From tech to payment sources, senior living execs see the need for major industry changes

In the darkest days of the pandemic in the rearview mirror, many veteran operators will have to consider trying new technology, adopting new data requirements — and possibly starting to receive reimbursements from the federal government.

Here are some of the big takeaways from a panel discussion at the 2023 Argentum Senior Living Executive Conference in New Orleans this week.

In the year It’s no secret that the industry changed dramatically when the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020 — or, as Arrow Senior Living CEO Stephanie Harris says, “it blew up overnight.” Operators have spent the last three years cutting corners and bringing together all aspects of the business, from staffing and food service to mobility and health care.

But the “silver lining” of that destruction and gathering period is that high-life operators have had a long time to change old ways, including those that need to be changed in the future anyway.

“One of the biggest changes … is thinking about the expectations of the new consumer, the new worker, how the pandemic has changed what people want, where they live, work or even spend their time,” Harris said. “So one of the things we’re looking at is changing the business model.”

From bold predictions about the future of senior living payment sources to how the industry can and will collaborate, here are some of the ways operators including Arrow Senior Living, Solera Senior Living, Retirement Unlimited (RUI) and Belmont Village are looking to change the industry’s business. Model to new gear.

Rethinking payment

The senior living industry has long opposed taking federal payments for services the way the skilled nursing industry does. In recent years, certain payments from Medicare and Medicaid have started to enter the conversation for many operators — but Adam Kaplan believes the industry can go even further in its quest for federal dollars.

“My prediction is that assisted living and memory care will be reimbursed, they won’t stay at private pay,” Kaplan said during the panel discussion.

His argument is one that operators have made increasingly with payers in recent years: The senior living industry already creates a lot of value for the health care industry, so why not get paid for these efforts?

For decades, the popular point of that argument was that industry was wary of being over-regulated by the federal government. But the current margin squeeze and financial headwinds require a new way of thinking, Kaplan says.

“Given the amount of margin compression we’re seeing, we have to wonder if we’re going to be a private-payer industry for the long term,” he said.

He believes the industry has an opportunity to demonstrate two major benefits: improving outcomes among seniors and providing the services seniors need at a lower cost than other options.

“I don’t think we’ve always communicated the value proposition very well,” he said.

Solera co-founded a primary care clinic at the Solera Community Campus in Austin, Texas. And the exciting thing for Kaplan is that the collaboration gives the supplier a real opportunity to demonstrate the value, quality and improvement of results.

“For every person who enrolls using their primary care service, they take the Medicare payment for those beneficiaries and then we share in the shared savings,” Kaplan said.

But the industry needs more data to prove its value — and that was on the mind of Belmont Village President and panel moderator Mercedes Kerr. She said she believes data standardization is important and coming — and she’s “optimistic for the first time” that operators are waking up to that reality.

“I believe the industry needs to meet some level of standardization, quality of care, reporting or financial metrics,” she said. “It’s going to be a tough lift, but I think everybody’s going to get in there eventually.”

Changing technology, changing preferences

As the juniors loom large in the senior living industry over the next decade, operators agree that they will be carrying a whole new set of choices. And while exactly what those preferences are remains to be seen in some cases, the bottom line for operators is that they must be willing to be flexible about what their prospective residents want.

That’s especially true as the industry has spent the past two years increasing occupancy rates, according to Kaplan.

“[Residents] They’re saying OK, now that you’ve passed that on to us, make the game, we expect a lot from you,” he said.

According to President Doris-Ellie Sullivan, the RUI is dynamic and flexible with the times. The operator says it has seen a large and somewhat unexpected influx of independent residents, some of whom have brought a new taste for the finer things.

“Our alcohol and wine list – they were demanding,” she said.

The operator treated the group with lifelong learning opportunities and virtual engagement. Sullivan said the company is looking at automation and AI in collaboration with the company’s website.

New residents are bringing new preferences for technology. While that can include disruptions in equipment, in some cases operators don’t have to look far for guidance on where to go next.

For example, Arrow Senior Living held a hackathon earlier this year that resulted in the launch of a new app in January. The app — called the Archer — is integrated into the operator’s existing Archer app, allowing residents to view schedules or menus and communicate with each other.

“That’s how we move the needle in this business,” she said. “Think of ways [execs] To get out of the way and let our teams really drive innovation.

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