Wayne Langley

LeadingAge PA is well known for an outstanding annual conference. In 2017, it only bolstered its reputation further with a well-organized and highly educational event. The Varsity team was out in full force at this year’s conference, meeting with old friends, making new ones and keeping abreast of the changes in the senior services industry. As I reflect on the event, I find that I had three takeaways that will certainly impact how I approach those we serve and their residents.

1) Residential living will give way to more in-home services.

James Orlikoff’s presentation on the shifting macroeconomics of health care and the shifting demographics of aging services was incredibly profound. During his presentation, he discussed how the United States has become mired in the current health care system we have and what impact it will have on the future of senior services. What really drove his point home, however, was the story of his own father who eschewed a retirement community until the very last minute, preferring instead to live at home with a caregiver. Not only was this option less expensive, but it also provided the peace of living your last days in your home. This is the type of care that many are going to begin seeking out. If senior living providers aren’t taking these desires into account, they may quickly find themselves left behind. As one colleague put it, “I didn’t like hearing what he had to say, but I needed to hear it. Things are going to change.”

2) Senior living providers must become more transparent.

Over the course of several presentations throughout the week, I was struck by how often the word “transparent” kept popping up. Whether the topic was crisis communications, survey results, marketing materials or the relationship with your board, communities must work to become as transparent as possible. In today’s social climate, where surveys and 990s rule the day, organizations cannot try to hide their foibles and hope no one finds out. Recognizing your challenges up front — and providing a plan to address them in a timely manner — is what’s expected. If there are issues at your community, whether real or perceived, act now to address them and, if needed, bring in an outside professional to help.

3) Community culture can’t be forced.

Much discussion was had regarding the culture of senior living providers —from how they treat their residents and staff to the impact they have in their local communities. These cultures are often quite strong, with well-established missions, values and goals. Increasingly, potential residents aren’t just evaluating the pricing scheme and floor plans of a prospective community, but also the culture of life there. While your culture and values may be very important to you, imposing them on potential residents could quickly become a turn-off. This isn’t to say that strong values are bad. Rather, we encourage you to better understand those values and be ready to articulate how residents of any background can embrace them. As James Orlikoff said in his presentation:

“Those senior services providers were quick to tell us what they were about. They told us about their missions and values. They were proud of the cultures they created. But not one of them stopped to ask my father about his values and what he wanted. It was a ‘take it or leave it’ proposition. He chose to leave it and go out on his terms.”

We certainly enjoyed #Connect17 with our LeadingAge PA friends. Kudos to the organizers, directors and staff, who created a fantastic event that certainly will change the way nonprofit senior service providers in Pennsylvania approach resident care!