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This fall, we joined leaders in senior housing and skilled nursing at the 2021 NIC conference. As close collaborators with healthcare innovators in long-term care, we were delighted at the chance to learn from our peers. We’ve compiled nine critical takeaways about the senior living market inspired by the NIC panelists. 

1. Older Americans Want More

Aging Americans (those 60 and older) want more than essential healthcare and safety. They also want support, social connection, and autonomy. More and more, Americans are resisting the idea that by aging, they have to put aside their independence and be treated differently as “seniors.” Along with safety, older Americans want unique life experiences to look forward to that will give their days deeper meaning. Residents should be able to make choices about how they live, from choosing activities to arranging their own rooms.

Since independence is so important to aging Americans, it’s no surprise that they’re resistant to being “put” in a senior living community. Instead, Americans want communities that they choose. To help senior living thrive, we need to move away from a “push” market, where older Americans feel pressured to join a community by family or healthcare providers, to a “pull” market, where residents are joining because the community offers real engagement and support. 

2. Middle-Income Folks Need More Care Options

In 2029, 43% of older Americans will be middle-income. In 2014, there were about 7.9 million American citizens who qualified as middle income—but by 2029, this number is expected to rise to 14.4 million

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Owners and operators of senior living communities should note that middle-income folks have unique needs, defined by their financial resources. This group typically can’t access Medicaid-covered long-term care, but home health care and senior housing might also feel out of their reach. To attract this market, senior living must offer more flexible (and more affordable) care options. 

3. Healthcare Must Become a Labor Leader 

Labor shortages are a huge problem in healthcare at large. The employment rate for women is lower right now than it has been since the 1970s, which is bad news for women-dominated industries like healthcare. With women typically earning less than men and serving as the primary caregiver for their families, they’re also more likely to sacrifice professional opportunities.  

To help make sure workers stay in the industry, senior living (and healthcare in general) needs to improve work-life balance, growth opportunities, benefits, and pay. Even passionate employees may look for work elsewhere if healthcare isn’t supporting their needs. Child care reimbursements, in-house daycare, and flex schedules can all be critical for workers.

“The industry has got to become a leader in labor—a leader in wages—not the stigma of being a low wage industry,” says Stephen M. Monroe, Managing Director of Levin Associates.

4. Technology’s Role is Growing

As senior living works on improving its relationship with workers, recruiting software will be key. Senior living needs to hire rapidly, especially if the current absorption rate stays at its record high. Healthcare-specific recruiting tools can help ease the way. Candidates are using technology to check on employer brands, organizational reputations, and local pay rates. Paying attention to your online brand is critical.

It’s also possible that digital healthcare services will reduce the strain on senior living. Aging Americans who aren’t ready to join a community could still benefit from tailored telehealth services. For businesses that can offer these services, telehealth might become one more option for aging adults who want a different kind of senior care. 

5. Senior Care Needs State-Level Support

The NIC panelists agreed that in 2020, governmental aid was critical to skilled nursing’s survival. But this support declined in 2021, leaving SNF owners to look for help elsewhere. According to Mark Parkinson, President & CEO of AHCA / NCAL, getting federal support for SNFs has begun to feel like “scratching and clawing for a diminishing amount of money.”

Now, SNFs may need to shift their focus from getting federal support to getting state support. NIC panelists say that it’s been much easier to work with state officials than to continue struggling with the federal government.

6. It’s Still Hard to Predict How Occupancy Will Recover

NIC released a rare set of projections to show when senior living might recover from the pandemic-era drop in occupancy. These estimates vary widely. How quickly senior living recovers will depend on whether the industry keeps up the recent record-high growth rate, or if growth will drop down to a more conventional rate.

At the absolute fastest, senior living could recover occupancy levels within 1.8 years. This will only happen if the record-high growth continues. But if the growth rate drops back down to the average rate from the past ten years, senior living won’t fully recover for 7.7 years. 

There are a lot of factors at play here. Occupancy will recover faster if senior living businesses offer more affordable options, but some businesses may raise prices to offset COVID-era costs. At this point, we’re still waiting and watching to find out how senior living will handle pandemic recovery as an industry. 

7. Supply Chain Issues Are Affecting Senior Care for Better and for Worse

If the record-high level of senior living growth continues, the industry will need to add about 30,000 more units per year to keep up with demand. That’s almost double the number of new units currently added each year. 

Usually, it takes 12-15 months to go from breaking ground to opening up to residents. But developers say labor, material, and supply chain issues could cause delays. That’s a problem if demand booms in coming years, but NIC panelists say there’s a silver lining. Slowing down development could relieve some of the pressure on senior living to quickly increase their occupancy, especially if the rate of demand begins to lag.

8. Senior Housing is Healthcare, but Aging Americans Aren’t Happy About It

Senior living is a part of healthcare, but not all aging Americans want to see it that way. Boomers want their normal lives to continue. If they join a senior living community, they don’t want it to feel like the first step toward more intense care.

Older Americans want to live in vibrant communities—not to feel like they’re losing control of their lives. To appeal to Boomers, business owners may need to adjust what they offer and how they market it. This will mean giving aging Americans autonomy, flexibility, and social activities, while also working to reduce the stigma associated with senior living communities.

9. Unpaid Caregiving for Older Americans is Declining 

Unpaid caregiving is theoretically an option for anyone, but in reality, it’s on the decline. Some older adults simply don’t have family available to provide care. There are currently about 8 million childless adults aged 56-74 and 2.2 million childless adults over 74. About 40% of childless adults live alone, compared to 20% of those with children.

Right now, 62% of older adults are married. But in the future, this will be only 52%, thanks to fewer marriages and a growing divorce rate. It’s likely that with fewer family caregivers, more older Americans will need senior living services. The senior living market will need to adjust to welcome a new generation of patients and residents.

Better Senior Living Staffing With Apploi

The future of the senior living market may feel uncertain, but Apploi is here to simplify staffing for your community. We help employers source candidates, streamline hiring, and onboard new recruits. Hire painlessly to make a great impression on new applicants. 

Interested in learning more about how you can recruit, hire, and onboard healthcare staff quickly? Contact us today for a free demo of our end-to-end talent management solution. 

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Melanie Boroosan

Over her six years in healthcare administration, Melanie has managed human resources, legal, compliance, payroll, and recruitment efforts at a corporate level. This oversight granted her a deep appreciation for the unique needs of healthcare managers, and for the direct ways that business operations affect the wellbeing of each employee. As Apploi’s Director of Healthcare Innovation, Melanie draws from her experience in healthcare HR and ancillary long-term care to pursue a vision of holistic healthcare staffing. Her work is rooted in the knowledge that great care begins with improving quality of life for all healthcare workers.