The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is vast. Beyond the threat the virus had on the immediate health and safety of staff and residents, it also took a toll on mental and psycho-social well-being.
In May, Wagman Construction sponsored a virtual roundtable event to envision future opportunities in senior living as we move forward through the pandemic and post-pandemic. Facilitated by Greenstone Mosaic, with thought leadership provided by Melissa Andrews, President & CEO of LeadingAge Virginia, Chris Henderson, President & CEO of Pinnacle Living, and Eric Krull, Executive Vice President of THW Design, this esteemed group guided participants in discussions about creating a path forward. The common themes that evolved from the discussion included the following:
- Continue to tell our story. The pandemic created awareness surrounding many of the challenges senior living communities face, from the lack of sufficient funding, to staffing, to aging facilities. We must harness that awareness to educate legislators, regulators, and the public. There needs to be continued education and explanation on the levels of living and in language that consumers understand. We must share positive stories, that show case the remarkable work that is done, and we should be specific in our descriptions, so they paint an appealing picture of the senior living lifestyle. Marketing and branding messages need to reframe senior living as places of purposeful living where thousands choose to call home.
- Redefine community. It is time to intentionally create “community” outside the walls of our life plan/senior living communities. Services and amenities could be repositioned so they can be accessed by surrounding neighborhoods and nonresidents. Consider ways in which services provided to the larger community may serve the middle market or those that can’t afford traditional senior living.
- Innovation through technology, programming, design, and renovation. Technology should be leveraged as a platform for communication and connectivity. Devices and technology enabled spaces must be accessible for both staff and residents. As we increase the use of technology to communicate with residents, we need to listen to our residents as to how they want to be communicated with. Flexibility is key. Flexibility in space planning is critical, too. We can hope to minimize exposure to COVID-19 and future viruses by controlling access to buildings and spaces as well as creating additional open floor plans with moveable partitions for gathering and dining while maintaining social distancing when required. We should also look to develop capital plans for
structural and building design, along with Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing (MEP) upgrades to improve air filtration to reduce risk and enhance safety. Additionally, consider the small home concept when planning new construction. Enhance and create opportunities for outdoor living spaces. Outdoor features like patios, balconies, gardens, walking paths, recreation areas, and outdoor dining are as important as indoor spaces. Investigate the long-term impact of exploring LEED® certification or WELL Building Standards®.
- Workforce, workforce, workforce. We must value staff in all positions. Organizational cultures can be strengthened by embracing diversity and supporting cultural differences. We must find ways to advocate for living, equitable wages, and affordable health benefits. Recognizing and rewarding staff and developing opportunities for personal and professional growth will be critical as we move forward.
If COVID-19 taught us one thing, it’s that no one can predict what the future holds. However, it is more important than ever to look ahead and try to envision the future of senior living. We must listen to our residents, families, and staff. We need to innovate, strategize, and plan while we educate, advocate, and create a positive awareness and positioning of senior living communities. If there is one theme that emerged, the leaders in senior living are rising to meet the challenge!
– Amy Young, NHA
Director of Business Development for Wagman Construction