RESIDENTIAL ASSISTED LIVING IS NOT A THREAT TO THE BIG BOXES…OR IS IT?

Residential Assisted Living is not a Threat to the Big Boxes…Or is it?

Brian Pinkowski, President

I had the chance to speak with Steve Moran of Senior Housing Forum during the 2019 Residential Assisted Living National Convention. He had just heard my opening remarks and wanted to ask about the 27,000 residential assisted living homes we represent as a national association.

Residential assisted living homes are those homes with 19 beds or fewer. Looking around at the more than 600 people in the convention Steve asked me if the residential assisted living business model was a threat to the “Big Boxes.”

Residential Assisted Living is No Threat to the Big Facilities.

To be sure, the big crowd and nationally renowned speakers would suggest that this is a huge market, and in some respects, it is a big market. But we estimate approximately 5,000,000 seniors are in assisted living across the United States. This is a large number and is the target for millions in marketing and facilities and placement services, etc.

Residential assisted living is providing care to approximately 170,000 seniors. Barely 3% of the overall assisted living market. So, no, residential assisted living is not a threat to the “Big Boxes.”

Residential Assisted Living is a Big Threat to the Big Facilities.

David and Goliath

However, during the convention, we heard from Dr. Bill Thomas, founder of the Green House Project, Eden Alternative, and the Minka Project, a concept involving small prefabricated houses built for aging seniors and compact enough to fit on smaller property spaces. Dr. Thomas shared his personal history in senior care from the 1,200-bed nursing homes to the increasingly humane, and smaller-scale nursing homes being developed today. His view was that senior housing was like ice cream. No kidding, he said that.

There was a time, not so long ago, when there were three flavors of ice cream – three! And because we are demanding and particular as a species, Neapolitan arrived on the scene.  (You younger folks can look that up.) Then as people (baby boomers in particular) demanded more and better, Baskin Robbins arrived and gave us 31 flavors.

Then, as those same people wanted even more and even better, we now have a nearly infinite selection of ice cream flavors. Dr. Thomas’ view is that we Baby Boomers will want more choices in senior care than are presently offered by the care providers for 97% of the beds in the market. And he’s right. At the moment “innovation” in the industry is akin to . . . well, to Neapolitan ice cream.

Another important observation from Dr. Thomas was that people are “discovering” that elders want to be in their communities, “like they have for the last 10,000 years before someone thought we should apply industrial model approaches to senior care” he says with polite sarcasm.

He’s right about that and the Big Boxes are figuring that out. Increasingly we are seeing 20-bed facilities pop up that are part of a complex of 20’s – all owned by a national chain. While reducing size is a factor, endless beige tones and tasteful yet bland plastic plants provide a level of homogeneity that still screams “institution.” Thus, there will be an ongoing shift to more particularized tastes for seniors requiring assisted living care.

Thus, from that perspective, expansion of choices offered through the intimate and endless variety of residential assisted living care homes is a big threat to the status quo. But, like ice cream flavors, there is no going back. All of us need to expect increasing particularity and increasing diversity in residential assisted living homes and get onboard or be left behind.

But, like ice cream flavors, there is no going back. All of us need to expect increasing particularity and increasing diversity in residential assisted living homes and get onboard or be left behind.

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