May 11, 2015 - Vassar Byrd | You know, the funny thing IS that everyone’s home is DIFFERENT! That’s because each of us make a million different choices – big and small – to make it fit our own lifestyle, interests, family, budget, etc. The difficulty in senior living is that when a person moves into one of our communities, many of those decisions are already made. Because we have created, at the least, a common building (or 12), a common “citizen’s compact” between and among residents and staff, and some operating rules that are required for licensing or in order to operate our services in a financially responsible way, there is an existing structure that a resident moves into. You don’t get to start from scratch.
On the resident’s part, it is important to understand what is the most important to you and make sure you have room to make choices in those areas – is it food and your own dietary wants and needs? Is it exercise? Is it the ability to go out and participate in a full range of cultural and social activities? Do you need to be able to golf nearby? Volunteer with kids or an emergency food pantry or homeless shelter? All of these things, and the mix of them (because you should GO FOR IT ALL) will help you decide what communities might really work for you.
On the senior living provider’s part, our real focus should be to resist the institutional imperative. Yes, it really is a slippery slope! So you must provide services in the most financially responsible way you can… but at what point does that become the most important guiding light in determining how you structure and price those services? A clear example is “levels of care.” No one will argue that it is more cost effective to have everyone who needs the services of a CNA to live in the same building, but forcing people to physically move to get the care they need can actually DECREASE their independence and quality of life. It often triggers a decline because of the need to acclimatize to a new routine, neighbors, living space. How do you share the added expense of providing that care to them in their independent homes on campus? How do you make decisions that clearly partner with residents rather than telling them what they have to do? In the non-medical realm, where does a provider draw the line on customization of services? How about in the renovation of an apartment home – is the sky the limit? Do you allow any changes to the floor plan? How do you negotiate that territory so that each resident can be part of creating their own home and lifestyle without destroying your own systems that enable you to provide some of that customization without breaking the bank?
I would argue that a fundamental precept of creating senior living as the embodiment of the place we call home is that we can’t do it FOR our residents. We must always do it WITH our residents. I think this is a unique strength of the not-for-profit senior living community as well, as we can and should understand that we seek the highest return in the quality of life of our residents, not the financial bottom line. The latter is critical and must be fully addressed, but within that environment, don’t fool yourself, it is ALL about the residents’ lives. If it is not, you need a different job.