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ALFA 2011 -- well-orchestrated, good intentions
Hearing the band play on. Seeing an opportunity to attend a day of the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) annual Conference and Expo in Orlando -- I had to go -- hoping to see what's new and different. These have been a difficult few years for this for-profit industry, with expansion constrained by a difficult lending climate, with filling capacity challenged by later move-in dates and shorter stays, with the need to do more innovative marketing to entice prospects -- and with those that do move in having both higher expectations along with greater frailty and other issues commensurate with age or need. This year I was surprised to hear talk of the need for wireless networks throughout buildings (and being deployed -- see ESCO's CareConnect, for example), that new residents are arriving with their laptops in tow. Given the age range as a result of older move-ins, there was also a continuing focus on memory care, safety and wellness.
Spotlighting emotion and inspiration. And it was a professional and well-staged experience. RightClick Software sponsored a short film contest that challenged filmmakers to tackle the topic of ageism. It was a treat to see a beautifully done film starring Ed Asner as an elderly widower moving sadly from his home to a senior housing community -- but able again to find meaning and purpose in his life -- as well as a girlfriend! -- once he was there. And this conference was, according to ALFA CEO Rick Grimes, the first ALFA to include an excellent live band and choir performing for the presentation of the ALFA Hero Awards (5 employees selected from more than 600 nominees). This is an industry in which the staffers who are at the very bottom of the management pyramid are the day-to-day backbone of quality of life and confidence for residents and their families. The hero stories, presented on well-made videos that showed the these employees guiding, talking and singing with frail seniors. As they were presented with awards at the event, these women who included a medication technician and several CNAs, looked completely overwhelmed as they were greeted with standing ovations from the 2000-strong audience of executives, suppliers, managers and staff from across the industry.
Innovations worthy of note. The ALFA conference also highlights the 'Best of the Best' programs offered by its members -- and a few struck me as really tackling the conundrum of providing stimulating programs for this market -- for example, a program at Country Meadows in Hershey, Pennsylvania that uses visual images to communicate religious and spiritual topics to residents with dementia. To get people up and moving (maintaining weight and reducing falls), there's a program at Chelsea Senior Living in Manalapan, New Jersey, that offers 'Chelsea Dollars' every time a resident takes a walk, participates in exercise, plays Wii Bowling -- the 'dollars' can be used for raffles and gift cards -- the result has been fewer falls and better weight management. And Senior Living Communities 'Life Stories Video Series Project' which has enabled 200 residents to be interviewed by a professional videographer as they tell their own life stories.
Tech presence and interest - sell once, deploy many. Tech vendors often note that marketing and selling into senior housing communities is difficult -- they worry about long sales cycles, constrained capital budgets, complex decision-making processes, and the need to overhaul processes in order for technology implementations to succeed. Despite these issues, several vendors see the compelling opportunity to 'sell once, deploy many' for products that may not easily grasped from direct-to-consumer websites. So they were at the ALFA event with technology offerings for residents and family members: including WellAWARE Systems (monitor sleep disturbance) Coro Health (provide media therapy for residents), Connected Living (a senior and family portal), It's Never Too Late (a senior computer and software), Parental Health (senior health monitoring) and My Vigorous Mind (brain fitness) as well as wander management tech vendors like EmFinders, RoamAlert, and HomeFree. For vendors of products like these, a presence with ALFA -- as well as the national conference of its AAHSA non-profit brethren, now renamed LeadingAge -- simply makes good business sense.