about the community.

“The atmosphere of the community will likely be more comfortable and supportive,” they said, adding that residents probably would have an increased number of friends.

In addition to camaraderie, the key quality indicators of quality of food and staff competency also rated high among residents.

A total of 605 of the residents’ family members also completed surveys similar to the ones completed by the residents. To improve family members’ perceptions, according to the report, operators should address food quality.

“We’ve always known that food is important, and I think to some extent this study underscores the importance of food quality,” Schless said.

Also affecting family members’ ratings the most were housekeepers’ respect of residents’ belongings and staff member knowledge of residents.

The report is available at no charge to ASHA members; non-ASHA members may purchase it for $300 at the organization’s online bookstore.