Building the Foundation

House on Sand

A house built on sand will not stand”.     Similarly, a marketing campaign must be built on a solid foundation of satisfied residents to be successful.

Management’s efficiency is often measured on its ability to turn its resources into assets. The existing residents, who I often present as “our most precious resources” when conducting training sessions, are a great resource for the senior living industry  Successful senior living centers go to great lengths to ensure that, like the country’s natural resources, these assets are protected and nurtured, and not allowed to become a liability when marketing the project.

Every available means must be utilized to attract prospective residents and convince them to move in, especially in these challenging times.  The existing residents can become the best marketers for the community, but first a solid foundation of resident satisfaction and support must be built.

Word-of-mouth is still the best advertising for the senior living business. A customer who has a good experience will tell 3 people; BUT will tell 10 people if their experience was bad!  And then those 10 people will tell 10 people, etc. etc. Therefore, the first step is to make sure that the resident experience is perceived positively by those living in the community and that it adds positive value to their lives.

So, what can we do to insure that our residents are reporting positive experiences to their family and friends?  My most successful properties – those that ran consistently at 100% occupancy – were those in which the managers became extended family for the residents.  I would tell new manager applicants during the recruiting process that there were just two basic rules regarding the treatment of residents: 1) always treat them with the utmost dignity and respect, and 2) treat them as you would treat your own mother or grandmother.

Dignity and respect are terms that are used in various settings across the spectrum of senior living and health care, including the confidentiality of medical information under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and proper handling of the notorious medical gown.  I have added the term UTMOST to encourage management and staff to think first and foremost of the resident’s dignity in their actions every day and actively demonstrate an appreciation and respect for the accomplishments that each resident has made in their life prior to coming to live in the senior community.

Recognizing and treating each resident as an individual and not as a group demonstrates this attitude of utmost dignity and respect. Otherwise, there is a tendency to fall into the trap of “us” (e.g. staff and management) versus “them”.  The prior management at one independent living property had been so unresponsive that the residents had banded together to form their own independent committee as a means to getting their concerns heard and/or addressed.  This committee had elected officials and held formalized meetings, with published minutes, in which management was not allowed to attend or participate, unless specifically invited by the residents.


Prior management had allowed the equivalent of a “Resident Union” to be formed.  It was tempting to simply refuse to recognize this committee, but I decided that a) that was a battle I couldn’t win and b) that if I did “win”, I would do so by taking away some perceived rights, independence and the respect that the elected officials had with their peers.

I decided to use a sales approach in meeting this challenge instead of trying to dictate behavior to the residents.  We made it a priority each day to recognize and be more responsive to the individual needs and desires of each resident and made a conscientious effort to deal with each of them as an individual.

Most importantly, we demonstrated respect by communicating our plan, vision and proposed changes / improvements to the residents on a regular basis.

Then, we began to find solutions to their concerns, solved some long-standing problems and invested a few dollars for new activities and a few amenities to their environment.  We took the initiative to make changes without waiting for a complaint / suggestion from the residents.

We were successful in quickly turning around a negative situation by treating the residents with dignity and respect.  The President of the committee, after 2 – 3 weeks of this new focus, said that he felt that our new management team really cared for the residents, that he supported what we were trying to do and suggested that he disband the committee.

In exchange, I presented the concept of shared responsibility for the smooth-running of the building; replacing the “union” with a management-led resident meeting, 2-way dialogue and a cooperative effort between management and residents to solve common problems.  This allowed a forum for the residents to express their opinions and concerns (thus having some input and control of their own destiny), BUT management remained in control of the process.

A number of key residents volunteered to help in marketing the property as a result of these endeavors.

This scenario also demonstrates the importance of creating a selling atmosphere throughout all levels of the organization.  The clientele in independent living, and to a somewhat lesser degree in assisted living, are predominantly private-pay, heavily involved in the decision-making process as to their care and level of service, and fully capable of choosing another location / provider any day they aren’t satisfied with the level of service.  Management, for success in this environment, must focus on perceptions and marketability, with less emphasis on structure and compliance with policies and regulations. The individual staff members must sell every aspect of the service every day, including the description of the meals on the menu, presentation of the entree on the plate, the attitude of the housekeeper, wait staff, bus driver and others as they interact with the residents, and the quality of the activity program.1

How many times have you heard the expression that we revert to childhood in our “old age”?  The sad fact is that too often management tends to treat their “charges” as though they were children, with senior centers run like child care centers with a lot of rules, limitations, etc.  This can become demeaning and demoralizing for a senior resident as they struggle to deal with the loss of their independence.  These residents, unlike children, have been accustomed to making decisions for themselves (and often for others through their positions of responsibility) all of their adult lives.

Therefore, PROMOTING INDEPENDENCE is another important ingredient to gaining the support of the residents for community marketing efforts.  This is the mortar that holds the foundation of resident satisfaction together.  A dynamic activity program that identifies and helps residents meet their needs and fulfill their life’s desires is an essential key to achieving these objectives and creating value for the residents.  Activities should be considered as a marketing investment; not merely as a necessary cost – as filler for the day.

Residents who become motivated to get involved with other residents in scheduled activity programs will help create a community that is an active and fun place to live; thereby attracting more potential residents.  The goal should image001be to stimulate an environment in which the residents can’t wait to get up each morning –> to see what types of exciting and rewarding activities are planned for the day.  In some of my best buildings, the residents complained that there was so much to do, that they couldn’t do it all! This is a good complaint to have because they are presenting the property in a very positive light as they speak with their friends and family. 2

In summary, if the residents are treated as individuals, with the utmost dignity and respect and their efforts to maintain their independence in all phases of their life are promoted, a strong foundation of resident satisfaction will be built and the residents will become friends who will be happy to help market the project.

Additional information may be obtained regarding the following topics:

1Building a Winning Culture

2 “Promoting Independence in Mind, Body & Spirit”

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I could not agree with you more concerning treating the resident with dignity and respect. The term we used was the ‘ Touch’ and it meant something special. That changed over the course of time and corporate changes. The ‘ Touch’ became a marketing tool to draw new residents in but not to interact, so to speak, with the residents already there. Marketing became the focal point and the bottom line became the measuring point. Today many of the new managers no longer see the need for interaction with the residents and having a concern for their needs. I received a call just the other day from a resident that has an eye problem that won’t allow her to get up and get around in the morning until the medication takes effect. She misses breakfast unless she gets up 5 hours earlier. The best solution was to give her cereal at night for the morning, and that is what we did. The new managers came in and in a matter of three months told her she needed to come to breakfast or she would go without. She could no longer get cereal at night to take to her apartment. This is just one example of the new way we are treating the elderly in many of our independent facilities. I have expressed the need to return to respecting the resident, and giving them the dignity that they deserve, they earned it. The best facilities in the world will not make up for the lack of true respect and heart felt giving of dignity.

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