From an operational perspective, 2020 and early 2021 were an “all hands on deck” endeavor for Life Plan Communities. As we are transitioning out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is inspiring to see that many senior living providers are already thinking ahead to how they can evolve their communities to remain viable beyond this challenge. We are beginning to see communities consider what will keep their products relevant—and safe—into the future.
This begs the question posed by senior living insiders and outsiders, alike: Why would seniors want to move into group living right now?
Fortunately, with the proper insight and adaptations, Life Plan Communities can counter and answer this question with data-backed responses that speak to what your prospects value most, what they want and, perhaps most importantly, what they need that isn’t currently accessible.
The first step is discovering what prospects want and need, which comes from senior living market intelligence. Initial market research provided by Love & Company reveals what seniors want from Life Plan Communities in the age of COVID-19 and suggests how providers will need to adapt their offerings to stay relevant.
Data are encouraging
In a series of studies of Life Plan Community prospects, Love & Company noted encouraging feedback.
“Our early data suggest that markets are holding,” Karen Adams, Vice President of Market Intelligence at Love & Company, said. “Prospects are generally showing the same commitment to making a move, with their biggest concern being continued spread of the virus, rather than factors such as the economy or home values.”
The prospects are still out there, and in the vast majority of cases, they are still keen on making a move. Now, Life Plan Communities must transition to telling the story that not only are their communities safe, but they are desirable places to be. Beyond tailoring messaging and sales tools to COVID-19 concerns, communities may consider making larger-scale adaptations as well.
Countering COVID-19 (and Whatever Comes Next) with Structural Evolutions
For both current and planned projects, our clients are asking questions that go well beyond PPE and social distancing. Due to how COVID-19 has disrupted our field, we’ve been asked about architectural and structural factors such as:
- Airflow and ventilation
- Dining spaces (smaller and/or multiple dining venues)
- Long-term care facility layouts (the small-house model)
- Safe family visit areas
It is inspiring to see Life Plan Community leaders being responsible stewards for the future of senior living by asking these types of questions. Whether it’s COVID-19 or something else, it speaks to the need for senior living to be innovative. Organizations must be resilient and prepared, even when something like a bad flu season hits. The community has a responsibility—especially with COVID-19 changing things—to provide safe visitation spaces and make other long-term investments that make the community relevant to prospects.
This could mean building large or outdoor visitation spaces into a design or completely rethinking the long-term care layout to adopt the small-home model. This includes a smaller number of rooms and less staff in one area, all making it easier and safer to operate in case of a virus.
Adapting to New Dining Norms
We know that the dining experience at a Life Plan Community can be a make-or-break factor in a prospect’s decision to move, so dining experiences will need to remain competitive despite COVID-19 influences. Communities are altering their master plans to account for this, with many expansion and startup projects including multiple, smaller dining venues spread throughout campus instead of one, large dining room. In the event that local jurisdictions impose capacity limits (e.g., in a pandemic), this preserves the ability to serve residents in person.
The senior living “dining revolution” that was already underway has been accelerated by the pandemic. To meet prospects’ expectations relative to how dining has changed outside of Life Plan Communities, we expect to see more varied dining venues available throughout campuses, in addition to more take-out and/or grab-and-go options. More communities are also adapting online dining reservation systems to manage dining capacity during the pandemic, which will likely remain in place for the long term.
With research-backed insights into what their prospects want, senior living providers must evolve their structural and dining offerings to meet expectations and remain competitive now and in the future.
For more articles covering senior housing trends and how providers must adapt to them to continue fulfilling their missions, click here. To download Love & Company’s brand-new white paper, “Senior Housing Trends: 2021,” click here.