James Balda gesturing at podium
Argentum President and CEO James Balda delivers remarks Monday at the association’s annual conference. (Photo by Lois Bowers)

PHOENIX—The senior living industry sits “on the precipice of this defining moment with significant challenges but also tremendous opportunities” to tell its story and help millions of older adults “live their best years” in senior living communities, Argentum President and CEO James Balda told those attending a State of the Industry session Monday at the 2024 Senior Living Executive Conference.

Balda pointed to previous research showing the value proposition of senior living, through its cost effectiveness, quality of life, improved outcomes and resident satisfaction

By 2050, the number of older adults needing paid long-term care will double to 27 million. A Genworth Cost of Care survey showed “nothing comes close” to assisted living in providing cost effectiveness — assisted living saves Medicaid $43 billion annually and Medicare $15 billion annually, he said. 

But lawmakers and prospective residents generally don’t understand that value, Balda said. To gain insights into consumer sentiments about senior living, Argentum partnered with data and analytics company AlphaROC and found that 75% of non-residents were not aware of the connection between residing in senior living and quality of care. And more than half of the respondents were unsure whether social interactions improved for older adults as a result of living in senior living communities.

Balda said he sees the opportunity to predict prospect intent and perform personalized engagement as the industry works to tell senior living’s story.

Opportunities come with challenges

But with opportunities come challenges, he said, including ongoing workforce shortages, compounding financial challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation, and public scrutiny. Balda said that recent lay media interest in the industry was “coincidentally timed” and that a US Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing targeted the sector in January. 

That scrutiny, he added, has led to new federal rulemaking that doesn’t make sense for residential care settings such as assisted living. 

“Rules like these and others we’re seeing at the state level threaten to impact the ability of seniors to call our communities home,” Balda said. 

And with the pace of senior living development falling short of increasing demand — by 2040, the industry will need more than $1 trillion in investments to meet growing demand, Balda said — he said that now is not the time to make it more difficult to hire talent and develop communities.

The CEO pointed to several legislative advancements backed by Argentum that are targeting the senior living workforce and access to care issues, including Safeguarding Elderly Needs for Infrastructure and Occupational Resources (SENIOR) Act, the Care Across Generations Act, Expanding Veterans’ Options for Long Term Care Act and the 21st Century Long-Term Care Caucus.

Through the Quality in Assisted Living Collaborative, he said, Argentum, the American Seniors Housing Association, the National Center for Assisted Living and LeadingAge are developing guidance for the industry and resources for operators, regulators, policymakers and other stakeholders about infection control, dementia care and emergency preparedness. And the association is working on a Senior Living Workforce Symposium, bringing together operators, state and workforce associations and policy advocates to address workforce needs and develop pathways to attract, retain and develop talent in the industry. That event will be Aug. 5 and 6 in Arlington, VA, with registration underway.

“The industry has never been under as much scrutiny than in recent months,” Balda said. “Too few know what senior living is and how we support caregivers.”

Argentum, he said, will continue its work toward cost-effective solutions for a rapidly aging population; policies and resources for workforce retention and recruitment; and advocacy for practices, programs, tools and solutions to develop the workforce; increase access to communities; measure what is important to measure, and get the word out about senior living.

Outside of discussing the state of the industry, Balda also acknowledged the individuals who recently completed the association’s Leadership Advancement and Development, or LEAD, program: Paul Brown, Kimberly Dilg, Wendy Dotson, Stephanie Humphreys, Ashlee Jensen, Lisa Onnembo, Eleanor Source, Paula Taylor, Priyanka Tyagi-Lazarte and Elizabeth Walter.

Argentum Board Chair Joel Nelson, CEO of LCS, gave remarks preceding Balda’s talk and said that despite the numerous challenges facing the industry, he is “filled with optimism.”

“We have an opportunity for great progress and innovation,” he said, “and moving forward, as we embrace new technologies, pioneering novel care models … navigating changing workforce trends, which more of that will be coming, and then adapting to the evolving customer preferences, we have a chance to redefine the landscape of senior living for the generations to come.”

Nelson also shared that The Arbor Company President Judd Harper will serve as the next Argentum board chair. 

Award winners

Also Monday, Argentum announced the winners of its Hero and Best of the Best awards, honoring excellence, compassion and dedication, and HAEP All-Stars, recognizing dedication and commitment to advancing the industry. 

Hero Award winners:

  • Andi Walsh, Wellspring Village director at BrightView Westminster Ridge
  • George Silva, resident engagement director, Northbridge Companies
  • Marianne Hohrein, executive director, Stellar Senior Living
  • Mary Gomez, Wharton Sodalis
  • Rob Sampson, director of life enrichment, LCS

Best of the Best Award winners:

  • Belmont Village Senior Living, Belmont Blooms program, which addresses sustainable fashion and environmental challenges caused by fast fashion. 
  • Brookdale Senior Living, Brookdale HealthPlus, which provides a proactive care delivery model for assisted living.
  • Capri Communities, four-day work week initiative
  • Silverado, NEXUS program, a brain health program that addresses the challenges faced in senior living.
  • Vitality Living, EyeWatch Live program, a falls reduction and safety program. 

HAEP All-Stars:

  • Alicia Seepersad, caregiver, Charter Senior Living Cottages of Perry Hall
  • Sara Cobb, senior lead, Charter Senior Living
  • Anita Benhene, CNA, Charter Senior Living Colombia
  • Elizabeth Bowier, caregiver, Charter Senior Living Colombia
  • Darrell Pink, CNA, Virginia Health Services
  • Tennille Warren, CNA, Virginia Health Services
  • Rebecca Steele, care coordinator, The Hickman Group

Argentum said that the conference had attracted 2,000 registrants. The meeting continues through Wednesday.