I was born a contrarian and a cynic, but I wouldn’t necessarily wish that mindset on anyone else. My parents, teachers, bosses and other authority figures in my life have patiently tolerated my overactive and questioning mind. But of course, it can be very lonely to find yourselves perpetually at odds with the status quo.
It’s not that I’m trying to be difficult, it’s just that I put less weight into what someone tells me and a great deal of weight into what actions they take. I’m both a realist and an idealist. I don’t want to waste my time, energy or attention on ‘what is’ when I can focus on the unknown, ‘what could be.’
This quality has served me well in my professional and academic careers, allowing me to identify opportunities and execute on business ideas ahead of competitors. CarePods is an example of this quality applied to an extreme. My thinking and motivation for founding it was that if I could weigh the evidence I’d received from the thousands of older adults and senior housing colleagues I had managed and worked with in the past and then transparently understand the incentives driving the senior housing industry today, maybe I could create a new paradigm for senior care.
And so that’s what I’ve endeavored to do over the past year. I’ve learned a lot along the way by talking to hundreds of older adults and their children and wanted to share a few of my key findings into the future of senior care to date with you! They are…
- There is no real plan (or incentive) to deal with the staffing crisis and caregiver wages.
Nothing presents a more immediate threat to the accessibility or quality of future senior care than the caregiver staffing crisis. Senior care is already too expensive for most, so providers can’t simply raise prices and pay workers more.
But they do have strong financial incentives to focus on new construction and renovations to keep their buildings occupied. Unfortunately, this leaves very little left over for the caregivers on the front line and many are leaving the industry for better-paying, and less stressful jobs.
In home care, this phenomena is also true, but is reflected in the consolidation and acquisition of smaller providers by large national companies or private-equity groups. These smaller companies are valued, bought and sold on a business model that pays caregivers very low wages and uses economies of scale to deliver care. This trend is not sustainable or quality-driven.
I’m sorry to report that in my discussions with many stakeholders, there is no real solution in sight. The answer, for now, is largely that they do what they can but that eventually the economy will fail, and people will be ‘desperate’ for jobs.
Still, I remain encouraged because of models like mine that do work with higher entry-level wages and because there ARE leaders in senior care pushing to solve this problem.
- Older adults don’t want assisted living, but their children do.
In the last year, I’ve spoken personally with over a hundred older adults in their 80’s who are navigating senior care decision-making. Not one has said to me, “I’d like to move into an assisted living facility.”
What they do express an interest and appetite for is independent living arrangements such as rental apartments, townhomes, and options found in continuing care retirement communities. But even those who are paying for the future provision of care in assisted living environments with a life plan contract never want to move to that part of the community. They want services brought to them in their home until the point where they are SIGNIFICANTLY mentally or physically incapacitated and nearing end-of-life.
Their children on the other hand, tend to be stronger advocates for assisted living. Most are so overwhelmed and unprepared by the prospect of caring for their parents, that they wait until a crisis occurs and then seek out an all-in-one solution when their parents can no longer live alone. At this stage, their parent is usually a secondary decision-maker and the children value the pretty buildings, knowing someone is always around, and the many programs and activities at the community. They heavily weight “how pretty the community is” and “who lives there” as factors in making their decision. Most do not heavily interact with caregivers.
Of note, adult children’s preference for assisted living falls sharply off when talking to middle- or lower-income families, particularly those in rural areas. This is likely because they can’t justify the price-tag long term and because their options are generally limited and lower in perceived quality.
- Customer Acquisition is Still a ‘Chicken and Egg’ Problem
Prospects delay a move or decision until something bad happens. That has been true for decades and is still true today. In the age of online advertising, Google reviews and Facebook, this means that providers have to pay to reach a large amount of people consistently so they can convert on the small percentage who are ‘ready’ at the very moment they are ready. If not, you lose the business. This raises the cost of operating and opening a new business significantly. That cost is passed along to the consumer and pushes out smaller, more innovative providers.
To conclude, I would say, that while the content of these findings on the future of senior care hasn’t necessarily been a surprise, I have been surprised by the consistency of the findings. Nearly every older adult and adult child I spoke with echoed the same sentiments. Of course, this feedback is of particular interest to me as we strive to make CarePods the best it can be, at an affordable price, but I’d love to also hear your thoughts and perspective on this post and senior care in general!