Takeaways Archives – Varsity Branding

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At last week’s Sales & Marketing Roundtable, we had a very special guest. We celebrated Martha B.’s 105th birthday! Martha has been an independent living resident of Parkway Village in Little Rock, Arkansas, for over 17 years.

After we sang Happy Birthday to her, Martha shared her perspective on life at a senior living community, her fondest memories, and some wise words on how to live a vibrant life, no matter your age.

Here are some questions Martha answered from participants, who were participating virtually everywhere on zoom.

What’s your favorite thing about being 105?
“I like to watch my grandkids and great-grandkids. It’s fun to watch them and see what they do. I have seven total grandchildren, and three are married now. I like to play bridge. But my big problem is being able to see, so I can’t do that as much any longer. Getting around is harder, too, but I always make it to bingo.”

What is the secret of staying so young and vibrant?”
“Well, I’ve always been active. I was always active in organizations at church. I knew the local high school principal well. After my children were grown, I went to work over there as a secretary for 22 years. Then, my husband had a small business and I kept the books. So, I did two or three jobs over the years and kept real active. I play bridge a lot, and I’ve always loved knitting and embroidery. After I retired, I did a lot of that.”

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen over the course of your life?”
“I’ve seen the invention of radios, TV, cars — my first car was a Ford that my dad had to crank in the front to go forward! That was the first car I can remember.  I’ve also seen a lot of change in home appliances. I didn’t have a washing machine or a dryer growing up, and those kinds of things are wonderful to have around the house.”

Do you have any fond memories of the last 105 years you would like to share?
“I have just enjoyed my life. I’ve always gone to Sunday school and church, and I’ve always stayed involved there. I love knitting, I do a lot of that at church. I play lots of bridge, and they say that’s very good for your mind. And I try to play bingo! When I moved here, I was very active and knew everybody and enjoyed all of the activities. Nowadays, things have slowed down because I can’t see as well, but I would still be doing everything if I could.”

What is the biggest historical event that stands out to you in the 105 years you’ve lived?
“Oh, goodness. It’s hard to think of one … I watched our church burn. I lived close enough to see the smoke. When I went over with my family, I saw it burning. That was ‘history’ to me.”

What is life like there at Parkway Village?
“It’s great, they’ve really taken care of me here. It’s been a perfect place for me. I moved here after I developed macular degeneration and I could no longer drive, so my son said I needed to be somewhere with people. Since I moved here, everyone has been wonderful to me. We have excellent security. The maintenance team comes as soon as you call. I have a housekeeper who comes to my apartment once a week, but other than that, I take care of myself and live independently. And I hope I can keep doing so!”

Do you have any advice for us on helping people make the decision to move to a community?
“People always say, ‘I’m not ready.’ But what I try to tell them is, ‘You will never be ready.’ But you just have to pick up and move. My son is a psychiatrist, and he made sure I left home, because I wouldn’t have been able to get along when I couldn’t drive anymore. So, you need to move somewhere to be with others. I think a lot of people wait until it’s too late.”

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
“I wanted to mention that Boston University has contacted me. They do work for a lot of senior organizations. They asked me to volunteer for their Alzheimer’s research, so I’m working for them. They have a number of people in my age group in the process of testing.”

Happy birthday to Martha! We are so grateful that you were able to join us on the roundtable today. You are a testament to all we do!

Please join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtables on Thursdays at noon ET, 11 a.m. CT and 9 a.m. PT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

During the past quarter of the Varsity virtual roundtables, some common themes, challenges and frustrations seemed to come up over and over with our participants across the country. Here are some of the solutions they gave during our weekly brainstorming sessions.

l. How do you address staffing issues?

Many participants say staffing is a huge issue. “We have only been able to staff half the number of people that we actually need,” said one marketer. “It’s been very, very difficult to hire more people.”

      Solutions:

  • Adjust compensation/provide sign-on bonuses

“Our staffing issues seem to be getting better slowly,” said one participant. “We’ve adjusted compensation to meet demand.”

  • Brainstorm new tactics

“We have a task force that meets biweekly, and we’ve brainstormed new ways to recruit and retain,” said a marketer. “We’ve implemented gestures such as pizza parties and other events to show our appreciation to our employees.”

  • Recruit displaced food service workers

“One organization recruited by going after the displaced and unhappy food service workers and housekeepers from the service sector,” shared Seth Anthony of LW Consulting. “Their ad was basically: ‘Do you want steady hours and benefits that you’re not getting at the restaurant? Come work in senior living!’ They actually managed to really backfill a lot of their staff by using that message and hammering it home.”

  • Provide transportation

“I knew a place that offered employee transportation, where the routes were mapped in tandem with their staffing needs,” said a participant. “They provided the transport in urban areas, which allowed them to hire people who they would not have reached otherwise.”

  • Plan innovative career fairs

“I saw somebody who did a career fair with a food truck,” shared another marketer. “I thought that it was creative and fun to combine the two events.”

  • Get on TikTok

“We have a few employees at our building who graduated from dining services to becoming CNAs,” shared a participant. “They noted that being on TikTok is ideal for reaching the younger demographic.”

2. Should you put pricing on your website?

“We have put all of our pricing on our website, everything in detail for all levels of care,” a marketer shared. “We’ve done that for many, many years, and none of our competition around here has any of their pricing on the web — other than they have a ‘starting at’ or a basic range. We constantly hear from people that come in to see us that say, ‘I’m so glad you have that on your website because I knew exactly what I was getting into when I came here.’”

“I always use the analogy of when you’re going to a restaurant and you Google them, you look at the menu and they have no prices, you’re probably not going to go there,” shared another marketer. “You’re probably going to just move on until someone’s a little more transparent.”

3. How do you handle events in a changing COVID-19 landscape?

“If you have the ability to hold events in person, you may be able to offer hybrid options if people are still sensitive to the COVID-19 issue, even if regulations say that in person is safe,” shared Derek Dunham.

Another idea? Record the event. “We did a four-part dementia virtual series, and we recorded them,” said a participant from Washington state. “And we just had an email from somebody who couldn’t attend in person. They commented on how nice it was to be able to view the seminar recordings at their own pace.”

4. How do you encourage people to move from their homes when they don’t feel ready?

I’ve had my directors use the phrase, ‘Beat the clock.’ If someone is reticent, or their body language is closed off, the directors will go into the ‘beat the clock’ conversation,” said a participant from Pennsylvania. “We phrase it as such: that they have to roll the dice, and hope they do ok in the future. We give them the statistics and introduce the gamble of risk and uncertainty.”

“One of our campuses has a ridiculously long waitlist. We initiated this new program called ‘Get Ready to Say Yes,’” shared a marketer in Washington state. “We do meetings with the people on our waitlist, so that when the time comes when we call, they’re prepared to say yes. We’ve had realtors and downsizers come in. It’s a way to engage waitlisters and get them ready to go.”

5. What skill sets do you look for in a sales counselor?

“All of our sales counselors are over 60, in their sixties and seventies,” said a marketer in Washington state. “I think that having the life experience and empathy, and having gone through it with their own parents as hands-on market experience, is so valuable.”

“I agree, I think the biggest deal is with the relationship,” said another participant. “We are very lucky here to have great salespeople with diverse backgrounds. They can learn the product, but you can’t teach that relationship-building aspect.”

“A couple communities I know had luck hiring people who were previously college admission counselors,” shared Seth Anthony. “I think it’s because it’s similar, where they’re selling something big, multi-dollar, kind of intangible, and heavy on their brand that comes with a lifestyle.”

Look for our next monthly roundtable recap in your inbox. Until then, please be sure to join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET, 11 a.m. CT and 9 a.m. PT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

The Varsity team attended the 2022 LeadingAge PA Annual Conference June 22–24 in Hershey, PA. In case you weren’t able to be there, here are some of the top issues we heard about at sessions and in conversations around the conference.

1.Workforce issues

As with all other industries, the aging services field is having challenges finding good people and also retaining current staffing. Several communities noted that they have experienced situations where people have been scheduled for interviews and simply didn’t show up. Communities are looking to do outreach with students and interns, as well as expand marketing and advertising initiatives aimed at employment.

2. Transforming spaces/amenities to keep up with community expansions

Overall space planning is important. While focusing on a new expansion and new spaces, it’s an opportunity to reimagine existing spaces for new uses and to present a fresh look across the campus. For example, one community mentioned that they are opening a new building, including a new auditorium and wellness center, and they are now building out the existing fitness center and auditorium as a new dining venue and pub, as well as other common use spaces.

3. Opportunities for growth through acquisitions, affiliations and mergers

All organizations are trying to stay profitable as they navigate the current landscape. Acquisitions, affiliations and mergers may present opportunities for communities to grow and be well positioned for the future, in the face of new for-profit rental communities.

4. Compliance and IT

The technology at a senior living community, just like at any organization, is vulnerable to malware attacks. We heard about the importance of protecting the system through cybersecurity. Everything from a smart light bulb to an adult child connecting to Wi-Fi can be a gap in the armor, and can create complications for IT from a security perspective. 

5. Midyear rate increases

Annual rate increases are standard for communities, but given the current environment of inflation and need for PPE (along with other, unexpected expenses), communities are considering — and some are implementing — midyear rate increases.

6. Innovations in technology

Demonstrated technology included robot-like Roombas that serve food, in-room Wi-Fi service providers that residents can log on to, and listings of the community’s activities that families can access through their TV screens. These innovations for the future can revitalize senior living, but there are challenges in implementing them for less tech-savvy residents and communities.

7. Digital marketing techniques for generating new leads

Lifestyle assessments, surveys and quizzes can effectively reach leads who are not yet ready to communicate directly with a sales counselor. Questions can be tailored to the navigation bar of the community’s site, the blog content they accompany, etc. — and, of course, can capture user information for future engagement. Examples of survey topics include: “Is it the right time for senior living?” “Is this dementia?” “Is it still safe for you to drive?”

 

One of the most mispronounced words of 2021 is disrupting senior living communities in 2022.

Near the beginning of December, our participants had heard about the Omicron variant, but it wasn’t impacting them much yet. One marketer said, “The last data I heard was yesterday in our area that there were only nine cases of COVID-19 in our hospital, which is the lowest it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic.”

Another participant commented, “Right now we’re preparing for ‘just in case’ mode, making sure our communities and departments have rapid tests and enough PPE.”

Even during the second week of December, the focus was on planning and throwing holiday parties, not on Omicron. One roundtable participant said, “We’re having all kinds of holiday activities, and it has been fun to come together as a community to do this.”

And when we asked if the Omicron variant was an issue? Responses included:  “I haven’t heard a thing” and “not yet.”

The Holiday Gift Nobody Wanted

Later in December, concern began to mount. “We’re getting anxious about the Omicron variant,” said one participant. “We’re asking families to be cautious and test before visiting. We’re reloading on PPE and N95 masks to use in the buildings for a few weeks. We’re trying to keep things safe through this surge.”

A roundtable member in Arkansas commented, “A lot more folks are taking it more seriously. People are masking up more in the community.” A participant in Illinois added:  “There is an uptick in the Omicron variant around here. We’re offering free testing for the community.” From Wisconsin, we heard: “We’re going to get through Christmas and keep moving forward until after the holiday. We held a clinic last week where 75 people got boosted, including both residents and employees. Everyone is nervous about what’s going to happen with the new variant.”

New Year, New Cases

By the end of the month, communities were shutting down New Year’s Eve parties. One couple received a celebration kit complete with filet mignon, a dessert sampler and party hats after the community’s bash was canceled due to an outbreak among the staff.

Now that Varsity has held its first post-holiday roundtable on January 6, the situation has blown up. With Omicron surging, many communities feel like it’s Groundhog Day — they closed, they opened, and now they’re closed again.

One marketer commented, “COVID-19 has definitely hit here for staff as well as our residents, and all of our areas of long-term care as well as independent living. All of our events where we’re bringing people on-site have been canceled at this time. Private appointments or tours are on a case-by-case basis.”

Reports were similar at another community: “We’ve been hit hard with lots of cases of COVID-19. The state has surged in a big way, like everyone. We’re owned by a hospital system and they offered a drive-through testing to the community. 42% tested positive.”

What Are Your Resolutions for 2022? 

With communities across the country dealing with Omicron, one participant said, “I hear a lot of defeat in people’s voices. We can be very grateful for a lot.”

Another marketer commented, “It’s been a challenging time but there is a lot to be thankful for. We have had a really good year and I think we can have that again. I think the pandemic has caused a lot of fear, but I think it’s more about being cautious. Another participant added, “Once people got vaccinated, things got into a bit more normal living. And now it’s taken a big swing back right now. It isn’t going to be like this forever.”

Some roundtable members felt that we’ll get used to it. “Hopefully it will be like the flu in the future and we just get a booster shot, just like the flu has a different variant.” And one last comment: “I think we will just start accepting this new reality for restrictions for safety.”

Let’s all resolve to think positive and support one another in 2022! We’re looking forward to coming together this week. You’re welcome to join our Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET, 11 a.m. CT and 9 a.m. PT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

This November, many participants in our Thursday roundtables commented that leads are still pouring in. One marketer said, “We’re getting inquiries like crazy.” Another agreed, “It’s been our strongest year in 10 years.”

But even the busiest communities are working hard to capitalize on every lead and plan for the future. While other people were getting ready to pass the potatoes, our participants were passing around both new and tried-and-true sales and marketing approaches that are working for them:

1. Keep resident encounters casual. “We are seeing success with holding more casual events where prospects can mingle with residents versus having a more formal resident panel (which can be viewed as too scripted), so prospects can ask more specific questions about things not being presented here.”

2. Stay in touch. “There are usually about eight to nine articles in the marketing newsletter highlighting all the things we’re doing within the community,” said one participant. “Our sales team says prospects comment on it all the time.”

3. Stop talking, start listening. “People need someone who listens, not somebody who talks,” said a marketer. “I worked with a sales guy who was a master of the art of silence. He’d ask a question, and he’d stop talking. If you can stop talking long enough, the other person will start talking and open up.”

4. Overcome objections. Now that COVID-19 is slowing down, people are back to the classic excuses for not making the move. Here are some comebacks our participants found effective:

Objection: “I’m not ready yet.”

Answer: “I completely understand; however, can I ask what your hesitation is?”

Objection: “Wow, there’s a lot of old people here.”

Answer: “That’s because we take such good care of people, they live to a ripe old age.”

5. Update your floor plans. “We’re filling larger apartments, but it’s the smaller apartments that are harder to sell,” said one marketer. “We’re having work done, taking a wall down to make a bigger living space. People want their kitchen table, they don’t need that second bedroom.”

6. Offer trial stays. “There is a program that a community offers where if they stay one month, they get the second one free. Marketing it that way has been successful for them,” said a participant. “There is also a community that does a Safe & Warm program, which has been very successful for them when offering people to come in and live at the community on a trial basis during the winter months.”

7. Automate insights. “We’re trying to wrap up and create a sense of urgency now, so people move in the beginning of the year,” said one marketer. “We integrated some automated marketing in our database, and that’s really delivered some tangible results from our sales team. It’s giving us insights into our inquires and visits to our websites.

We’d like to leave you with one final thought: Normalize life again. “We need to remind people that there is a life to be lived,” said one participant. Another said, “It’s not entirely business as normal, but the more we act like it is, the better.”

Look for our next monthly roundtable recap in your inbox. Until then, please be sure to join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET, 11 a.m. CT and 9 a.m. PT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

 

 

The treats for senior living communities this October included lots of interest from prospects. The tricky part? Staffing issues and COVID-19-related restrictions made it tough for some organizations to take advantage of the momentum.

The Treats: Lots of Tours, Applications and Deposits 

A participant in Washington state said, “Four of our areas (apartments, memory care, assisted living and duplexes) are all 100% full, and I’m not sure that’s ever been the case.” Another marketer in California agreed that business continues to be strong. “We’re going to have 10 move-ins in October. It’s really exciting to see.”  And there’s good news from Arkansas as well:  “Sales for our new neighborhood are good, with 43 of 53 units sold.”

Communities are also trying creative new tactics for bringing in business. One participant from Wisconsin said, “We’ve been really rocking and rolling. For the first time, we offered a promotion of 10% off the entrance fee to people who sign up now, and we’ve had lots of success with it.”

The Tricks: COVID-19 Restrictions and Staff Shortages

Scary Shutdowns 

Something that could scare off prospects: Communities shutting down to visitors because of local COVID-19 restrictions. One marketer shared, “We’re talking about taking everything online again.” A second participant said, “We’re unable to do events, so it’s frustrating.” And a third marketer added, “I’m seeing more restrictions. It’s sad having to see people tap the brakes.”

In some cities, however, it’s nearly business as usual. One participant from Virginia said, “Our team members are all fully vaccinated — it’s a requirement, and I think that’s helped because a lot of prospects asked that question. We’ve been busy giving tours and adding people to the waiting list.”

Creative Hybrid Events

One way of solving the dilemma when prospects are worried about attending in-person seminars: Hold a hybrid event. “As far as marketing events, we have a hybrid event — in person and on Zoom as well, so people can choose to do either,“ a participant shared.

Industry-Wide Staff Shortages

Staffing shortages continue to be a roadblock to sales. One marketer shared, “We’re getting calls and inquiries, but we don’t have enough staff to keep up with the volume …  we had to turn down seven people last week who wanted to move in!” A participant in Arkansas agreed. “Our nursing home is desperately looking for staff and we’re having a difficult time finding applicants.” Another marketer shared, “This is the #1 thing on everyone’s minds — how will we deal with this?” One final comment: “We have a waitlist that’s two pages long. We don’t have the staff at the higher levels of care to cover all the interest.”

Innovative Solutions for Recruiting Staff

When we asked participants if they’d found any effective methods for recruitment in these challenging times, they shared these creative ideas:

  • Drive-through career fairs: “We had another drive-through career fair in August, which was successful. They have been fun and an interesting way to get people onto campus.”
  • Diversity and inclusion: “We have a resident committee here working hard at looking at diversity and inclusion.”
  • Salary hikes: “The board moved our minimum starting wage to $15 per hour, so some will get up to a 40% raise in November.”
  • Using staffing firms: Several firms participated in the recent LeadingAge conference, including: Fusion Medical Staffing, Gale Healthcare Solutions, Hireology, OnShift, Intelycare, Prime Time Healthcare  and ShiftMed.  (Varsity is not endorsing any of these firms; rather, merely providing information.)

Holiday Tactics for Targeting Adult Children

Heading into the holidays, some communities are targeting adult children (but not necessarily with in-person events). One participant shared, “We changed our media messages to target adult children more.” Another marketer said, “We put together a one-sheet guide of tips on how to talk about things with your parents.” A third community published an article in a local magazine about ways to connect with adult children who are raising their kids and caring for their parents as well.

Notes From the 2021 LeadingAge Conference

Held October 24-27 in Atlanta, Georgia, the first LeadingAge conference since COVID-19 had lighter attendance than usual, but some fascinating presentations. The major focus? “Technology, technology, technology,” said Derek Dunham, who attended with his Varsity colleagues. For instance, Amazon launched its new senior living product with an enterprise solution. You can read about it in this Senior Housing News article. Varsity, sister firm WildFig Data and Ingleside also presented a session with a technology focus: “Predictive Analytics: Connecting Past Performance to Future Success.”

Look for our next monthly roundtable recap in your inbox. Until then, please be sure to join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET, 11 a.m. CT and 9 a.m. PT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

Guest post by Andrew Leech, Vice President, Operations Management Services, Greystone Communities

Today Andrew Leech is expanding on some of the ideas he shared in his recent presentation at The Greystone Event 2021, “The Art of the Pivot: Addressing Operational Challenges.”

With all the tragedy that has come with the pandemic, we’ve learned a couple of things. In a 24/7 operation, we never have the opportunity to retool and reopen and reboot. COVID-19 has been awful and terrible for our residents and industry, but one of the positives coming out the other side is the lessons we’ve learned. It would be a real shame to go back to the old normal.

Some of the lessons communities have learned:

  • Residents can adopt and use technology far faster than we gave them credit for.
  • Society is more open to doing things a little differently now than it did a year-and-a-half ago, so why waste this opportunity to improve and secure the future of our communities?
  • In every facet of our operations, now is the time to change.

One caveat: There is a strong regulatory component in what we do, which means some things are not going to change as fast as we’d like them to. Guidelines and restrictions are going to impact our changes.

Here are some areas that I feel communities should be looking at:

Recruiting

We’ve had hiring challenges in health care for many, many years. There has been a nursing shortage and not enough nurses to replace those that left. Now the challenges are even greater, with other industries raising their wages during COVID-19. How are we going to compete for talent with other sectors? How can we help lower costs to help pay for talent? We’ve often pitched how strong our operations were, saying things like: “You would be lucky to come and work for such a fine organization that treats employees well.” In this market, rather than say, “You’d be fortunate to work for us,” it’s a natural shift to say, “We would really love the opportunity to have you be a part of our team.”

We need to change our approach to how we’re recruiting talent in a market this tight. We spend an awful lot of time and money to attract residents and get them through the sales process. We need to start to take some of those funds and have the same vested interest in appealing to employees. Some specific tactics communities can implement:

  • Pay for time spent during the screening process
  • Make sure your community has a director level position for HR
  • Partner with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO)
  • Text candidates within five minutes of their application hitting the portal (the younger generation doesn’t read emails)
  • Offer seven days on and seven days off in skilled nursing care, or four days of 10-hour shifts — think creatively about how to offer work/life balance.

Retention

We have teams that have been through hell and back during the last 18 months to two years. We need to show them that they’re appreciated for the sacrifices they’ve made. And we also have to be realistic about our expectations for retention: A year for a certified nurse’s aide or a server is actually quite good.

Ideas for retention will vary in every single market. Offering employee meals is a great start — but we can’t just stop there. Here are some other options, many of which are also strong recruitment tools:

  • Retention bonuses. We believe that a better approach to bonuses is to space them out and incentivize even further someone’s desire to stay with the company. Part of the bonuses may come at three months, six months, nine months, a year.
  • Day care. Some communities are looking at spaces on their properties for day care and figuring how to license and run a center. We’re in the research stages, and I do have leaders of communities telling me that day care would make a huge impact. Having day care on-site simplifies people’s lives. Imagine being able to drop your child right at your workplace and go into your job each day.
  • Flexible schedules. Gone are the days that if an employee can’t work weekends, they can’t be a part of your team. Now it can be mutually beneficial to be flexible to meet the needs of each individual. We can give team members the life balance that they’re looking for, and they can provide excellent experiences to the residents.
  • Attractive employee lounges and locker rooms. We need to evaluate employee areas and solicit team feedback to determine if they are welcoming.
  • Fee structure reviews and involvement of residents. COVID-19 strengthened that desire to help, because folks have very strong ties to members of the staff and their teams. The pandemic made us all re-evaluate what’s important. The residents have realized that their communities are not the same without these amazing team members who are working hard and sacrificing day in and day out. We had actually proposed a rate increase at one of our communities, and one of the members of the resident council came to the director and asked whether that number was going to be sufficient to pay their staff a living wage. He was invested in making sure the staff were well taken care of.

Infection Control

Because of the extra precautions communities have taken during COVID-19, we’ve had tremendous success in keeping the flu at bay this past year. Through tools like visitation restrictions, PPE and social distancing, we’ve shown we can control infections very, very effectively. That’s going to be the expectation moving forward. The challenge is, how do we eliminate the spread of infection, while still having communities that are more open with visitors?

Finding Efficiencies

Here’s an example of how we need to work more efficiently: If you have a housekeeper going to three different floors in a main building, as well as villas and cottages and garden homes, are you sacrificing a lot of time and energy in having that person traveling from place to place? This is now an opportunity to reboot services like housekeeping. Let’s break out the community in a way that is far more efficient for travel time. We’re looking for little opportunities to do things smarter.

Dining Innovations

Before COVID-19, dining in was not heavily utilized — and was not experientially the best. What we did learn during the pandemic was that there’s a way to do it well and inexpensively. We strongly believe, moving forward, that there is going to be demand for in-room dining to augment regular dining. We see this through the success of services like Grubhub, Door Dash and Uber Eats. Customers are looking to have great dining experiences with gourmet food in the comfort of their own homes — and seniors are going to be no different.

Stay Virtual

What we’ve learned from our residents’ eager adoption of technology is that virtual programs will always be in demand. Make sure your community keeps up by continuing to offer them and learning to do them better.

These are just small examples of how the need to change runs throughout the entire operation. It could be that in five to 10 years, our community buses will be driving themselves. Something along those lines is coming, so we’d better be ready.

People are more receptive to new ideas than they have been in years, so let’s take advantage of that opportunity. We don’t want to lose the chance to change and go back to doing things the way we’ve done for years and years and years. However, we also don’t want people to run to their communities with all these ideas and try to cram them all in at once. That’s not going to be successful for them. Each market may have different demands.

Fast and Simple Changes

Our focus is on providing small takeaways that everyone can do something with. For example, when was the last time you did a wage analysis in your market? If it’s a year old, the analysis is highly out of date. If it’s not done in the last 90 days, you can’t trust it.

Those are quick, easy things you can do: reviewing fees, involving residents, reassessing culture, looking for opportunities to be more efficient — those are actions that would be advantageous to any operation. It’s important to do the work to figure out what’s going to be most impactful to your team and operations. Now is the time to start to ask these questions and look into these issues.

A Short Window of Opportunity

You have a window of time to make these changes. You have receptive residents, prospective residents and staff. The trick is, you can’t sit on your hands and not do anything or the window will close. Eventually people will wipe these circumstances from their memories and we’ll continue on like we did before.

Our call to action is:Please don’t do nothing.” If you do nothing, you’re going to be left behind. You can’t waste this opportunity, and if you do waste it, it will have longstanding effects on the financial health and stability of your community for years to come.

Seeing the Glass Half Full

I’d like to end this on an optimistic note. Should we feel optimistic or pessimistic about the future, knowing all that has happened? I choose to look at this through a positive lens. We have had some teams that went through some extremely difficult, once-in-a-lifetime challenges, and the people who have stuck around have built more stamina and become more capable, more resilient and more optimistic. We now have these folks on our team who have managed through a huge crisis, and they will be able to draw on these experiences should, and when, the next crisis comes along. This is an industry that has been challenged by many, many things, from 9/11 to the Great Recession and now COVID-19. There are always going to be challenges. We need to take away what we excelled in and what we learned during this crisis to help our operations get stronger and more secure in the future. We believe that the future is bright.

The senior living industry is regaining speed after COVID-19, with some good surprises — and some challenges. One participant had a conversation recently in which she compared the current industry environment to a train, saying, “It takes a little time to get it going, but we continue to chug along, and we’re getting there.”

Read on for 7 takeaways from a month of conversations with communities across the country.

1.  Leads are flooding in, especially in independent living.

Communities are seeing a lot of activity — even if they’re not holding events yet.

2. The American Rescue Plan gives communities the opportunity to get funds from local government.

A lot of dialogue this month centered around the  American Rescue Plan and how senior living communities can get a stake of those funds. The money can go to any community, but nonprofit organizations have a strong story to tell. So if you fall into this category and serve seniors, you are positioned well to receive funding, as long as you know who to ask, according to Seth Anthony, a roundtable participant and Marketing & Business Development Manager at LW Consulting.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to receive these funds,  click here or contact Seth directly.

3. Marketing higher levels of care is a challenge.

Leads and sales for care higher up the continuum are improving, but lagging behind independent living. One reason for that is competition with communities that have lifted restrictions.

Another roadblock is staffing issues. One participant shared about having trouble hiring enough employees to meet staffing requirements for a higher level of care.

4. COVID-19 safety concerns are down.

Prospects’ concerns about safety and precautions related to COVID have lessened considerably.

5. Questions about the post-COVID experience are up.

Many prospects are now concerned about whether restrictions on dining, programming and visiting have been removed. They are ready to get back to normal. One roundtable participant said, “COVID-19 seems to be out of the picture, but our team is getting questions such as, ‘Can I visit as a prospect?,’ ‘Can family visit me if I move in?’ and ‘Are your dining rooms open?’”

6. Communities are offering incentives for staff vaccinations.

More team members have gotten the vaccine, but the percentages are still lower than for residents. Communities are using tools such as education, one-on-one meetings and incentives to boost participation rates.

7. Some communities have seen leads and move-ins skew younger.

Some participants are noticing that the average age of leads and move-ins is lower than it’s been in the past few years. One marketer said, “We’ve had several (new residents) in their 60s and early 70s. We’re definitely seeing a trend here. There is some feeling that after being cooped up during COVID-19, people are drawn to this environment.”

All in all, it’s been a great month! Sales counselors are busy, phones are ringing, events are well-attended and communities are filling apartments that have been empty for a long time. One participant even said, “I’ve been here 17 years and I can’t remember a time where we’ve seen the interest we have recently.”

Look for our next monthly roundtable recap in your inbox. Until then, please be sure to join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET and 11 a.m. CT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Many people thought it would take senior living years and years to recover from the COVID-19 virus. But this May, Varsity’s Sales & Marketing Roundtable participants were feeling resounding optimism! Their positive experiences with leads and move-ins are echoed in communities across the country, as we found through a presentation by Lana Peck of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) in our last roundtable of the month, where she shared statistics about the  state of senior living.

Here are 10 takeaways from this month’s roundtable:

  1. Momentum is positive. Leads and move-ins are on the upswing. One participant in New Jersey said, “We have a small memory care wait list, which we haven’t seen since the pandemic started!” Another participant in Arkansas said, “Tours are way up. Leads are coming in strong.” From Pennsylvania, the news was, “IL is booming. Our small carriage home project is going well with 15 of 16 reserved.” And from Washington state: “We’re also super busy moving in people. There’s so much going on, our sales team can’t even keep up with it.”
  2. Staffing issues are still challenging. One participant said, “We are definitely having challenges. We used to struggle with nursing positions, but now it’s across all departments. We’ve been offering between $2,000 and $5,000 [as a] signing bonus. Another community shared a tip: “We held our Drive-In Career Fair yesterday and had 27 candidates show up.”
  3. The hot housing market helps. “The housing market is really hot and there are not enough houses, removing the challenge of selling your home,” said one participant from Illinois.
  4. People are “Zoomed out.” But that’s OK, since in-person events, especially outdoors, are back! “The turnout for in-person events has been strong and there’s a lot of interest,” said one participant.
  5. Mask updates are confusing. “Some of our campus is under one set of guidelines and some is under another set of guidelines,” said one attendee in Washington state. “It’s really confusing. We’re developing bullets to outline what our residents can and can’t do, depending on what buildings they are going in and out of.”
  6. Communities have to get used to holding in-person events again. “We had our first in-person event yesterday after a year and three months,” said one marketer. “It went OK — you forget things like putting pens and pads on tables — it’s been a long time! It was very well received. We just had some minor hiccups and need to remind ourselves of how to do in-person events again.”
  7. More team members are getting vaccinated. “Our staff is showing more interest in getting vaccinated and we’re at 66% right now. We think they are feeling more comfortable now that they’ve seen [that] others haven’t had negative reactions,” said one participant. Other communities are providing cash incentives and not requiring weekly tests if employees are vaccinated. One community even created videos of staff members explaining why it’s a good idea to get the vaccine. “It helped get us over 70%,” the participant said.
  8. There’s a lot of buzz around mandating the vaccine. There’s a desire to mandate the vaccine, and some communities have started to do this, but our prediction is that we’ll be hearing much more about this, especially the legal implications.
  9. It’s a struggle to re-engage residents. As discussed on a call with LeadingAge D.C., there’s a current struggle in getting Memory Care residents to re-engage because they’ve been in their rooms for 14 months.
  10. Move-ins are trending higher. Findings presented by Lana Peck of NIC back up participant experiences: Across all three levels of care, move-ins are up, move-outs are down, and traffic and leads are strong. Details below.

NIC Executive Survey Insights with Lana Peck

  • Lana Peck, Senior Principal from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC), attended the roundtable and shared insights from the latest wave of NIC’s Executive Survey.
    • A few high points:
      • Nursing care occupancy fell more than IL and AL — 12.5 points vs. 8.7 points. Senior housing declined 8.7 points over the course of the pandemic; that includes IL and AL. Nursing care fell the most, by 12.5 points. So, COVID-19 hit nursing properties especially hard.
      • Vaccinations have fallen off — right now, they are at 90% for residents and about 65% for employees.
      • A smaller share of properties have 90% or more occupancy — only 24% in the first quarter of 2021 versus 54% in the first quarter of 2020.
    • On the bright side:
      • An acceleration in the pace of move-ins is clearly trending, and the pace of move-outs is either staying the same or decelerating.
      • In March, we may have reached an inflection point in occupancy.
      • In IL, 56% of communities said they have seen an increase in occupancy.
      • Lead volume is increasing. Encouragingly, we’re seeing a growing number of organizations reaching lead volumes at pre-pandemic levels.
      • Rent discounts, free rent and rent freezes have been increasingly used as incentives to boost occupancy. Most of the C-suite operators and owners who were questioned believe that occupancy will reach pre-pandemic levels in a year or two.

See more details of Wave 28 of the NIC survey here.

We hope that move-ins, reopenings and vaccination rates continue to rise in June. Look for the next monthly recap of our roundtable discussions in your inbox.

Until then, please be sure to join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET and 11 a.m. CT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

 

At our 2nd monthly Continuing Care at Home Roundtable, we all shared our ideas about generating leads, cross-promoting community living and overcoming objections.

Check out the highlights below, and feel free to join us for our next roundtable discussion in April.

Please join our next Continuing Care at Home Roundtable on Wednesday, April 7, at noon ET.

For login information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

At our 46th Sales & Marketing Roundtable, professionals around the country shared the latest news at their communities: Virtually all residents are getting the vaccine, families are impatient with CMS regulations, and prospects are slowly opening up to the idea of a move.

Please check out the recap below, and join us for our next roundtable this week.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, March 4, at noon ET. For login information, please email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

During our 45th weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable, we heard positive news: The vaccine is working, cases are down and marketers are feeling optimistic overall, although they’re adjusting sales goals because of the pandemic.

Check out the recap below, and please join us for our next virtual discussion this week.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, February 25, at noon ET

For login information, please email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

 

During our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable, communities shared how they are struggling to manage family and resident expectations amidst shifting state and national quarantine policies.

Check out the highlights below, and please join us for our next virtual lunchtime session this week.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, February 18, at noon ET.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

 

 

During our 43rd Sales & Marketing Roundtable, participants from California to New Jersey shared tips for getting employees to take the vaccine, lead generation tactics and hopes for reopening.

Get the roundtable recap below, and please join us for our next 30-minute virtual lunchtime meeting this week.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, February 11, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

Last Wednesday, we held our first monthly virtual Continuing Care at Home Roundtable! A group of professionals from across the country pooled their knowledge and shared sales and marketing tactics that are succeeding during COVID-19.

Please join us for our next Continuing Care at Home Roundtable on Wednesday, March 3, 2021, at noon ET.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com. 

At our 41st weekly sales and marketing roundtable, the mood was on the upswing as the vaccine gave inquiries and sales at communities around the country a boost.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, January 28, at noon ET.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

 

At our first sales & marketing roundtable of the new year, communities discussed the exciting news of the COVID-19 vaccine and shared tips for virtual events and video floor plans.

 

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, January 14, 2021, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

I’m Renee Kelly, and I’m an art director at Varsity. I design all kinds of  advertising for Varsity’s clients — including the blogs for the weekly COVID-19 sales & marketing roundtables. Attending the roundtables has impacted my point of view on the pandemic: I’ve seen up-close its effects on communities, staff and vulnerable residents. For me, the last 9+ months of roundtables have become an unofficial timeline of the COVID-19 crisis in our industry.

When the pandemic first hit, there were so many unknowns. We didn’t know how bad it would get, or how much it would impact seniors. Marketing came to a halt when everyone quickly realized that the traditional tools like tours and in-person events wouldn’t work. The focus shifted to be less on occupancy and more on keeping residents safe and healthy. At Varsity, we also had to quickly shift our focus to better suit our clients’ changing needs.

One thing that struck me from early on were concerns about isolation, especially for residents in memory care. One quote:

WEEK 3: “Those with cognitive impairment don’t understand the situation and feel that they are being punished in their rooms.”

That was specifically the quote that hit me the hardest, and has stuck with me over the last nine months.

Soon after that, communities started reporting their first cases in residents and staff:

WEEK 4: “We have our first positive case and we are working with Varsity on a communications plan.”

Through all of the uncertainty, communities (even competitors) were working together. A community on the West Coast and a community on the East Coast even planned to connect after one call to discuss a shared challenge.

We gradually got into the groove of the “new normal” and communities started to plan virtual events. At a little over three months, we realized we were probably in it for the long haul.

WEEK 14: “There is no ‘end of COVID’ that we can see.”

The issue of family, and how to safely visit, came up time and time again. From drive-by visits to video calls, communities tried everything.

WEEK 22: “Residents are lonely and want to be around family.”

The next few weeks added additional stresses to 2020.

WEEK 26: “We’re discouraged — now we have fires! One of the fires is cutting off the entrance of our new community, so people can’t visit.”

COVID-19 had crept into a few of the communities of those on the calls.

WEEK 34: “I feel blessed and fortunate. We’ve only had 6 cases, 5 of which were employees. Cases are going up around us, but we’ve managed to stay safe.”

We were hearing a broad range of emotions. People wanted to be optimistic, but were fearful of letting down their guard. And, as communities found creative ways of reaching seniors who were feeling isolated at home, occupancy began to rise.

WEEK 35: “We’ve sold four apartments in October due to concessions offered, eight since we started the concessions at the end of August.”

Where are we now? In many states, the numbers are going in the wrong direction.

WEEK 36: “We were so proud that we kept COVID-19 out of here until this last week. It’s having a whole new impact on us.”

But communities are feeling hopeful as the vaccine has received approval.

 WEEK 37: “We’re hoping that a vaccine can help us turn the corner.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel that Varsity’s roundtables have given communities a place to come together to share ideas, successes and concerns, or just vent. And the emails and survey responses people have sent seem to confirm that:

“Appreciate you and the Varsity team taking the time to coordinate these calls and share with all of us!”

“Thank you for setting up these very informative roundtable discussions. We will be applying much of what you have recapped.”

“I greatly appreciate the communication and listening to peers facing the same challenges.”

“Thank you for hosting this. Got some great ideas that I hope we can implement with the city on Safer at Home order. Nice to learn what other communities are doing.”

“This roundtable has grown into a staple for these times and I think that everyone is enjoying the opportunity to share and learn.”  

“I am buoyed by reading the notes from the meetings knowing we are all in this together.

Personally, the roundtables have had far more of an impact on me emotionally than I thought they would, and I’ve put that emotion behind the work we’re doing. With everything that our clients are now facing, I’m proud that Varsity is part of the ongoing solution. I know that my co-workers at Varsity feel similarly.

Here’s to a new year filled with happy news, and we hope you can join the conversation as we continue our roundtables in 2021. To join us on Thursdays at noon ET, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com for login information.

 

 

 

During our final roundtable of the year, communities shared what they learned in 2020 and how they’re anxiously awaiting the vaccine.

Check out the highlights below, and please join us for our first roundtable of 2021 after the holiday break.

Please join our first roundtable of the year on Thursday, January 7, 2021, at noon ET.

For log-in information, contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

At our 37th weekly sales and marketing roundtable, communities discussed the light at the end of the tunnel and shared how they’ll be implementing the vaccine.

Dig into the recap below, and please join us for our next roundtable this week.

Please join our last roundtable of 2020 on Thursday, December 17, at noon ET.

This will be our last discussion of the year, but we will start back up in early 2021!

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

As they deal with cases and closures during the holidays, participants of our weekly sales and marketing roundtable are experiencing a mix of emotions: worry about current COVID spikes and hope for the coming vaccine.

Check out the recap below, and please feel free to join us for our next roundtable, later this week.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, December 10, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

At our 35th weekly sales and marketing roundtable, communities shared the spiking COVID rates in their respective states, and how they’re marketing differently in this environment.

Please check out the recap below. We also invite you to attend our next roundtable, the Thursday after Thanksgiving Day.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, December 3, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

 

At our 33rd weekly sales & marketing roundtable, we shared how we’re feeling this week. We also discussed a plastic wall that was set up by one community to allow residents and family to hug, shown below.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, November 12, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

At our weekly sales & marketing roundtable, we all shared creative tactics we’re using to attract prospects as COVID-19 rates spike in some areas. We’d especially like to thank Lana Peck, senior principal at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) for sharing the latest insights from executive surveys completed since the pandemic hit.

Check out the insights and survey results below. We also invite you to our next roundtable this week.

NIC Executive Survey Insights with Lana Peck

The full report is on the NIC website. Wave 14 findings can be found here.

We had 70 organizations respond to wave 14:

  • Not the same 70 for every wave, but 60–70% are repeat takers, so there is some continuity.
  • Geographical dispersion of respondents:
    • There’s a slight underrepresentation in the Northeast compared to national coverage of the NIC map.
    • For the most part, participants are coming from all over the country.
  • We’re promoting this more strongly with operators, as we’re getting some national media exposure.
    • It is important for operators to know that, by participating in the survey, they have the opportunity to ensure that the narrative is accurate.

  • We went from ⅓ in wave 10 (early August) to just under ⅔ in the most recent wave — a lot more organizations are offering rent concessions.
  • 90% of organizations are paying overtime to mitigate staffing issues.
  • Staffing/temp agency usage has grown throughout the pandemic.
  • About ⅔ of organizations that have IL in portfolio are offering rent concessions.
  • Organizations with nursing care are less likely to offer rent concessions.
  • Discussion from the group:
    • We are giving concessions on entrance fees and support on moving services.
    • We are offering $3,000 toward moving expenses and incentives to get people to move more quickly.

  • Organizations reporting no change in pace have been growing. It’s the highest it’s been in wave 14.
  • Deceleration of move-ins is lower in IL, AL and MC in wave 14.
  • Most respondents are citing increased resident demand (increase in move-ins).
  • Fewer organizations with nursing care beds in wave 14 reported acceleration in the pace of move-ins, with the fewest respondents citing hospital placement since wave 7 surveyed mid-May — presumably due to anecdotal reports of hospitals sending patients straight home to recuperate from surgeries or illnesses with in-home health care.
  • A quarter of organizations have a backlog of residents waiting to move in.

  • Organizations may be providing incentives. The month-over-month change in occupancy has been starting to rise.
  • About ¼ of the organizations that have IL in their portfolio; ⅓ of those with AL; ½ of those with MC; and about ½ with nursing care are seeing an upward change in occupancy rates in the past 30 days.
  • Fewer folks that have IL are seeing a decrease in occupancy.
  • 48% in nursing care are seeing increases, and 37% are seeing decreases.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, November 5, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

At our 31st weekly sales and marketing roundtable, communities shared their challenges, solutions and one often-used event topic that’s still getting amazing traction.

Put these ideas to work for your community by checking out the recap below.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, October 29, at noon ET.

Lana Peck, senior principal at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC), will be joining us again to discuss the recent NIC 2020 Fall Conference and findings on the next wave of surveys. 

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

At our 30th weekly sales and marketing roundtable, communities shared out-of-the-box, socially distanced ideas they’re using to get people to campus.

Find out how to make these ideas work at your community by checking out the recap below.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, October 22, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

At Roundtable #28, community marketers shared their feelings about the pandemic and explained why some are seeing a sales spike this fall.

Dig into the takeaways below.  Please also join us for our next virtual roundtable this week. For log-in information,  contact DDunham@Varsitybranding.com.

 

 

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, October 8, at noon ET.

Get log-in information here.

At our virtual sales and marketing roundtable, we brainstormed tactics to help prospects overcome their reluctance to move during a pandemic.

Check out the takeaways below. Please also join us for our next roundtable, coming up this week.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, September 24, at noon ET.

We’ll be joined by Lana Peck, Senior Principal at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC). She’ll be discussing insights from NIC’s ongoing executive survey. NIC has conducted 12 waves of surveys with C-suite execs, across senior living, with near real-time data on the pulse of the market and the fundamentals of senior housing. The study includes topics like changes in occupancy, how communities are supporting staff and reasons for acceleration and deceleration of move-ins (among other topics).

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

At our weekly sales and marketing roundtable, aging services expert Scott Townsley, principal of Trilogy Consulting, LLC, joined us to discuss consumer research and other insights related to the pandemic.

Check out the takeaways below. Please also join us for our next roundtable, coming this week.

Highlights from presentation on consumer research by Scott Townsley, Principal, Trilogy Consulting, LLC:

Opportunities are already emerging amid COVID-19—this will change who we are as a field and will change the product. Here are some resources that can be helpful as you deal with this situation.

The End of Competitive Advantage and Seeing Around Corners, two excellent books by Rita Gunther McGrath

  • “Inflection point” is a key concept she discusses, which she describes as jerking the steering wheel while driving
  • Unfortunately, by the time you recognize an inflection point, it can be too late; for example, discovering that occupancy has dropped from 96% to 80%, and it’s not going back up
  • My observation is that skilled nursing is at an inflection point—it was already changing, but the coronavirus has pushed it to this point—and that a portion of it will be forever changed
  • Life Plan Communities aren’t at an inflection point yet, but we need to have our eyes wide open

Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing, by Jamie Holmes

  • “While uncertainties can be painful, they are also, by definition, eras of change. They’re destabilizing because they’re a threat to the status quo, which is also precisely why they represent an opportunity for innovative and cultural rebirth.”
  • The risk is that we seek information or anecdotes that hint we’re returning to the “way things were” sooner rather than later—rather than seeking actual data
  • We can’t look to the past (even January 2020) for clues about the future, because we’re probably going to be wrong; I refer to it as the “perilous backslide to the status quo,” in which we will innately make decisions thinking things will get back to “normal”
  • Virtual tours are a great example of how we’ve adapted
  • When I first saw a billboard for telemedicine, years ago, I thought, “Who’s going to want telemedicine?” But without it, many people (particularly in skilled nursing) wouldn’t have been able to see their physicians; we went from talking about it to it being a key part of life

Consumer Behavior Survey

We just completed a 1,000-person survey of four market areas in Pennsylvania (southeastern, south-central, west-central and northeast), one in Maryland and one in Delaware.

Too often, we’re talking in anecdotes, but we need to use data that tracks consumer behavior. This is especially risky when talking about the coronavirus.

  • Background on the study
    • Participants are 60 to 80 years old; all income groups
    • Conducted last week in July/first week in August
    • Asked approximately 50 questions
    • All telephone conversations (landline and mobile)
    • Allowed us to reach the “essential non-customers”
    • With people at home, it was easier to reach them; they’re still answering their phones
    • Completed 1,000 surveys in five days
  • What’s key is that this survey has statistical validity—it provides insight into the thinking of consumers rather than anecdotes

Early on, it was clear that we (as an industry) knew neither the questions to ask nor the answers. Today, there’s more clarity about the former (the questions that we, as an industry, should be asking) and an ability to obtain the answers. Hence this survey.

We asked the question, “How concerned are you about coronavirus in your area?” Seventy-eight percent are very or somewhat concerned about the coronavirus in their area. For those whose adult children are involved in making decisions about retirement living options, that number increases to 87 percent.

It’s also notable that, in this and prior surveys:

  • The percentage of people who are concerned about future long-term care needs is typically low
  • The percentage of people who are concerned about their ability to afford their retirement is also low
  • The percentage of people who are concerned about dementia or Alzheimer’s, for themselves and those they love, is incrementally higher than the other two—but still a fraction of those concerned about the coronavirus

We then assessed the impact of COVID-19 on Senior Living Community (SLC) interest later in the study:

  • By and large, every cross-tab is very or less interested due to the coronavirus
    • With respect to SLC interest, there are as many people who are less interested as there are who are more interested—due to the coronavirus
    • Interestingly, people who identify as evangelicals are 17% less interested in senior living communities than the average (due to the coronavirus)
    • There’s still a core of people who remain interested, which may be proving the naysayers wrong, but: (a) it’s too soon to know for sure, and (b) the coronavirus has significantly reduced interest in senior living “congregate”-type options
      • The field could be in jeopardy if the virus stays around
      • The virus has, conversely, also made some people more interested
    • Note: This study won’t be valid six months or a year from now—everything is changing so quickly
    • It’s critical to talk to people who are “the essential non-customers”—those who are living outside the senior living world (and who aren’t on your lists)—to understand who is motivated and why
      • Ask how they feel about congregate living on their overall health and well-being
      • In unprecedented times, we need to rely on information that’s current
    • I was wrong about the recession in 2008–2010—I thought the loss of value in portfolios would have a searing effect on people’s decisions about senior living, much in the way the depression impacted how people spent money
      • This didn’t happen, and the for-profit sector took advantage of that
      • The not-for-profit sector did not jump on it
    • It’s possible that, six months from now, if there’s an effective vaccine, the consumer could forget about this—but it’s also possible that it will stay with them for a long time, perhaps forever
    • It’s important to note that concerns about the coronavirus did not increase the interest in a stay-at-home program (though the percentage of people “very interested” in a stay-at-home program is twice what it is for a senior living community)
    • HJ Sims is soon coming out with a national study that will be fascinating to review; it, hopefully, will include all regions of the country, not just those heavily impacted by COVID-19
    • The secret to success is data analytics, and WildFig (Varsity’s sister firm) is ahead of the curve
    • “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that: It’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” – Rahm Emanuel

Please join us for our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, September 17, at noon ET.

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

During our latest COVID-19 roundtable, communities talked about the changing moods in their respective states and exchanged advice for successful virtual events.

Dig into the summary below. Please also join us for our next roundtable, coming this week!

Please join us for our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, September 10, at noon ET.

Aging-services expert Scott Townsley from Trilogy Consulting will join us to discuss consumer research and other insights related to the pandemic.

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

In our most recent sales and marketing roundtable, community marketers shared their recent sales ups and downs as well as some valuable tips for virtual events.

Check out the recap of our discussion below. Please also join us for our next sales and marketing roundtable next week. Details are at the end of the post.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, August 20, at noon ET.

Cara Stefchak and Cory Lorenz will join us to discuss social media and digital media usage during the pandemic.

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

As communities gathered virtually last week, most people seemed to be feeling frustrated, finding that prospects of late are need-driven. On a positive note, salespeople realized they aren’t alone, and it was comforting to know that others are in the same boat.

Check out the highlights of our discussion below. Please also join us for our next sales and marketing roundtable, coming up next week.

J

Join the next sales and marketing roundtable on August 13!

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, August 13, at noon ET.

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

This week, we’re pleased to present a guest post by Lynn Perugini, director of sales and marketing at Meadowood At Home, a Continuing Care at Home (CCaH) program that is affiliated with the Meadowood Life Plan Community in Worcester, Pennsylvania.

For over 20 years, Lynn has provided exceptional service to senior communities and their residents. She’s an expert at giving sales and marketing presentations, and when COVID-19 closed the country down, she embraced virtual seminars immediately.

Today, I’d like to share some practical, common-sense tips for giving virtual presentations. These tips engage viewers and lead them to the next step in the sales cycle.

  1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare. My biggest tip would be to prepare. The presentation part of it is all of it. Practice your presentation several times before you actually give it. (My family sat through at least four trial runs before I actually gave my first virtual presentation.)
  2. Set the stage. Consider the background you’re sitting in front of, the level of your camera, what’s around your computer. It’s like a stage show, and all the elements are part of a set. The details need to be right.
  3. Remember Camera Etiquette 101. My coworkers laugh, but I even do my makeup differently when I’m going to be on camera. Here are some other tips to help you make that on-camera connection with the audience:
    • Remember to smile—the audience can see you!
    • Use your hands as if you were talking to a friend
    • Wear a bright color (and especially, don’t wear black if you have a black chair, or you’ll appear as a disembodied head)
    • Wear a headset to signal that you’re connected to the video
    • Make sure that your head and shoulders fill the screen
    • Introduce yourself on camera at the beginning, then turn the camera off, so the audience can focus on the presentation
    • Engage the right monitor (if you have more than one monitor, make sure that the right one is engaged; if you don’t, you’ll be showing people your desktop instead of your presentation)
  4. Experiment with platforms. My favorite platform is GoToWebinar. I’ve tried Teams and Zoom, but I like GoToWebinar, because it’s easy for my audience of seniors to use. It’s as easy as one click; they don’t have to set up an account, and they don’t have people calling or emailing them. (Many of them are concerned about security.)
  5. Connect the phone audio. In the demographic I work with, many people have older computers that don’t work well. Now my invitation says, “Click here to see the presentation. Call this number if you don’t have a speaker on your computer.” Give your audience more than one way to experience your presentation.
  6. Help your audience through the process. Younger seniors are computer-savvy, but the folks over 80 may struggle. If they need help, I walk them through the process, and show them how they can easily get online. That drives registration. I’ve even had people call me for help five or ten minutes before the presentation.
  7. Make the presentation visually interesting. Avoid using a logo that sits on the screen. Add motion and life, like animating bullet points. That keeps the audience’s attention and acts as a prompt, so you can speak to each item as it flies onto the screen. You can also invite a guest speaker to add interest.
  8. Mix up the topics. Switch out your presentations and target them to difference audiences. (I change my presentations to target residents who live in 55-and-older communities, people who are interested in long-term care insurance and others.) The world at large has been doing these virtual presentations for four months, and audiences are getting burnt out. We’re all inundated with requests for webinars. And now that the weather is nice, it’s going to be even harder to get people’s attention, so variety is important
  9. Know that live and virtual are totally different. My online presentation is 100 percent different than my live presentation. In the live presentation, the PowerPoint is just a backdrop. In the virtual presentation, the focus is on the slides—the information has to be clear, easy to understand and attention-grabbing.
  10. Avoid too much touchy-feely. During COVID-19, people tend to make virtual presentations too emotional. Don’t show 50 slides of people wearing masks. Too much loses people, unless it’s as a background or a quick mention. I try to focus on relevant data—pricing, statistics and how people are using my program.
  11. Watch other virtual presentations for ideas. I made sure I sat in on at least four or five other, similar presentations; I picked out things that did and didn’t work. For example, one presenter overdid the polling feature—it was a good idea, it just took an agonizingly long time. That experience taught me that it’s best to do a quick poll at the beginning or end. 
  12. Follow up afterward. I send a separate email thanking the audience members for joining the webinar. I also provide them with the financial slides I presented. And I send a link to a New York Times article about Continuing Care at Home programs. When I send that, I tend to get a lot of reply emails.
  13. Make a virtual event a segue to a live event. At a live event, I can read the audience much better, and they can get to know me as well. At the end of my webinar, I encourage the audience to attend an upcoming live seminar (when it’s up and running). It’s a different level of commitment when people come to an in-person event. It’s easier to build personal relationships there.

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful. I think it’s a great idea to continue to do virtual presentations, even after COVID-19. People are comfortable with them now. They see them as less of a commitment than a live event. I think I’m always going to do them. They’re a new and useful tool for sales and marketing.

Last week, communities swapped ideas about marketing during challenging times. Varsity partner and WildFig President John Bassounas joined our roundtable to share his thoughts on the importance of using data to drive decisions.

Check out a recap of our discussion below. Please also join us for our next roundtable coming up this week.

Recap of John Bassounas’ discussion on data and analytics:

We believe that:

  • The future belongs to organizations that embrace a data-driven approach.
  • A comprehensive data strategy is at the core of a winning organization.
  • Analytical applications transcend disciplines and drive efficiency across the entire organization.
  • First-party data, plus open-source data, has significant potential to transform strategy and drive positive outcomes.

Why be data-driven?

  • Consistency
  • Longevity
  • Awareness
  • Responsiveness
  • Reason-based decisions
  • Dynamic feedback

What are common obstacles to using data?

  • Lack of strategy
  • Poor objective mapping
  • Resource limitations
  • Lack of integration—data is in silos
  • Poor collaboration
  • Technology crisis
  • Situational awareness
  • Skill deficits
  • Organizational culture
  • No adaptive response
  • Scalability issues
  • Institutional bias

Analytics continuum

  • Keep things simple—ask what questions need answers, and what data can help provide insight?
  • It’s valuable to look at data through a descriptive lens.
  • The more forward-looking the question, the more value it has for the organization.

Who is responsible for analyzing the data you collect?

  • We have a web partner that does Google Analytics, and a digital marketing person on staff who pulls data. I was also a market analyst, so I do a lot of the analyzing myself, through Enquire. We’re not currently using open-source data.
  • Once you collect and analyze the data, it’s important to get it to the right person, and teach them how to act on it/make it actionable.
    • Situational awareness
    • For example, we take fall data and present to a fall committee, which can make the findings actionable and integrate changes seamlessly into day-to-day behavior.
      • Fall data may inform decisions about ramps, bars for walking, needed staff, etc.
      • Frequent fallers may have decreased engagement in wellness programming, and there may be an opportunity to re-engage them.
    • Allows for proactive vs. reactive decision making
  • We are in a position to predict the likelihood of a person contracting COVID-19 when they onboard to a community.

If you’re interested in seeing data and analytics examples, or tools that we use, please let us know. We would be happy to share any of the tools and walk you through the process in more detail. This is an opportunity for differentiation, growth and efficiency, and we would love to share more information. Contact John Bassounas directly, at JBassounas@VarsityBranding.com, or contact Derek Dunham at DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

Join the next sales and marketing roundtable on July 9!

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, July 9, at noon ET.

For log-in information, contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

As more areas open up, communities met virtually for roundtable #14 to discuss this week’s reopenings and answer one another’s questions.

Check out the recap of our discussion below. Please also join us for our next sales and marketing roundtable, coming up this week.

Questions from attendees:

What can our resident panel talk about in an upcoming Zoom call?

Ideas discussed:

  • Ask residents to share what they’ve been up to on campus (and the fun they’re having)
  • Talk about dining and activities
  • Discuss safety protocols in place
  • Talk about how the administration communicates with residents and keeps them engaged
    • Were you respected as a resident and individual?
    • How did the community try to keep life as normal as possible?
    • Do you have any regrets or wish you were still at home? (Use caution on this one; make sure you know what the resident will say)
  • Contrast social engagement vs. social isolation

One participant asked about struggling with visually interacting with prospects since they can’t meet in person. How do residents interact with people? Is a Zoom meeting better than a Zoom webinar platform?

Ideas discussed:

  • Webinars are good for larger conferences, and meetings seem to be better for more personal interactions with fewer than 10 to 15 people
  • Zoom meetings allow for breakout rooms and more personal conversations
  • Strive to book a private Zoom meeting in the days following a presentation to have a more personal conversation

We will explore this topic more in next week’s roundtable.

Join the next roundtable on July 2!

Come kick off the holiday weekend at our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, July 2, at noon ET.

You don’t have to be a client to join — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

Communities in different parts of the country came together last Thursday to share their thoughts and challenges as shutdowns continue. Jackie Stone, VP of sales at Varsity, joined our general discussion to share insights on virtual event topics and processes during social distancing.

Check out the takeaways below. You are also welcome to join our next sales & marketing roundtable, coming up this week.

Jackie leads a discussion on virtual presentations:

  • Presentation objectives
    • New lead generation
      • Use the purchased email list and lead base
      • Select universal topics of interest to anyone
      • Ensure that the presentation represents the lifestyle at the community and reinforces the established brand
    • Sales presentation
      • Target the lead base
      • Address common objections
        • “I’m not ready yet.”
        • “I want to stay independent.”
        • “I’ve lived here for 50 years; I don’t know where to start.”
        • “This apartment is so small.”
        • “I don’t want to live with all old people.”
        • “How would I even go about selling my home?”
        • “The economy/stock market is unstable.”
      • Personalize to the prospect
        • Customized to each individual prospect — what he or she values in life and in a community
  • Potential presentation topics
    • New lead generation
      • Mindfulness — Putting Your Practice Into Place
      • Healthy Aging: Achieving Wellness in All Dimensions
      • Living a Big Life
      • Dispelling the Myths of Retirement Living
    • Sales presentations
      • Decluttering Your Life to Make Room for Experiences
      • Living a Big Life
      • Bridging the Gap Between “I’m Not Ready Yet” and “I Wish I Had Done This Sooner”
      • Protecting Your Nest Egg
      • Does a Life Plan Community Make Sense for Me?
      • Selling Your Home in a Virtual World
    • Personalizing to the prospect
      • Presentation of the community’s services, amenities, residences and benefits
      • Video walking tour of the community
      • Happy hour Zoom call
  • Marketing automation
    • Targeting prospects
      • Email seminar invitation
      • Confirmation and login instructions
      • Resending of seminar invitation to those that did not open the original email
      • Reminder email two days prior to the event
    • Communicating with those who did attend
      • Post-webinar “Thank you for joining us”
      • Survey
      • What other topics might interest you?
      • Schedule a private appointment?
      • Next seminar invitation
    • Communicating with those who did not attend
      • “We missed you” email
    • Schedule a private appointment?
    • Next seminar invitation
  • Typical attendance expectations
    • We’ve seen anywhere from 7–10, 25–30 and close to 50, so it can really vary.

Where are you doing to go from here with marketing?

  • It depends on your community.
    • Examples:
      • One community is stretched for dollars because of the current bond market.
      • Other communities may have more money to spend, with cancelling in-person marketing events.
    • You may need to move dollars around in your budget. The focus will need to be on engaging prospects in blue sky projects. If you don’t use the money this year, you won’t have it next year! Spend it wisely, and don’t let it go.
    • An AL community in New York has online events/speakers every week. It’s very buttoned up and structured — link to check out: https://inspireseniorliving.com/events.
    • I think we’ll be Zooming for a long time.
    • Follow these virtual call tips.
      • Do a roll call.
      • Ask what participants miss during this time of quarantine. If they say Starbucks, deliver a coffee to their doorstep.

Join the next sales & marketing roundtable on June 4!

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session on Thursday, June 4, at 12 p.m. ET.

You don’t have to be a client to join — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

As social distancing continues, communities came together for roundtable #9 to share their ideas and challenges. Robinson Smith, creative director at Varsity, joined our discussion to share insights on brand-centric messaging during quarantine.

Check out the takeaways below. You are also welcome to join our next sales & marketing roundtable, coming up this week.

Insights from Rob’s discussion on creative messaging:

Rob shared this video, which essentially highlights how painfully similar much of the COVID-19 advertising is.

  • Every commercial is exactly the same, with catchphrases like: “uncertain times,” “home” and “together.”
  • Brands want to let you know they were there for you in the past, are with you now and will be with you moving forward. While these messages of hope and empathy are important as we move forward, it’s critical not to lose sight of the brands we’ve worked so hard to establish. We need to make sure we’re not abandoning them, especially as normal community marketing will not return for quite some time.
  • While all communities want to communicate that they care about the safety of their team members and residents, they also should make sure that they are talking about their BRANDS and are leveraging the messages that they have put out into the marketplace and established over time.
  • At Varsity, we talk about branding and brand personalities in terms of archetypes. The caregiver archetype is typically the archetype of industry, so it’s not a long-term solution for individual community branding as we go forward. Communities need to be intentional about expressing their own voices — explorers, magicians, lovers — and make sure that the things that set them apart from competitors are being stated in true, unique and compelling ways.

Join the next sales & marketing roundtable on May 28!

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session on Thursday, May 28, at 12 p.m. ET.

Jackie Stone, Varsity VP of sales, will be joining us for part of the session to share her insights on virtual event topics and processes.

You don’t have to be a client to join — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

Response to our COVID-19 conversations continues to be enthusiastic, so we held Sales & Marketing Roundtable #3 last week. For those who weren’t able to make it,  the high points are below.

We’re gathering for our next virtual discussion this week, and all are invited to attend.

 

Join the next roundtable on April 16!

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session on Thursday, April 16, at noon ET, for a sales & marketing discussion.

You don’t have to be a client to join the conversation — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

As the clock ticks down to 2020, we look back on another exciting year for the Varsity blog! Here’s a countdown of our five most popular posts for 2019. It’s a grab bag of hot-button topics, from groundbreaking wellness ideas to intergenerational brainstorms.

5. 18-year-old Jumps Into Life at Senior Community

In this interview with out-of-the-box thinker Rosemary Ramsey, she reveals her inspiration for The Victory Lap, a one-of-a-kind program that pairs youth aging out of foster care with senior communities. Read about an intergenerational program that could change senior living.

4. Overheard at LeadingAge TN: What if…

Our VP of Client Services Derek Dunham takes us inside the “what-if” moments of the 2019 LeadingAge TN Annual Meeting & EXPO. Explore “what-if” moments.

3. Disruption in Senior living — Opportunity or Threat?

From shrinking staff to the growing middle market, Derek Dunham disrupts our world with the highlights of the 2019 PAHSA conference. Get disrupted.   

2. 10 Leadership Secrets From LeadingAge PA

This series chronicles the year-long journey of LeadingAge PA’s Fellows in Leadership program. In this post, Brian Mailliard and Sakkara El share what they’ve learned at the halfway mark of their adventure. Learn the secrets of leading well.

1. When It Comes to Wellness, Nothing’s off the Table

Our most-read post of the year was a fascinating conversation between Becky Anhorn, the inspirational wellness director at Meadowood Senior Living, and Rob Smith, Varsity’s creative director. Read about a groundbreaking approach to wellness.

That’s our countdown of top posts for 2019! Stay tuned for more fresh content in 2020, and please contact us if you’d like to do a guest post or be interviewed for an upcoming blog.

 

Today’s blog is contributed by Kim Lehman, Varsity’s PR Strategist. Kim has more than 25 years of experience developing and implementing public relations campaigns for a diverse roster of clients, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Ad Council, The Coca-Cola Company, Kohl’s, Johnson & Johnson, Messiah Lifeways, Presby’s Inspired Life and many more.

Kim has placed stories for her clients with top-tier and trade outlets, including Today, Good Morning America, Real Simple, The New York Times, O —The Oprah Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Business Journals, WSJ, USA Today, 50Plus Life, McKnight’s and Senior Living News, among others.

Today, I’d like to challenge you to ask yourself an important question: Are you telling your organization’s story? Every organization has a story to tell — you just need to find the most impactful way to package it up and deliver it to a broader audience.

Here are some time-tested tips and strategies that have proven effective in telling the stories of my clients’ communities.

Tip 1: Contact the media when you don’t have anything to announce
It’s so important to build relationships with the industry and your local journalists so that when you do need to make an announcement or handle a crisis, you have already made a connection. It can be as easy as sending a quick email or making a phone call to introduce yourself as a resource for future stories.

Tip 2: Know the reporters that cover your market
Learn who covers senior living, then read their articles and follow them on social media. Drop the person a note and say, “I found your article about (TOPIC) interesting because…”  Take it a step forward and share his or her article on your social media channels. Everyone likes a good share!

Tip 3: Attend conferences
Many times, industry journalists are open to learning more about your organization. Book 15-minute one-on-one interviews with these reporters and offer something of value or uniqueness to them. It’s a great way to start building relationships.

Tip 4: Think local
Everyone wants stories in large dailies, but the hyper-local papers are just as important and most often are looking for content.

Tip 5: Spotlight the people that make your community unique
The residents and staff who live and work in your community are what make you truly different. Think about how you can highlight their special qualities in feature stories. Tell these stories through traditional media outlets and share them on your social media channels.

Tip 6: Tap into teachable moments
Look at events that happen throughout the year, such as Older Americans Month in May. Create an editorial calendar to make sure you don’t miss out on times of the year to pitch a story about your community.

Tip 7: Always ask, “What’s the visual?”
If you want coverage for an event, you have to think about what’s going to be visually interesting about it, especially if you want local TV stations to attend your event. Most newspapers and magazines are online too, so think about what the visual is for them, as well. They, too, are looking for video content and photography that can bring a story to life, be shareable and get clicks.

Tip 8: Connect with local universities
If you don’t have money in your budget to hire a professional photographer or videographer, communications departments can connect you with students looking to gain experience.

Tip 9: Think intergenerational
One of our clients hired high school students to help set up residents’ iPads and their mobile phones, download apps, etc. Bringing older adults and high school students together made for a great story!

Tip 10. Have a crisis plan
If there’s any type of incident at your community, it’s really important to have a strategic plan with a designated team in place to execute it. Stay tuned for more about this in an upcoming blog post.

Tip 11: Get social
As traditional media continues to downsize, social media is going to be even more important in your overall communications strategy. It’s important to have a cohesive plan among all of your teams and communities.

Tip 12: Position yourself as an expert
Journalists are always looking for unique stories and fresh perspectives that include new data and research findings. Op Ed pieces, proprietary research and participation in polls are all effective ways to position your community as an expert.

Tip 13: Ask, will the audience care?
Put yourself in the reporter’s shoes. You may think something is really interesting, but not everything is newsworthy.

Tip 14: Take advantage of outside expertise
If you are struggling to uncover your story and tell that story in a meaningful way, then look to hire an agency with a PR strategist. They most likely will have existing relationships with the industry media as well as local market outlets that they can leverage on your behalf. They will be able to assist you with crafting key messaging, media training your spokespeople and pitching your stories to media outlets that matter most to your organization.

Tip 15: Have fun!
Telling your community’s story can be fun — whether you’re throwing an event or sharing a story about a resident who skydives. Incorporate these tips and you’ll be on your way to telling your unique story to the broader community.

Coming in a future Varsity blog: I will share my thoughts on crisis PR.

At the 2019 LeadingAge Tennessee Conference and EXPO, an entire audience of people sat together quietly, eyes closed, remembering how they felt on the first day of school.

After several minutes, the presenter had them open their eyes and share their feelings. Emotions ranged from fear and excitement to nervousness and anxiety.

Why did presenter Melissa Ward, PT, MS, RAC-CT, Vice President of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs at Functional Pathways, have the audience do this exercise? She wanted to evoke the emotions students and parents feel on the first day of school, which is very similar to the way residents and their loved ones may feel on their first day in a retirement community.

Trying to find your way around an unfamiliar place can be a tremendous adjustment, and the move can be just as stressful for families leaving their loved ones. But there are ways to help the transition go more smoothly, like the techniques described in this recent article in McKnight’s Senior Living. And now, new residents and their families have another powerful resource to draw on: a unique program developed by the Functional Pathways team.

According to Ward, the Transition Concierge Program began as a “what-if” idea about two years ago. “A client community was  struggling with having residents successfully age in place,” Ward said. “New residents came in and weren’t engaged in community life. They weren’t taking advantage of everything available on the campus. This issue was leading to increased risk for falls and residents requiring higher levels of care.”

That’s when the Functional Pathways Team, led by Beth Reigart, Clinical Outcomes Specialist, decided to create the new Transition Concierge Program. This collaborative approach brings together a powerful arsenal of tools, including social services, nursing, therapy, activities, wellness, resident programming, resident support groups, resources for the family, on-campus physician services and more. By making the transition smoother, the program helps residents successfully age in place.

How the Transition Concierge Program Works

When the resident moves in, a Navigation Team conducts in-depth standardized assessments. Then, an Interdisciplinary Team creates a plan of individualized support. Every element is geared toward giving the individual input into his or her own life.

Here are a couple of examples: If a resident has breathing problems, he or she may need a plan that addresses limitations in endurance to make it possible to get to the bistro. If a resident has low vision, apartment modifications or a plan to get and read mail may be needed. Every resident adjusts to resident living at a different rate, according to Ward. The program was designed to provide services and support that fit each individual’s unique needs.

More Than Just a Real Estate Transaction

The Functional Pathways team believes that moving into an independent living community should be “more than just a real estate transaction.” It’s fostering a true continuum of care through this innovative service.

New residents may still face those first-day-of-school jitters. Fortunately, this innovative collaboration helps ease the transition so they can find passion and purpose in their new environment.

How is your community helping resident transitions go more smoothly? Let me know at DDunham@VarsityBranding.com. I’d love to feature your strategies in an upcoming blog post.

 

A solution to occupancy challenges can come from someplace you never expected, like foster care.

When you think about it, it’s a natural combination: Youth aging out of foster care need a job and a place to stay. Senior communities have empty housing, job vacancies and caring mentors. But no one has thought to bring the two together — until now.

Rosemary Ramsey, the director of The Victory Lap, got this unique idea while she was employed at Brookdale Senior Living and volunteering with Monroe Harding, a nonprofit that helps foster kids that are aging out of the system.

How The Victory Lap Began 

“I was sitting at my desk at Brookdale, thinking about occupancy challenges. At the same time, I was volunteering with kids aging out of foster care. I saw their issues of finding employment, housing and connection to caring adults,” Ramsey said. “It kind of hit me that my worlds could collide in a productive way.”

“The truth of the matter is, a lot of these kids never get adopted,” she went on. “Twenty-two thousand kids age out every year in America. At least 30 percent of them will experience homelessness — and every one that bottoms out costs tax payers over a million dollars.”

In addition to occupancy challenges at communities, there’s also a nationwide labor shortage. “There are tons of entry-level opportunities in senior housing,” said Ramsey.

She also feels that great relationships can develop between residents and youths aging out of foster care. “There are three things older people universally love,” she said. “Mail, ice cream and young people.”

Cannonballing Into Community Life

John, the first participant, age 18, liked the idea right away. “It was an opportunity for him to have his own space. In the group home, you have to share a kitchen and a bathroom,” Ramsey said. “He also liked the idea of being around seniors because he was close with his grandparents. And he loved the pool.” That’s why, to celebrate John’s move-in, the local TV station shot a video of him cannonballing into the community’s pool. Watch it here.

John will attend college this fall while working part time and living at East Ridge Residence, an independent living community. He’ll receive oversight and counseling from a local nonprofit: Partnership for Families, Children and Adults.

Now that her program is up and running, Ramsey is looking forward to future placements. “This is not just a touchy, feel-good opportunity. It has real, practical economic benefits,” she stressed. “Retirement communities can not only fulfill their need for employees, and contribute with some living spaces not in use, but they can actually receive a stipend from the state for helping provide housing.”

In senior living, she said, “intergenerational” is a popular buzzword, referring to initiatives like Girl Scouts coming in to read stories, but Ramsey thinks that it can be taken a lot further. “I think it’s a marketing advantage — a place where older people and younger people live together,” she said.

Expanding the Program

Eventually, Ramsey would like to expand the program to populations beyond the foster demographic, such as veterans and people who are developmentally disabled. “Our industry is sitting on 100,000 vacancies. Let’s try to make a dent in our occupancy challenges and think outside the box,” she said. “These people can add life to the community, and residents have life experience and wisdom to impart.”

Right now, Ramsey is excited that the first participant has moved in. “John is doing great! He describes life in the retirement community as ‘way better’ than the group home,” she said. “He  has more freedom to come and go as he chooses. His job in the dining room is going well, and he has his own section now, so he is proud of that! He’s enjoying playing Bingo and cards, and the residents are teaching him new games.”

Has your community found unique solutions to occupancy challenges? Let me know at DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

I’ve traveled all over the country to attend senior living conferences. Last week, I had one of my  favorite event experiences. It was just three minutes from my home in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

At most conferences, the locations change, but the same pain points keep coming up. Issues include staffing headaches, leadership transitions and ever-changing regulations. However, at the recent 2019 LeadingAge PA Annual Conference & EXPO, themed “Own Your Future,” speakers raised some new and different questions. These questions could dramatically impact the future of aging services. In case you weren’t able to attend, I wanted to share them with you.

  1. Are smart speakers in communities breaking the law?

That’s one question you may not be able to ask Siri or Alexa. Even so, every community should be seriously considering it. As more and more providers (and more and more residents) plug in to voice assistant technology, the more potential legal and regulatory conflicts they face. For instance, allowing a resident to be audio-recorded without consent (which smart speakers do) violates both HIPAA and state wiretapping acts. Is smart technology always such a smart idea? In this fascinating presentation, Larry Zook and Cynthia Haines made the case for putting strong policies in place to deal with this new technology. 

  1. Why do for-profit developments move so much faster than nonprofits?

For-profit senior communities can be built in 12–18 months, while nonprofits often take 3–5 years. What accounts for the faster speed to market? In a peek inside the for-profit world, Maura Richards of Wohlsen Construction and Jamie Spencer of SilverBloom Consulting broke down the reasons.  They included vetting based on market feasibility, no need for pre-sales, a focus on rentals and availability of equity. Can nonprofits find ways to speed up their own development process?

  1. How can we extend housing solutions to the middle market?

As a field, we have options for people with significant resources. We also have housing  for people with extremely limited resources. But those in the middle? They’re often left without good choices. Research specialist Sara Marcq, banking professional Lynn Daly and architect Craig Kimmel discussed new models coming to market — including some for-profit rentals — to fill these unmet needs.

No, I didn’t take three flights to attend LeadingAge PA or visit an exotic locale. After the show, I got in my car, made two lefts and a right and arrived in my own driveway. This shows that a conference really isn’t about a place but about people. It’s people coming together to share their knowledge, in the hopes of improving life for older adults.

 

 

 

Two very different leaders have just reached the halfway point of their journey in the LeadingAge PA Fellows in Leadership program. For all those who aren’t able to attend, we wanted to share ten unexpected things they’ve learned about leadership along the way.

Brian Mailliard is the CFO at St. Paul’s. Sakkara El is the Director of Personal Care at Masonic Villages. As they hit the halfway mark of their journey, here are 10 invaluable insights Sakkara and Brian have gained about leadership so far:

  1. Shake up your thinking. “I came into the program with my own ideas on leadership, much of which was inculcated during my youth,” said Sakkara. “Now I realize that there’s so much more to it. My overall thinking has expanded.”
  2. Be aware of your impact on others. “The program is teaching me to be more aware of myself, and how my actions and reactions can have an impact on those I’m tasked with leading,” Brian said.
  3. You don’t have to have all the answers. Brian has been amazed by the sheer volume of leadership information that is out there. “It’s not always about knowing all the answers,” he said, “but having resources to reach out to and learn from other individuals that are experiencing similar situations.”
  4. Praise your team. All of the Fellows underwent a DISC profile, a test that assesses personality styles. “It was eye opening reading page after page about my leadership style,”  Sakkara said. She has made a conscious effort to implement some of the leadership suggestions that came from the profiles, such as praising the team she directly manages more often.
  5. Be an advocate. The Fellows visited the Capitol Building in Harrisburg to gain a deeper understanding of the importance of advocacy, including interacting with government officials and their office staff.
  6. Execution is key. Sakkara found one presentation on the work of leaders enlightening. “The lecturer explained the importance of crafting a vision, building alignment and championing execution,” she said.
  7. Look outside yourself. Both Sakkara and Brian were inspired by a visit to  Messiah Lifeways in Mechanicsburg. The community is very innovative and 100% resident focused,” Sakkara said.
  8. Look inside yourself. “”It has been an introspective journey in terms of continuing to learn, grow and evolve in my leadership style,” Brian said.
  9. Build relationships. Current fellows, past fellows and LeadingAge PA staff attended a mixer at the LeadingAge PA offices. “Meeting new people you can learn something from is always a plus,” Brian said.
  10. Don’t wait to be a better leader. What would Brian tell people who are thinking about participating in Fellows in Leadership? “The sooner you can do it, the better.”

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One major myth about older adults and technology is that they don’t use it because they don’t understand it. But that idea is as outdated as a flip phone. From social media to online banking, older Americans are adopting tech at the speed of light.

Recent findings by the Link-Age Connect 2019 Technology Survey of Older Adults Age 55-100, also featured in Senior Housing Forum, bear that out. Smartphone use in particular has been skyrocketing. Among people ages 70-74, it shot up from 54 percent to 81 percent. That’s in just the past three years.

Unexpected  Choices

What’s even more surprising than the speed at which older adults are adopting new technologies? The reasons why some are unplugging from tech completely. Or at least using it less. Seniors often make this change, not because they’re confused about technology, but because they’re making a conscious choice to live offline. Here are some of their very smart reasons:

    1. Older adults prefer human connection. As smartphone penetration spikes ever higher in people of all ages, we’re all on our phones, all the time. Even when we get together, we’re logging on to check social media or our daily step count instead of talking to one another. Older Americans have the wisdom of knowing that time on this earth  is precious. It’s important to spend it with family and friends instead of glued to a device. One quote from the study proves the point. “I think technology is taking over people’s lives and it takes away from relationships with people.” – Female, age 95-99.
    2. They’re simplifying their lives. Older adults often have a desire for minimalism that goes hand in hand with human connection. The survey states, “As people age, they simplify their lives, allowing more time for personal interaction and less time for things that ‘busy’ them or take them away from time with family and friends.” Another quote adds,“It isn’t necessarily about teaching older adults to use a technology. It very well could be that they have used it and walked away from it because they do not want it in their lives any longer.”
    3. They’re watching their budget. Those on a fixed income struggle to pay for technology. For instance, only 25% of affordable housing residents have in-home WiFi , compared to 90% of the greater population. Even when older adults can afford to spend more, they follow the principle: “If it works, don’t fix it.”  Sure, marketing campaigns are persuading other generations that they need to spend hundreds on the latest Smartphone. But older Americans often aren’t interested in updating just to get the latest bells and whistles. If it’s a “want” instead of a true need, they’ll keep the device that still works just fine.

 Personality Trumps Age 

The study also found that technology adoption relates more to personality than age. Comments from two different survey participants underscore that point: “I L-O-V-E technology.” – Female, age 84. “I prefer to use it when I want to and not be run by it or tied to it.” – Female, age 95-99. At Varsity, we’ve expressed our opinions before about not lumping everyone 65+ into one category. This new research has driven home, once again, that people of ages need to be seen as individuals — when it comes to technology or anything else.

At the recent LeadingAge CA conference, the buzz was around the changes in how mature consumers are using their homes.  Those changes also mean different expectations for their new residences. Here are three design elements your community must have to attract Boomers:

  1. Space that works

More residents are continuing their careers. Therefore, they desire more usable work and office space. It’s no longer enough to provide the corner of a room for computers. These days, prospective residents are looking for more formal office space and built-in furnishings to support their ongoing careers.

  1. Indoor-outdoor living

Common space for socialization is no longer sufficient. Prospective residents are looking for open floor plans and spaces that transition to outdoor areas. so they can entertain groups of friends and relatives.  A place to party in the privacy of their own space is a common request.

  1. A home with a heart

Along with higher-grade finishes, Boomers want open-concept, larger kitchens and kitchen islands. An open layout can replicate what happens in their own homes, where everyone congregates in the kitchen to socialize.

Architects and marketers are sharing notes in an effort to create more pleasing environments for a younger set of prospects. Although the shift toward younger residents is slow at best, the mindset and expectations of prospects — regardless of age — feels younger.

 

 

This past week, I attended the LeadingAge Colorado 2019 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Vail, Colorado. One of my most profound experiences there was hearing a presentation by keynote speaker Jonathan Fanning. In his speech, Fanning challenged us to “happen to the world.” Our speaker’s assumption was that too many of us don’t happen to the world.  Instead, the world happens to us.

To me, his message had personal meaning. You see, in our business, we often allow life to simply happen to us. This is true not only at work, but too often in our personal lives as well. When we allow life to just happen to us, we usually find ourselves in a place where we feel less in control of circumstances. Perhaps, we even feel  victimized by life’s events.

My Early Travels
Fanning’s talk brought me back to a time early in my career, when I had begun traveling for work. Throughout my career, I’ve continued to have many opportunities to travel across the country and the world. (That’s why my agency, Varsity, ended up creating Flat Wayne,  my alter ego, an intrepid traveler who shows up in cities all over and is always the life of the party.)

Today, I’m as gregarious as “Flat Wayne,” but early on, I would spend most nights huddled around my paperwork within the four walls of the hotel. My work was always the most important task for the evenings, along with a lonely dinner.

Thinking Differently
One of my mentors challenged me to think differently about my travel. He tasked me with doing two things: One was to always find something unique about the area I was visiting and to go see that place or event. The other challenge was to never dine alone. Although a bit more difficult, the effort to always find a dinner guest, regardless of the time zone, allowed me to make life happen.

These small changes in my travel habits have helped me foster more meaningful relationships. That  brought me greater work-life balance over time. I now have a greater sense of so many local cultures, and stay in learning mode.

Making Life Happen
Most of us spend so much of our day with activities centered around work. When I learned how to make life happen through intentionally engaging with the people and environments around me, good things happened. I found fulfillment in relationships and learned so much more about the world. Life had more meaning and purpose. I now look forward with anticipation to opportunities to learn during my travels. More importantly, I  connect with people and break bread together. No longer does life just happen. I make it happen.

As leaders in our category, what are we doing daily and weekly to “happen” to our world? What’s our purpose in life? Why are we here? Who matters to us and why?

Finding Meaning 
Wrestling with the above questions, though challenging, can reveal answers that raise incredible considerations for each of us. We can work to promote meaning for our life and for others. Having a clearer understanding of our answers helps us act with more intention. We can control more of what goes on in our lives and how we create opportunity for meaning  purpose for those who’ve entrusted us with their well-being.

 

 

I thought I was just flying into Fort Worth, Texas, for another sales conference. Instead, attending the 2019 Greystone Sales Adventure from May 1 to 3 was a life-changing experience that challenged me to look not only at my role in sales, but my whole approach to aging services.

The first tip-off that this wasn’t sales as usual was the conference theme: “Get Down in Funkytown.” It reflected a collective commitment by these senior living sales professionals to get down and be rebellious as they seek to reach consumers who demand more control of their next phase of life. Oh, and it offered lots of opportunities for the participants to get their funk on.

The next clue was the keynote speaker, Lois Kelly, co-author of  Rebels at Work and co-founder of an organization of the same name. The essence of Kelly’s book and the organization she represents is a call for us to push all layers of the organization — regardless of respective role or place of authority — to take responsibility for driving improvement, change and innovation.

Lois challenged us as sales professionals to assume a leadership role in driving change across our organizations. In thinking about the undertaking Lois tasked us with, I’ll be lending ongoing attention to the following questions in collaboration with our clients:

  1. What are we doing as partners to make the status quo unappealing?
  2. How are we helping our teams become more agile and flexible?
  3. To what degree are we maintaining our curiosity? What did we learn today?
  4. Who did we listen to today, and what was their message to us?
  5. Why does the world need us?

One final takeaway: Lois summed up her message to the group by pushing each of us to change the soul of the place in which we work. The challenge is monumental, but the talented group of sales professionals is serious about transforming the field in an effort to serve those yet to be served.

 

 

 

The first session of LeadingAge PA’s 2019 Fellows in Leadership program was a huge success. I caught up with coach Diane Burfeindt, vice president of population health and housing at Presbyterian Senior Living, and participant Brian Mailliard, chief financial officer of St. Paul’s, to talk about the kickoff of the year-long program, hosted at SpiriTrust Lutheran’s The Village at Sprenkle Drive in York, Pennsylvania. “The other coaches and I were just amazed at how quickly the group came together — there was a really good energy,” said Diane. Brian agreed. The program was “even better than I anticipated it would be,” he said. Diane and Brian provided some top-level takeaways about what they’ve learned so far:

1. Leaders aren’t born; they’re taught. One surprising course insight debunked the myth of a natural leader. “We learned that anyone has the ability to be a leader, but not everybody is taught to be a leader,” Brian said.

2. The right decision may not always be the popular one. One of the challenges Brian has shared with the group is the realization that making necessary decisions for the health of the organization, may not be viewed as positive by everyone. “I want to be the likable person, and sometimes decisions need to be made that aren’t popular,” he said. Advice from the group: It’s okay if people disagree with you. And you’re not alone — most leaders deal with this issue.

3. It’s essential to see trends in action. The group toured the new assisted living neighborhood at The Village at Sprenkle Drive and heard about trends from Steven Jeffrey, chief strategy and innovation officer at Garden Spot Village, home of a five-apartment co-housing residence, just one of their innovations in senior living.

4. Titles don’t matter. The people in Diane’s small learning group work in a variety of areas, from finance to personal care to operations and strategic initiatives. “I think you can tell we didn’t talk about titles,” Diane said. “Regardless of experience or level or age, we learned a lot from each individual. It’s the diversity of thought and perspective in the learning circle that makes it so valuable.”

5. Other leaders face the same challenges you do. “It was reassuring to learn that the issues I’m dealing with on a daily basis aren’t limited to myself or my community,” said Brian. “Other people are going through the same things I am.”

6. Leading takes even more work than you’d imagine. Of course, leaders put a lot of effort into their jobs, but it’s essential to carve out time to focus on leadership development. “When I left the first session, what I was thinking to myself is how much study, time and thought people put into being a leader,” Brian said. “It’s something that you work at.”

Both Diane and Brian are looking forward to reuniting with their small group. “I’ve always found Fellows in Leadership to be a very personal journey,” said Diane. Brian seconded this sentiment. “I never slowed down before to think this way or contemplate leading in this way,” he said, “but I’m very glad to get the opportunity.”

Between sessions, the participants will be meeting virtually, getting advice on issues that arise at their communities and working on individual learning projects. “It’s always interesting to see how the group evolves through the year,” said Diane. Stay tuned for the highlights of the next session of 2019 Fellows in Leadership, taking place in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, May 15–18.

As we head into 2019, we look back on an exciting year for the Varsity blog! Here’s a countdown of our most popular posts for 2018. It’s a potpourri of topics, from serious to humorous to touching. One common thread: innovative ways of helping people age well, from a world-renowned village for people experiencing dementia to LEGOs.

  1. Older Adults Experiencing Homelessness Inspired by an experience our president Wayne Langley had passing an underpass in Los Angeles, this three-part series provides insights into how older individuals experiencing homelessness are treated. Read the first installment here.
  1. Difficulties in Diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease  In this guest post, Rebecca Evans of geriatric nursing.org discusses the second most common age-related disease after Alzheimer’s, including the lack of a precise screening test and why early diagnosis is so important. Read it here.
  1. Remembering Sal J. Molite, Jr.  Derek Dunham, vice president of client services at Varsity, pays his respects to Sal J. Molite, Jr., former president of Edenwald Communities in Towson, Maryland, who sadly passed away in January 2018. He was a true friend and colleague, who had a passion and dedication for the aging services. Read the post.
  1. American Hogeweyk — an Interview with UMC’s Larry Carlson Varsity spoke with Larry Carlson, President and CEO of United Methodist Communities, on his fascinating experience visiting Hogeweyk, the world-famous memory support community in The Netherlands. Read the post.
  1. Playing with LEGOs Could Help Older Adults Our most-read post of the year came from Robinson Smith, Varsity creative director and lover of all toys and games. Rob discusses Adult Fans of Legos (AFOLS), many of whom are older adults who use Legos to engage in a creative exercise for the mind. Read the post.

That’s our countdown of top posts for 2018! Stay tuned for more fresh perspectives in 2019, and please contact us  if there’s a topic or issue you’d like us to cover.

 

Last week, part of the Varsity team was in Denver, Colorado attending the “Pioneering a New Culture of Aging” conference hosting by Pioneer Network. It was an excellent event that certainly helped to reshape some of our thoughts around aging. We came away refreshed and invigorated; we are ready to bring forth these new ideas in our work. As we look back on the event, we identified three major points that everyone can benefit from.

1. Collaboration and transparency

The spirit of collaboration and transparency among the “Pioneers” creates an incredibly opportunity for transforming the way we view aging. This event convened a unique mix of aging services professionals. Each person brought with him or her an attitude of activism, directed at making a difference in the aging experience. Theirs is a mindset that promotes a willingness to share best practices in a way too many conferences miss.

2. Substantial shifts required

Often, when we think about change, we view it through a lens of policy and procedure. This event reminded us that culture change initiatives also require substantial shifts in programming, physical environments and mindsets. Our space needs thought leaders from across multiple disciplines, and not just traditional aging services professionals, to impact society’s views on aging.

3. Age of fear

As our friends at Janska displayed their amazing garments during Tuesday night’s fashion show, they reminded us of the importance of treating older adults with dignity. The items were, of course, fabulous – but so were the faces of the residents modeling the garments. Treating aging adults with respect and dignity isn’t as difficult as we sometimes make it seem. Get over your fear of what aging does to the human body and connect emotionally with someone you consider “old.”  You’ll be rewarded in countless ways!

We genuinely enjoyed our time at the conference and heartily recommend this event to anyone who has an interest in aging services. Until next year, we encourage everyone to keep making those subtle, daily improvements that can change how we view aging.

The 2018 LeadingAge Tennessee Annual Conference & Vendor Showcase is now in the books, and it was a great event. Gwyn Earl and her team deserve major kudos for pulling off a fine event. We, at Varsity, were pleased to host the conference Lounge, as well as to exhibit during the Showcase. In between these times, we took the opportunity to check out some of the sessions and engage with our colleagues in the volunteer state. As is tradition here at Varsity, we’ve wanted to look back on three major themes we picked up from the event and share them with all of you who may not have been able to attend.

1. The need for conscious communication has never been greater.

For us, Dr. Donna Van Natten was an excellent addition to the conference line-up. She specializes in nonverbal communication and led a couple of sessions on that topic. Of course, the Varsity team made for easy pickings as she provided examples of both positive and negative nonverbal cues. While this information is great in the business world, it also has major applications for those working directly with residents. Being conscious of your nonverbal communication — and being able to read the nonverbal communication of others — could make the difference between a good interaction and a great one. When was the last time you thought about how the placement of a chair in the room could help someone make an important decision? Dr. Van Natten has, and her excellent session really made us think about our communication strategies.

2. The death of the dining room

Much discussion was had around changes to the dining experiences created by providers. One of this year’s LeadingAge TN Innovation Awards went to a provider that dramatically changed the dining experience for its residents. Gone was the dining room, institution meal trays and bland plate covers. The provider replaced this service with localized dining stations throughout the community, manned by chefs who prepared foods mere steps from residential areas. Now, residents wake up to the smell of bacon sizzling and warm maple syrup, completely changing how they dine. This is a trend that we are seeing nationwide, with more intimate and customizable dining experiences being provided to those in assisted living and higher levels of care. It’s heartwarming to see the changes developed in the independent living space being transferred to other campus areas, as well as the level of impact this is having on resident satisfaction.

3. Retirement as a destination

If you haven’t been to Nashville recently, you may be unaware of how much it has become a tourist destination. One of our Varsity team members described it as the Times Square of the South. This rang especially true as we heard stories from providers describing how new residents were moving great distances to a community in Tennessee. From the Northeast to Los Angeles, people are retiring to Tennessee in droves. While some of these people may not be moving directly into Life Plan Communities, many are opting for 55+ communities that could easily lead to a provider’s doorstep. Tennessee is an especially attractive place for retirement — warm summers, mild winters, beautiful scenery, thriving food scenes and fantastic entertainment options all combine for a great independent retirement lifestyle. This, coupled with the recent influx of young families to the area, could create a retirement boom as older adults decide to move closer to their younger family members. Many providers with which we work rely on the local community within 20 miles of their property for most of their new residents. However, if a campus is appropriately positioned, with some creative marketing, it could go from a regional provider to a national retirement destination.

Once again, we want to thank all of our friends for a great conference experience in Franklin, Tennessee, and we wish all the best to the providers of that great state as they continue to live “Life on Purpose” as members of LeadingAge.

Last week was a busy one for the Varsity team. Over the course of four days, we visited both coasts, with the team enjoying a successful annual conference and expo in Spokane for LeadingAge WA, followed by a top-notch annual event in Hershey, put on by LeadingAge PA. As usual, we sharpened our pencils and took notes about what we’re hearing from providers, pundits and other aging services experts across the country so that we can share them with you!

Before diving in, however, we’d like to congratulate Adam Marles, who has been appointed as the new CEO of LeadingAge PA. Adam is a progressive and visionary member of the aging services community, and we are looking forward to the ideas and innovations he’ll bring to the table. At Varsity, we’ve been working with LeadingAge PA to help launch its new website, and we’re excited to be a part of its next chapter!

Now, on to the takeaways!

1. Skilled nursing regulations

Whether you’re in Tacoma or Philadelphia, the changes to skilled nursing regulations remain an ever-present bogeyman that haunts providers in our space. It seems that, just when organizations feel they have a handle on compliance, authorities change the regulations and guidelines again, causing a new scramble to ensure providers are up to snuff. If we have to describe this trend in one word, it’s “weariness.” Providers feel like they are running a rat race that never ends; they are constantly trying to keep up and are very concerned about falling behind. As a marketing and branding group, these regulations fall out of our area of expertise, but we empathize with our skilled nursing providers who are trying to find a way to make their compliance jobs easier. Kudos to those organizations that have strong nursing leadership and that continue to be leaders in this space, such as Presby’s Inspired Life and Elim/Augustana Care.

2. Mindset matters

Motivational speakers are a key component of LeadingAge conferences. They help the leadership in our space feel refreshed and energized about the work they do. One common theme we heard from these speakers on both coasts is the importance of mindset.

Let’s face it — working in aging services can be stressful. As care providers, we see people at their most vulnerable, and we have to deal with death far more often than we’d like; however, our residents rely on us to remain upbeat and positive. One bad day can quickly turn into a dour week, which impacts everyone around us. As LeadingAge Washington speaker Dan Diamond put it, “Every day, we choose our mindset.” What was the mindset you chose for yourself today? How is it affecting those around you? Being conscious about our attitudes and mindset can help us become better leaders for our teams and organizations.

3. What’s next?

There is an unquenchable thirst within the aging services space for information on “what’s next.” It seems like as soon as someone explains what he or she thinks is “the next big thing,” someone else raises a hand to say, “That’s great, but what’s after that?”

We’d all love to have a crystal ball and be able to predict the future of our marketplace. At Varsity, we have some good ideas of what’s coming down the pike because of our insights into generational values and our breadth of experience across the country, but what’s next for Washington might be very different from what’s next for Pennsylvania.

For example, in the western states, we’re seeing providers tackling social policies like never before, such as LGBTQ issues and legal cannabis use. Over on the East Coast, providers are more interested in innovations in construction and technology and how it will change their product mix going forward. At some point, focuses will shift as each area looks at how the other has engaged and managed the challenges at hand.

While the travel between these two conferences was exhausting, the value of seeing LeadingAge members in two very different parts of country was immeasurable. We thank both LeadingAge WA and LeadingAge PA for their hospitality, and we look forward to continuing our partnerships and initiatives with them.

In the coming weeks, our team will be at LeadingAge Florida and LeadingAge Tennessee, so stop by and say hello!

LeadingAge Colorado celebrated it’s 50th anniversary in style with this year’s conference and exhibition, under the theme “Looking Back, Leading Forward.” Part of the Varsity team was on hand for the event and we thoroughly enjoyed the program.

We were especially taken with the keynote speaker, Reggie Rivers, a former player for the Denver Broncos, who shared his sports experiences and related them to the leading of teams. Reggie’s wit and humor were infectious and his presentation was packed full of great lessons. We wanted to share three takeaways from Reggie that we think could benefit any leader of teams in the aging services space.

Establish a metric for success.

Organizations accomplish goals because they keep their eye on the proverbial prize. While each individual person, team or department in an organization may have goals; they should all be contributing to the ultimate metric of success. Every person within the group should be able to clearly understand how their work helps to accomplish the overall mission and advance the organization.

This point really struck home with us at Varsity. As partners with our clients, we are keenly aware of how our work directly aids a client in achieving their goals and pushing their organization forward. We will definitely be asking our future partners to articulate their “metric of success” and working to demonstrate how we are contributing to that goal.

Focus on your area of control.

Aging services is a big and complicated space to work in. Every day we are confronted with new challenges and opportunities. They could range from a disappointed family, to an unexpected survey, to celebrating a 100th birthday. It can be easy to let ourselves get caught up in these moments and feel like we are constantly responding to issues instead of being proactive. To Reggie’s point, if we spend our time focusing on the items we can control, we’ll end up happier and closer to our goals.

Prepare to fail and instead focus on incremental wins.

If we succeeded one hundred percent of the time, the world wouldn’t need us. We must recognize, as people, that we are always learning and growing. We are going to fail our team. Our team is going to fail us. It’s how we respond to these failures that demonstrates our organizational culture, values, and understandings. On that same thought, we should also celebrate incremental wins. If your goal is 100% occupancy, don’t delay celebration until that number is hit. Instead celebrate every new resident and contract signed, as that’s an incremental win that is pushing you further towards your goal.

Reggie demonstrated the real world impact of these three points thorugh a story about the Broncos. The team shifted their philosophy for rewarding success and in doing so, made sure that EVERYONE “wins” when the team does well on the field. The leadership of the team made sure that every role in the organization understood how their job contributed to the overall team performance. This caused an absolute transformation in attitudes and, interestingly enough, the team went on to win several Super Bowls after numerous losses in the Big Game.

We congratulate LeadingAge Colorado on a successful conference and a productive half-century of advocacy for seniors in the State. Keep up the good work and we are looking forward to the 2019 conference!

 

The LeadingAge California 2018 Annual Conference & EXPO is in the books! As always, the event was truly “extraordinary,” fitting with this year’s theme. From the PAC dinner on Monday evening to the continuing education classes and the exposition hall, the event was filled with opportunities for learning and networking.

Over the last year, we’ve built up an article series about our three takeaways from major events like “be extraordinary” by LeadingAge California. This gives me a chance to share some of the insight I’ve gained and, hopefully, provide some thoughts around what’s on the horizon for aging services organizations.

 

The sharing economy is here to stay.

Given the flood of Boomers who fall into a more moderate income category, expect the concept of sharing even more of their collective assets to continue, up to and including their homes. Brace yourself for groups of friends who want to move to your community to cohabitate — perhaps two or three to a home. Ride sharing continues to grow in this space as well. I had the opportunity to speak to several people who are using Lyft as a primary source of transportation at their communities, with much success. Other organizations are making shared vehicles, like Zipcar, available to residents. As individual assets continue to shrink, expect to see Boomers looking for creative ways to pool their resources to get the best experience possible.

 

In advocacy, there is power.

Advocacy remains vital to keeping the needs of our aging society in front of legislators; as a field, we must do more work in coordinating a common voice on behalf of those we serve. LeadingAge California is leading the charge by increasing its focus on developing its PAC and targeting specific legislators who have an interest in helping LeadingAge member organizations. It isn’t just investing in lobbyists, but also in causes that can make a big difference in the bottom line for communities across the state.

 

Technological advancements can’t replace social interactions.

Right now in our communities, we are seeing a technological revolution that is being driven by our residents. During the conference, we heard multiple stories of residents utilizing the Amazon Echo and Apple Siri products to augment their day and make it easier. Boomers and seniors are taking these devices and finding new and creative ways to apply them to their daily lives, especially for those who may have vision issues. Think about it — our society is incredibly driven by visual interactions; however, this new generation of device is best interacted with using our auditory senses.

All that being said, these advancements aren’t likely to replace human interaction. Attendees were cautioned on the consequences such devices can bring with them, like families who visit less often, a decline in face-to-face doctor visits and a desire to automate health. It’s a rabbit hole that we can easily fall down as we cut costs and stretch our staff farther. Remember, no piece of technology can beat the caring voice and the compassionate hand on the shoulder of a trained nursing professional.

 

We’d like to thank our friends at LeadingAge California for the opportunity to present two education sessions at this year’s event. Our team had an excellent time meeting and networking with communities from all over the Golden State, and we are already looking forward to next year!

As LeadingAge wraps up another very successful annual conference, the Varsity team took a step back to discuss what we heard throughout the various presentations and our discussions with colleagues. Our list contains seven items that we believe are going to be critical as we forge into 2018 and beyond.

  1. Welcome to information overload! As professionals in the field of aging services, we are being provided with more data than we have ever been before. Not only do we have to be able to understand what the data represents, but we must also be able to apply it in a way that leads to growth for our partners. This means knowing what data points to focus on as key performance indicators, and which to ignore as white noise that can only serve to distract our plans.
  2. The continuum is changing rapidly and becoming more complex to manage. As residents enter into more skilled levels of care — and remain in those beds longer — we are learning much as a field. Of course, with this additional knowledge comes a change to best practices and regulations. The speed at which these adjustments are occurring is faster than ever before. This, coupled with all of the moving parts of the care continuum, is really forcing providers to react in the moment rather than plan a measured response.
  3. Aging services is an aging field. If you take a look across the country, many of the most successful and longest-serving C-suite office-holders are nearing retirement. They made excellent careers in aging services and stayed at their employers for decades. Now, as they near retirement, their organizations are concerned about what a change at the top might mean. Succession planning and internal training are top of mind for many LeadingAge members as they begin to wrestle with who will fill the shoes of leadership in the future.
  4. What a retirement community looks like is changing. Anyone working in aging services is familiar with the biggest player in the field: The Villages, in Florida. This community changed what it meant to retire. Then came along NORCs – naturally occurring retirement communities — where individuals of similar age found themselves living in close proximity, creating a little community all their own. The next evolution of this model, dubbed “Boomtown,” places emphasis on intentional intergeneration communities that bring together people of all ages to the benefit of the whole. Focusing on the entire spectrum of wellness, the Boomtown model works to seamlessly integrate senior living spaces into existing communities.
  5. Life Plan at Home extends community reach. The Life Plan at Home model is quickly becoming the next big thing in retirement marketing. By enabling potential residents to enter the system without actually moving the community, the Life Plan at Home model creates a revenue stream now and ensures new on-campus residents in the future. By partnering with third-party program providers, aging services providers are growing their scope and reach, engaging with potential residents and working them into the sales funnel earlier than ever before.
  6. Communities must know their place in the market. Every community is unique because of the residents and team members that make up the campus. Knowing the core values of your community is important to your marketing message — do you understand how you are perceived in the marketplace?When a potential resident is shopping around for aging services, he or she often visits many different campuses and talks to people with deep field knowledge. As shoppers discuss their choices, they are given feedback, with perceptions on what a community is like. What are people saying about you? Are you “luxurious and cultured” or perhaps “rich and snobby”? It’s amazing how quickly others will ruin a reputation by twisting a brand identity.
  1. Consumers are loyal to authentic organizations. What does it mean to be authentic? In short, it means that your organization actively acts ethically and according to your mission and values. In aging services, this is accomplished through a strong and distinct sense of identity that goes above and beyond the business. It means that all of your actions align with your mission and help advance your cause.At Varsity, our signature brand odyssey process directly relates to authenticity. We help you identify how your brand is perceived, how the mission aligns with that perception, and what actions you can take to become more authentic moving forward. Check out our Branding & Marketing page to learn more!