Senior Living in 2021: Why Community Partnerships and Communication Will Be More Important Than Ever

By Sean Kelly, President & CEO of Kendal Corporation

This article is part of a series that supports Love & Company’s upcoming webinar, “Focus on 2021: Insights and Strategies for a Successful Year.” I’ll be joined by fellow thought leaders in the field for the 90-minute session, which you can register for by clicking here.

As a multi-site system of senior living providers that are currently in nine states, we at Kendal foresee that 2021 will be a year of renewal and restoration for our field. In addition to applying the lessons we all learned in 2020, making 2021 a better year for Life Plan Communities will hinge on providers’ ability to create meaningful partnerships and to communicate effectively.

Working together internally

Like all challenges, getting through COVID-19 will be made easier by working together. For Life Plan Communities, opportunities exist to optimize operations and receive support from people both inside and outside your organization.

For example, with COVID-19 guidelines and laws varying in each locality, we have had to work hard to increase collaboration within our teams so we can devise answers to the challenges we’ve seen across our network of communities.

With a focus on teamwork and collaboration internally, we’ve empowered our leadership and management teams to identify and institute plans that are keeping people safe and informed as this pandemic constantly evolves, and evolves differently in different places. One example of this is how we have used our shared knowledge of PPE needs across our communities to create a sophisticated procurement platform that we’re rolling out in 2021.

Furthermore, when it has come to the day-to-day challenges, COVID-19 has been a clarion call for us to lift up our staff members and caregivers as heroes. Our staff members have been the reason that the senior living field has stayed up and running, and we made positive changes to pay and benefits to make sure they feel valued. We owe it to them to foster a truly collaborative culture, and that means truly valuing every team member.

“The communities that are doing the right thing are the ones that have invested in strong middle management and have continued to treat all employees well,” John Franklin, co-panelist on the upcoming webinar and Principal at Pearl Creek Advisors, said.

Working together externally

In terms of sharing knowledge and having a teamwork mentality within the senior living sector, the world is our oyster. This is evidenced even during this pandemic, with people coming together and sharing so generously what they are learning.   

Organizations like LeadingAge, Ziegler, Fitch Ratings and HJ Sims have all been fantastic in creating engagement opportunities for Life Plan Community leadership to participate in, as well as providing opportunities for thought partnership. (Love & Company’s webinars are another great example.)

We’re even seeing communities in the same market area collaborate on operational best practices, and in some cases, the pandemic has lessened the sense of competition because providers can best serve the market when using shared knowledge. In times of need, sharing knowledge becomes a practical matter and builds relationships among providers.

Huge opportunities also exist for Life Plan Communities to build upon their connections with local health providers, especially because our communities use the healthcare system so much differently than the rest of the population. We’re doing our part to keep people out of hospitals when beds are scarce, so synchronizing our residents’ medical records and conditions with local health networks is vital.

Plus, our community medical directors, who are critical members of our operations teams, are also often part of the wider healthcare network. Their connectivity with healthcare providers can bring to bear the wisdom and heft of the local healthcare network for the benefit of our residents both in normal and pandemic scenarios. And there’s no reason that a senior living community should need to wash and reuse PPE, which clearly exemplifies a longer-term need for better collaboration between the senior living and healthcare sectors.

Finally, myriad possibilities exist for Life Plan Communities to partner with local colleges, universities and cultural programs to bring virtual experiences to residents via technology. Programs for the good of the community have been brought to the digital space and now have a much larger reach virtually, whether it’s a lecture series, musical performance or an art show. If we’re not committed to connecting with energetic partner organizations in our community areas, then we’re simply not doing our part.

Optimizing communications and messaging

With COVID-19 has come a new perception—real or false—of senior living. The media has focused on the death tolls rather than determining what is really going on at Life Plan Communities, and we can combat this perception with clear and proactive communication across all the channels we control. The media often portray retirement communities as places where old, sick, frail people live. We must reframe the reality of what our communities are—places populated by older adults whose ages span close to 40 years. They join retirement communities to find new friends, meaning, engagement and, yes, care when they reach the end of their days.

“Don’t let the local media control the messaging,” John Franklin says. “Be proactive in managing the local press in your market. Get ahead of them and even work on educating reporters on what is really going on at your community and why—and why these places are still great places for seniors to live.”

Today’s older adults are also unbelievably resilient, which is something that we have witnessed and have tried to harness in our corporate messaging. Residents have a bigger thirst than ever for engagement, and they’ve been able to quench their need for a sense of purpose and fulfillment in many safe ways.

For example, I’ve witnessed how residents have been filling gaps on behalf of communities by engaging with things like campus-wide online resident communication networks, phone banks and group Zoom calls. They are providing leadership with their opinions on the next generation of master plans and more. They’re not having physical interactions, but they’re feeling the ever-important sense of connection. These people who are naturally inclined toward activism and advocacy are the focus of the stories our communities are telling, which is helping to highlight the strength of the older population in the big picture.

From a sales and marketing perspective, there’s also one key recommendation I’d like to end with and share about the messaging that your community uses.

Kendal is making sure that our external communications are conspicuously attached to our originating values and mission. This is because today’s prospects aren’t just seeking a place to live; they want to associate with a community with which they share values and somewhere they can make a difference.

Throughout this year, we have witnessed so many communities—and individuals—change what they do so that they can continue serving our older adult population, and that has been inspiring to see. We owe it to today’s and tomorrow’s older adults to keep adapting, innovating and serving our missions.

I hope you’ll join us for the next Love & Company webinar, because there’s a lot more to share. The all-star panel will be going more in-depth on topics like this and what your organization should do to have a successful 2021. To sign up, click here.

For the rest of the articles in the series supporting the webinar, Focus on 2021: Insights and Strategies for a Successful Year,” click here. Contributors from the other panelists will have articles published soon that go deeper into how to make 2021 a rebound year for your Life Plan Community.

To request a 20-minute consultation with a Love & Company leader so that your organization can approach the new year with a metrics-focused plan in place, simply click here or call Tim Bracken at 410-207-0013.

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