Opportunities In Senior Living With The Right Guidance

Blog  |  October 28, 2015

seniors looking out the window

This article originally appeared in the October 23 – November 1 edition of the Colorado Real Estate Journal. By Jill Vitale-Aussem, Vice President of Operations for CLS.

Jill Vitale-Aussem

With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 each day, senior living development is busier than ever. In addition to experienced senior living providers adding to their portfolios, brand-new developers are entering the market. “We’ve been seeing a definite trend in developers who are experienced in areas other than senior living,” stated Elisabeth Borden, principal of Colorado-based The Highland Group, which conducts market research and demand analysis in the industry. “It may be a landowner seeking a new opportunity for a vacant piece of property or a real estate developer looking to diversify his or her offerings in the market.” This sentiment is echoed by Camille Burke, president of CLS, a national senior living management and consulting company, which has roots here in Denver. “We get calls weekly from folks who are highly experienced in developing retail, office and multifamily housing,” said Burke. “They’re interested in getting into the senior-living market but wisely recognize that they need experience behind them to pull it off successfully.”

Organizations like CLS offer specialized design consulting and financial projections up to ongoing management of the community once it is completed. “The design of the community is essential to future occupancy success,” according to Burke. “Fresh and innovative community spaces, functional and appealing apartment design, and the purposeful infusion of technology are key.” In addition, Burke advises developers to remember that they must design spaces that appeal not only to the future resident but also to their adult children, who often play an important role in the decision-making process. While the design and construction process is important, the real work begins once the building opens its doors. What organizations like CLS do, noted Burke, is use their experience to turn a building into a community. This process has its own unique challenges. Senior living is quite complex compared to the operations of other types of developments. Operators not only must be skilled in property management, health care and the needs of older adults but must also have experience in offering hospitality-based services like dining, housekeeping and concierge services. Hospitality-based services are definitely becoming a strong focus in senior living.

At the recent Ziegler conference, which focuses on cutting-edge finance and strategic positioning trends affecting senior living providers, the need for hospitality-based services was a common theme. And, indeed, many senior living developers and providers are taking their cues from the hospitality profession. Walk into a new senior living community, and you may think you’ve entered an upscale hotel. Beautiful lobbies welcome you, a concierge is present to help with anything you need, and a few steps away, you’ll find hospitality-based upscale dining. But there’s more to senior living than hospitality.

“At first blush, living in a hotel sounds wonderful,” said Burke. “But because hotels are focused on services, not relationships, living in a hotel for the long term would be a very lonely life.” Successful senior living communities have a mix of excellent hospitality-based amenities and services, and a warm culture of community and relationships. In addition to ensuring that the culture supports resident-to-resident relationships and friendships, more communities are purposely designing common spaces that will welcome residents and staff to come together as well. In such an environment, residents and team members often dine together, exercise together and participate in programs together. According to Burke, “This is something you’d never see in a hotel, but it’s critical to creating a true community.”

Senior living operators also walk a fine line in ensuring that hospitality-based services don’t disempower residents. Moriah Bernhardt, Director of Community Life at Clermont Park Retirement Community in Denver, explained that older adults often feel that they no longer bring value to the world. “Many folks feel that their growth has halted and they’ve developed a lot of learned helplessness,” said Bernhardt. “To counteract that, customer service must have a different approach. Instead of saying, ‘I’ll do this for you,’ we empower residents to do for themselves and each other, and we are there to provide support.”

Focusing on empowerment spurs residents to take a more active role in their community. For example, at Clermont Park, a neighborhood of Christian Living Communities, residents started their own college. Residents plan, teach and attend classes and work together with students from the University of Denver, to continue growing and learning. “If we focused only on doing for people,” said Bernhardt, “Clermont College never would have come about.” While a beautiful, well-designed building is the foundation of a successful senior living community, the creation of a culture of true community, hospitality and empowerment is what creates lasting success. By working together, new senior living developers and seasoned operators can create communities that people will want to call home.

We own and manage senior living communities alongside our parent company, Christian Living Communities.

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