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Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) -- time for differentiation, more residents needed

It's been raining in Philadelphia. A lot, and somewhat metaphorically as well. Inside this convention of management of mostly for-profit Senior Living housing companies (and 300 exhibitors trying to sell to them), the keynote theme was about differentiation. Why it's so important, because filling the buildings of attending companies -- like Brookdale, Sunrise, Emeritus, Bell Senior Living, Country Meadows -- these days is tougher than ever. No question -- this industry is overbuilt and underoccupied as the slump in the economy keeps elderly from moving in, executives must get creative with their space (maybe reconfigure more assisted, less independent living); more creative with their marketing -- see ALFA 2.0 (search engine optimization and Twitter, coming soon to an ALF near you); and even more creative with the services they offer the residents to help them move in or stay in (how about a Financial Concierge?). 

In a circumstance where there is too much capacity, move-ins are down, in addition to better search marketing, it stands to reason that any downsides in IL/AL (Independent Living and Assisted Living) have to be addressed. Here are ideas I heard yesterday - will they help?

1) Better educating of prospective market. If an ad generates a call, go to the senior's home, don't make them come to you.  (Personally, I find this creepy especially if the senior lives alone.) Says one exec: 4000 tours generate 200 move-ins. So visibility to create awareness to drive tour volume is key. Branding campaigns for consolidated companies are also underway.

2) Resident directed model. This is an outgrowth of Pioneer Network and Eden Alternative movements that are attempting to drive cultural change in nursing homes.  Find out what individuals really want, tailor services to those needs, give them a say. Residents need to find purpose in life, so facilities are variously boosting the role of residents in volunteering, helping drive a renovation, providing funds for them to run clubs, adopt pets, participate in recycling efforts ('tossing cans into bins is good exercise').

3) Become green, market accordingly. One firm brought in a consultant to identify low-cost, no-cost sustainability ideas -- lockable thermostats with upper/lower limits, motion sensor lights, front-loader washing machines, perennial instead of annual plants, low-flow faucets, fixing sprinkler leaks. Self-identify the firm as 'Green', broadly display, use it in marketing materials, get the staff and residents to participate.

4) Services residents need or want and will pay for.  Facilities need new sources of revenue. These businesses have awakened to the fact that many outside providers are serving their residents with private aides for personal care or transportation -- in fact one large chain estimated leakage of $3-4 million per year to outside providers -- revenue they want back. So they are hiring and training staff to do escorted transportation, personal care, and companion care. As residents age in place, there is a growing need for more and more of these services -- and facilities want to be the provider if they can.

Other than PointerWare, IN2L, and MyWay Village (private labeled by communities), vendors at the show offered software to automate facility operations and marketing.  Ironically, I did have a long chat with one executive who has all kinds of technology enablement -- none of it on his website. He agrees that something should be included -- and can't explain why it isn't there.

Of course, I am biased, but those that want to be innovative and differentiate with the adult children and grandchildren of residents need to step up the pace and underpin services with useful technologies that exist now.

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This article is right on point. If the present government makes half of the efforts at healthcare reform that they say they will, other aspects of Senior Care will also get squeezed along with slow move-ins from cash strapped seniors (and with recent Medicare and SS news about them running out sooner than later, I suspect this will happen). Thus, it is more important than ever that technology play a role in reducing the footprint, educating the seniors, helping design more effective centers for residents and staff, and in general streaming lining the costs. Industry leaders in this effort should advertise this fact because consumers do care, both the seniors and the children of the seniors, as do the professionals hired to work at these facilities. Thank you for publishing this valuable insight.