Argentum C-Suite panel on stage
From left: Doris-Ellie Sullivan, Adam Kaplan, Stephanie Harris and moderator Mercedes Kerr discuss pressing issues at the 2023 Argentum Senior Living Executive Conference in New Orleans. (Photo credit: Pierce Harman / HMP Services)

NEW ORLEANS—The pandemic upended the senior living business model, but it wasn’t all bad, according to a panel of executives at the 2023 Argentum Senior Living Executive Conference this week.

After business was “blown up overnight,” Arrow Senior Living CEO Stephanie Harris said, many organizations spent the past couple of years figuring out the new normal. Part of that effort has been focusing on new consumer and employee expectations.

“How do we flip things upside down, turn things around, make new formations?” Harris said. “It’s the silver lining from COVID.”

Tapping into technology

Doris-Ellie Sullivan, president of Retirement Unlimited Inc., said that residents were fearful during the pandemic, so management took the opportunity to spend a weekend at a community and learned how various systems worked — or didn’t work — in practice. That effort led the company to tap into technology.

Belmont Village Senior Living President Mercedes Kerr, who moderated the C-suite panel, said that the pandemic helped her company find its “digital voice.” Belmont Village, she said, had to find a different way to communicate with prospective residents and employment candidates. 

“The baby boomers will not move into the same place their parents moved into, from a design and technology perspective,” Sullivan said. 

Most of Belmont Village’s workforce, Kerr said, consists of members of Gen Z and millennials, and they have varying expectations for technology and scheduling flexibility.

Sullivan said that younger workers helped RUI adopt technology, including an app the company launched just before the pandemic.

Technology is informing everything Arrow Senior Living does, Harris said. For instance, she said, the company set up a “hackathon” for employees, challenging teams to create solutions to problems. The winning team built an app, called The Archer, that allows residents to view schedules or menus as well as communicate with each other.

“We have to figure out ways to get out of the way and let our teams really drive innovation,” Harris said.

Healthcare as value proposition

Hospitality, design and innovation are bringing new residents into communities, the executives said. Part of that innovation is providing healthcare in senior living communities, to meet consumer expectations.

Solera Senior Living founder and CEO Adam Kaplan said that the company launched an in-person primary care clinic at one of its communities, in Austin, TX. The result was improved outcomes for residents and relationships with families. The clinic also provided the community a new revenue source, he said.

“It’s where we should be moving directionally as an industry,” Kaplan said. “Communities are driving all of that value creation.”

Harris said that it is “amazing” how much healthcare has wound its way into senior living. She agreed with Kaplan that communities can partner with medical providers, creating new revenue streams and establishing vendor relationships that will provide an investment in the community.

“We need to think about how we can demonstrate our value to the healthcare system,” Kaplan said. “We need to start to be proactive and intentional about that right now; we need to demonstrate how we can improve outcomes and how we can deliver our services at a lower cost relative to the other options.”

Assisted living’s value proposition, he said, is compelling, with communal senior living the best way to deliver services and care to the older adult demographic.

To that end, Kaplan said, the industry needs to think about whether it is going to remain private-pay for the long term. He predicted that assisted living and memory care will move out of the private-pay model and will be reimbursed for its value creation.

Also during the conference:

The 2023 conference ended Wednesday. Next year’s conference will be held April 29 to May 1 in Phoenix.

Related Articles