Length of Stay: Assisted Living’s Silver Bullet

It’s that time of year when senior housing predictions and trend reports are published. From certain angles, the outlook may seem bleak. Staffing difficulties, low occupancy, and increasing competition will challenge senior living executives in 2019 (as they did last year.) What if we could cut through the complexity and find a solution to all of these problems? John Shafaee, chief executive officer of Medtelligent, thinks he has a silver bullet: increase the average length of stay at your assisted living community.

Beth Mace, the chief economist at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC), quoted in a Senior Housing News article, appears to agree. “[These pressures] suggest you need to hunker down and try to grow NOI by trying to maintain strong product, and maintain and increase length of stay,” Mace said.

Amid all the industry talk of changing consumer demand for senior housing and the need to create environments that appeal to aging Baby Boomers, Shafaee’s suggestion may be more pragmatic if you’re responsible for this year’s results: “I think we overfocus, as an industry, on creating an “appealing” product. Most often, if someone has a choice to stay at home, they will. So let’s assume people are coming to us because they can’t get the care they need at home for a price they can afford. Let’s focus on providing the very best care in a home-like environment, and reap the benefits of increased length of stay in our communities.”

Improved health outcomes and more satisfied residents will lead to an increased average length of stay. But how do we get there?

Keep Residents Healthier

National studies show that more than half of assisted living residents leave because their needs change, and a third pass away. Could a better understanding of the individual care needs of each resident help you keep them healthier? We’ve talked before about how technology can be used to monitor and manage changes in a resident’s plan of care. Increase length of stay by thinking about how your community might leverage technology to improve resident health outcomes (and in the process, understand the true cost of care.)

Make Residents Happier

At the same time, a significant percentage of residents leave assisted living for “other” reasons. In Shafaee’s experience, at least some of this turnover can be attributed to dissatisfaction with the environment or the care providers in a community.

“These are not medical facilities. These communities are people’s residences. When you’re there, you’re standing in someone’s living room. You can’t lose sight of that,” he says.

What you focus on drives the pulse of the community, Shafaee says. “Energy matters,” he says. “And what you focus on sets the tone of that energy.” How does your staff interact with each other? With residents? Keep those residents that choose to “move elsewhere” by thinking about what steps you can take to create and maintain the “home feel” of the environment.

Compete for Caregivers

Environment matters to residents, but it also matters to staff. And in a tight job market, it pays to keep your caregivers. Savings from lower caregiver turnover are estimated at over $2,600 per caregiver. Beyond the savings, though, increased caregiver retention will allow your team to maintain their strong relationships with your residents (increasing overall resident satisfaction in the process.) Additional savings from lower resident turnover will allow you to better serve and compensate your staff.

“If you can increase that length of stay by even one month, a lot of magical things start to happen.”

Your results drive your reputation. Satisfied staff and healthy residents create their own virtuous cycle by driving energy that prospects can feel when they enter a community for a tour. Our prediction for 2019? If you focus on health outcomes and your community’s “home” environment, your length of stay will increase and your waiting list will grow.