U.S. News & World Report has launched a “Best Senior Living” initiative with the goal of releasing inaugural listings for consumers in the first quarter of 2022.
The program will cover individual independent living, assisted living, memory care and continuing care retirement/life plan communities.
Chad Smolinski, chief product officer for U.S. News, told McKnight’s Senior Living that the initiative is a logical step for a company that over the decades has shifted from a news and information publisher to a one with a mission to “help consumers make better decisions.” Today, the brand is known for its lists of hospitals and colleges, among other topics.
“We know from all of our research with consumers — and this is across not just senior living or healthcare, but more broadly — some people are really looking for brands that they trust and brands that they have a longstanding relationship with to help them with a decision process,” he said. “We think that there’s an opportunity in that [senior living] space for us to bring a brand and an approach that doesn’t already exist for consumers.”
Unlike U.S. News’ “Best Nursing Homes” ratings, which incorporate data primarily derived from public sources such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Care Compare program, the core of the methodology for the “Best Senior Living” listings will be surveys of residents and their family members at participating operators, although Smolinski said that U.S. News may identify additional data sources that influence listings. The inaugural listings will have at their core research that takes place between now and the end of the year.
To conduct those surveys, U.S. News has partnered with Activated Insights.
“There are incredible providers in our field transforming people’s lives,” Activated Insights CEO Jacquelyn Kung, DrPH, MBA, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “We want to help those communities get the recognition they deserve and, with U.S. News, help consumers find those communities that best match what they’re looking for.”
2,500 and counting
More than 2,500 individual communities already have committed to participating, Kung said, including properties operated by:
- Anthem Memory Care
- Benchmark Senior Living
- Brookdale Senior Living
- Buckner Retirement Services
- Century Park Associates
- Eclipse Senior Living
- Five Star Senior Living
- Gardant Management Solutions
- Holiday Retirement
- Juniper Communities
- Life Care Services
- MBK Senior Living
- Pegasus Senior Living
- Summit Vista
- Sunrise Senior Living
- WindRiver Companies
C-suite executives from many of those companies provided advice and input into the U.S. News program, as did Argentum President and CEO James Balda, National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care President and CEO Brian Jurutka and co-founder and Strategic Adviser Bob Kramer, and LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan, Kung said. Among changes resulting from the feedback is that results for CCRCs will be presented in two categories, entry fee communities and rental communities, she added.
“We look forward to participating in this initiative to help support consumers with information they need to make important care decisions for their loved ones,” Sunrise Senior Living CEO Jack R. Callison Jr. said. The company, he added, continually seeks opportunities to learn more about the experiences of residents and their families “so that we can continue to improve and seek opportunities to innovate to benefit our customers. We encourage our partners in the industry to join in this effort as we seek to share more information on the positive impact senior living makes in the lives of so many.”
Registration is first step
The first step to participating is to register to take part in the process of surveying residents and their families. Surveys, Kung said, will include the assisted living-related CoreQ questions for residents and families developed by the National Center for Assisted Living as well as other questions about dining, management, services and amenities, and additional topics.
“From an operator perspective, most people will acknowledge resident satisfaction is key to success for any community,” Eclipse Senior Living CEO Kai Hsiao told McKnight’s Senior Living. “At Eclipse, we believe the methodology being used by U.S. News is a great way to get a pulse of what we are doing now — and what we could be doing better — to drive that resident satisfaction. We also believe that U.S. News is a trusted source that would be recognized by residents and family members alike.”
Published results may present communities in tiers — perhaps “best” and “recognized,” Kung said — although Smolinski said that decisions about which questions will be used in the methodology, how questions will be weighted and what the published tiers will be have not been finalized.
“Once we start getting the survey results in and we start combing through that and analyzing it, the editorial and analysis teams will make the determination what those groupings are, but it’s too early to say exactly what,” he said.
Smolinski emphasized, however, that “participating in the survey will allow a community to be eligible to be evaluated, but it does not guarantee that a community will be recognized or identified as high-performing.”
For communities that appear on the website, Kung said, U.S. News is “trying to make it as helpful for consumers as possible.”
Just as a consumer website about restaurants might list what it deems to be the top 10% of places and also might highlight other restaurants known for being family-friendly or being romantic date spots, she said, U.S. News is “going to try to highlight things that each community is known for … in a standard way.”
Communities that earn recognition by U.S. News will be able to point prospective residents and their families to the independent quality assessment, and they will receive branding elements that they can use in their marketing efforts.
For instance, “they’ll have badges on their profiles on U.S. news, which is great for Google searches,” Kung said.
U.S. News typically issues a press release when a listing is released, Smolinski said, and communities will be able to create their own publicity materials, too.
What registration offers
A registration fee for the program will cover the costs of Activated Insights’ administration of the survey and related administrative costs. That fee is $995 for providers with fewer than 1,000 residents, $1,495 for those with 1,000 to 5,999 residents, and $0.25 per resident for providers with 6,000 or more residents.
Scholarships are available for communities that have a financial need. “We don’t want money to be a barrier in any way,” Kung said. She added, however, that the registration fee has not been an issue for any community that has committed to participating to date.
For the registration fee, participants will receive their overall brand scores, based on the survey results, as well as the range of scores by community. They also will receive information about which areas they scored the highest and lowest in.
“The third thing we’re offering for registration is the option to turn on Google reviews so that people who are invited to take your resident and family survey are invited to leave a Google review,” Kung said. “We usually see, when providers turn this on, a 5% to 10% increase in the number of Google reviews that they get, and that helps their Google ranking, because almost 10% of Google’s algorithm is authentic Google reviews.”
U.S. News pages in general tend to perform well in Google searches, she added.
Participants interested in having survey information analyzed to obtain feedback for continuous improvement purposes can have separate discussions with Activated Insights about that possibility.
Growing interest in senior living
The U.S. News program is one of a growing number of recognition programs designed to help senior living communities stand out from their competition as consumers search for options. Fortune’s “Best Workplaces for Aging Services” lists and J.D. Power’s Senior Living Satisfaction Study both launched in 2018, for instance. NRC Health’s “Customer Approved” and “Employee Approved” awards began in 2019, and Caring.com’s “Caring Stars” program has been around since 2012.
Nonetheless, Kung says, the field has room for more.
“There have been, over the last year and a half, different groups of CEOs who have met in this industry and talked about how great it would be for us to get to consumers in a new and positive way,” Kung said. “And so I’m really excited for this opportunity, because it’s a great way to do that.”
Activated Insights also works with Fortune on its “Best Workplaces for Aging Services” lists, which rank entire senior living and skilled nursing companies based on the results of employee surveys. The U.S. News program, by contrast, will recognize individual senior living communities based on resident and family input and will not include ordinal rankings.
“Communities aren’t pitted against each other,” Kung said of the new program. “There aren’t rankings.” Rather, she said, the listings will be “based on what the consumers are saying, community by community.”
From an industry perspective, Eclipse’s Hsiao told McKnight’s Senior Living, “it’s great that a brand like U.S. News is now looking at senior living. It goes to show you how far the industry has come. Not only is it recognized by consumers as an option as one ages, but there’s a growing demand to know what separates the many senior living options out there.”
For more information about the U.S. News “Best Senior Living” program, visit activatedinsights.com/usnews.