Thursday's opening session as interpreted by an illustrator.

The secret to future success in senior living? The answer may be as simple and difficult as finding the right fit.

That central message repeatedly has emerged during the 2016 NIC Spring Investment Forum, which ends Friday.

“You need to have a conscious strategy for how you are positioning [your organization],” said Robert G. Kramer, CEO of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care.  

Finding that best approach, however, will be challenged as various payment sources continue to favor top-shelf services at discount prices.

That’s one reason why operators increasingly will need to rely on analytics to define and defend their advantages, said Dan Mendeslon, CEO of Avalere Health, a keynote speaker at Thursday’s opening session.

Mendelson sees the Medicare Advantage model increasingly determining how various players — including insurers, acute care hospitals, post-acute facilities and assisted living communities — find their sweet spots.

Despite the many uncertainties ahead, Mendelson sees a viable role for assisted living operators. He noted that such communities are well-positioned to manage patients/residents with memory care needs and other challenges that can complicate treatment plans.

“The beauty of assisted living is that, while it is relatively unregulated, it’s well-positioned to deliver value,” he noted.

Still, a real concern exists among many smaller operators that many of the things that have historically made assisted living attractive — such as preserving resident choice and autonomy — might be compromised. Some also are speculating that the assisted living model might bifurcate into two general channels: one focused on healthcare, the other emphasizing housing and hospitality services.

Among the advice doled out to assisted living operators: take an active leadership role, have well-functioning electronic health records, network with hospitals and other possible population-based plan partners, commit to upgraded staff training and employ evidence-based care transitions interventions.