How Can Single-Site Senior Living Providers Tackle 2 Major Challenges Facing Them in 2022: Labor and Consolidation?

by | Jan 6, 2022

By Rob Love, President & CEO at Love & Company and Chris Keysor, President & CEO at Lenbrook

The recent webinar, “Focus on 2022: Insights and Strategies for a Successful Year,” addressed how Life Plan Communities can rebound after two challenging years and get back to growing their missions in earnest. Growth was the topic of the supplementary article by our two fellow panelists, Tommy Brewer, Managing Director at Ziegler and Mario McKenzie, Partner at CliftonLarsonAllen, and you can read it here.

Potentially impeding that growth and advancement, however, are two factors that previously existed as significant undercurrents across the field: labor and consolidation. As the pandemic has evolved, those factors became even more impactful. Senior living providers are having more trouble than ever finding and retaining staff. And, partially due to pandemic-related financial challenges, pressure on single-site communities to consider consolidation has increased significantly.

To continue the discussion from the webinar and dive a bit deeper, here are some thoughts on how single-site Life Plan Communities can overcome labor challenges and manage consolidation pressure in 2022.

Labor

(This section by Chris Keysor)

If there’s one thing that keeps Life Plan Community leadership awake at night, it’s staffing. From dining services to housekeeping and healthcare, the recent “great resignation” has affected the senior living space like perhaps no other. And addressing these challenges will need to be managed from multiple fronts.

As the pandemic has evolved, senior living shifted from the “heroes work here” rallying cry to managing the fallout from vaccine mandates. I saw this firsthand at Lenbrook, and while I am a proponent of having a safe place to work, I was shocked at the number of people who resigned over making vaccines mandatory. And we know it wasn’t just the vaccine mandates that drove people out: Healthcare professionals and individuals working in the senior living sector have experienced burnout to a degree unmatched by any other field. We have made a hard career even harder.

I think that we’ll look back at this generation of healthcare workers as the second coming of the Greatest Generation, and we’ll need to hold them in equally high regard. And to prevent even more frontline staff from leaving, we need to do a better job of honoring those who have stuck with us through COVID-19.

“I think there’s a bigger issue here that we need to focus on as well,” fellow webinar panelist Tommy Brewer of Ziegler added. “Working at a senior living community has to have meaningful inherent value to an employee. If not, they’ll go work at Amazon. It’s easier.

“Generally, people stay with an employer because they really enjoy their work, are paid more than what they would earn elsewhere, or in an ideal scenario, both. Not-for-profit single-site senior living communities have never been the ones to pay the most, so to overcome these staffing challenges, communities need to be places people want to work.”

Tommy also related this to diversity in the senior living workforce as a whole, and how today’s generation wants to work where they not only feel valued but also where they feel represented. The overwhelming lack of diversity in resident populations of Life Plan Communities is off-putting to many nonwhite members of the workforce and something that communities need to acknowledge, understand and address sooner rather than later.

Supplemental note: Rob discussed diversity in this article from early 2021, and it still rings true as we head into 2022.

Consolidation

(This section by Rob Love)

One of the questions I posed during the webinar was based on the premise that many people believe that the single-site Life Plan Community is on its way out. It led to a spirited discussion among Chris, Tommy and Mario (McKenzie), who each have their own perspective and experience on the future of single-site communities.

Of course, for his part, Chris is a believer in the single-site model by virtue of his work for Lenbrook. Our residents want to walk down to the office where decisions are being made. Chris also noted his respect for the vision that Tommy and his colleagues at Ziegler have cast for the senior living field that sees it moving toward multi-site operations. This vision is founded on the fact that our business is becoming more complex while resources to manage the complexity are scarce. Meanwhile, Mario noted that he is bullish on single sites with the caveat that they must be especially judicious with capital resources and strategic planning so that they can withstand any great challenge affecting our field.

In thinking back to the webinar discussion as a whole, I think that the question at hand is not, “Should our single-site community explore consolidation?” but rather, “What is most important for our organization so that we can continue and advance our mission?” From there, a number of other questions can arise and serve as a guide, such as:

  • Does our Life Plan Community have a well-composed master plan or strategic plan?
  • What does current market depth look like in our area, and what will it look like in the next 5 years?
  • What are we doing to address current and coming issues to our field such as the labor crisis, advancing technology and regulatory pressure?

Those questions are not meant to have easy or quick answers. That’s because deciding whether to consolidate should be a decision that takes thorough deliberation.

In closing, one of the terms that kept coming up surrounding the status and future of the single-site Life Plan Community was “scale.” And I agree with my colleagues from the webinar that scale (in technology, staffing and healthcare) will be a big factor in determining the direction that many communities and organizations choose to go.

“If you’re not going to jump on the bandwagon and become a multi-site, you need to figure out a way to do it that gives your organization the scale it needs to overcome the major change accelerators and challenges facing our field,” Chris said. “Consolidating isn’t always the answer to scale, because there are groups like the Novare Consortium that allow organizations like ours to pool resources and insights while allowing us to maintain autonomy. Sometimes you just need someone to run things by, be able to share current best practices and also next practices with, or jointly develop a new program with, and those resources are out there.”

Whichever direction your Life Plan Community chooses to go, “Being a single- or multi-site is not as important as being successful,” Tommy concluded. And that means being able to successfully serve seniors and provide them a place where they can live their best lives.

We welcome further discussion on these topics and challenges facing Life Plan Communities in 2022 and beyond because we’ll be facing them together. Feel free to review the webinar presentation here and drop us a line if there’s a particular topic that ignites your curiosity.

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