This is the second half of a two-part series examining the Business Impact of Wellness for Senior Living Communities. Click here to read part one.

Fully funded wellness programs can help communities fulfill their mission.

For organizations that are mission-driven, it’s common to see words like “wellness”, “quality of life”, “well-being” and “lifestyle” represented in their mission statement. Within these communities, every decision they make should be driven by fulfilling these objectives, and in most cases, that is true.

Leadership and staff in mission-driven communities generally want to do everything they can to help residents live meaningful and purposeful live. As such, most strive for programming that offers a variety of opportunities that support residents’ physical, mental, social, and spiritual needs.

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This kind of holistic approach naturally includes physical wellness because it’s important for residents to feel their best so that they can do the things they most love to do. But it also includes cognitive wellness.

The National Institute of Health gathered together a panel of health care professionals and asked them what one thing makes the most impact on the cognitive health of older adults. All the experts agreed that the top thing we can do to improve cognitive health is getting regular physical exercise that includes strength training.

How Does Wellness Impact Marketing?

There are many ways that a robust wellness program supports a community’s marketing efforts. One of the most significant is that an active, healthy community attracts more active, healthy residents. One of the best goals that senior living marketing professionals can have is to create a community in which new residents walk in and can immediately see themselves living there.

Attracting younger residents has a huge impact on the bottom line, and clearly active communities attract younger residents.

For most communities, the overarching strategy is to attract residents who are not yet high-need, providing as much support as possible so that residents can age in place, remaining in the community for the rest of their lives. This strategy only works when the community has a thriving wellness program.

Marketing and wellness staff should be viewed as on the same team, with marketing looking for ways to highlight community wellness programs in every way possible.

“I love the HUR equipment because I have seen firsthand how it strengthens our residents’ bodies and reduces their risk of falling. When I tour potential residents and their families, having a well-equipped wellness center that produces amazing results makes a big difference and helps set our community apart from the competition.”

– Laurie Brandy, Community Relations Director

Communities with robust wellness programs and well-equipped fitness centers are what prospective residents and their families are looking for.  

Fuller Village, an Independent Living Community in Massachusetts, achieved a 75% increase in participation at their fitness center and a 50% reduction in the time it takes to see an available unit. Andrea Doherty, the community’s Marketing and Operations Director said that the new fitness center was “a necessity to attract the next generation of residents who have an increasing desire for access to wellness and fitness programs that promote healthy and active aging.”

Jen Deleonards, their Fitness and Wellness Director, said, “I think it’s safe to say that building our new fitness center around the HUR line was the best decision Fuller Village has ever made on the wellness front.”

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The Influence of Wellness on Occupancy Rates

High occupancy rates are not only achieved by attracting new residents. It’s also vital to reduce turnover.

When residents remain healthy for longer, turnover rates for those who need to move to assisted care are automatically reduced. This reduces costs, particularly in a Continuing Care Retirement Community model which is committed to caring for the needs of residents in most circumstances, for their entire life. For these communities, preventative care that includes a system for maximizing wellness is the most cost-effective strategy for long-term care.

Vacancies cost communities money, regardless of whether units are filled quickly after someone moves out. One study found that refurbishing an apartment in assisted living for a new resident costs an average of $4,000.

In general, keeping healthy residents at their current level of care for as long as possible is the most cost-effective option for senior living communities. For communities that invest in wellness, turnover rates are low, and they often have a waiting list of potential new residents. These factors free up resources that can be redirected into the community, making it even better.

Success begets success!

Wellness Enhances Resident Engagement and Satisfaction

For senior living communities who want to increase the level of resident engagement and satisfaction, focusing on wellness might be the best way to do it.

Resident satisfaction is a top indicator used in senior living to measure success. Non-physical attributes of a community often have a greater impact on resident satisfaction than physical attributes. For example, a community can invest huge amounts of resources in creating beautiful structures and a picture-perfect physical community. But, if residents are not feeling well and are lacking in opportunities to participate in enjoyable activities and meaningful social engagement, their overall engagement and satisfaction will be low.

According to an ICAA survey, those engaged in wellness programing report feeling much more satisfied with daily life than those who are either not involved in or without access to a quality wellness program. Features that make the most impact on resident engagement and satisfaction are the quality of daily activities and programs, dining flexibility, the quality of staff, and other non-physical attributes of their community.

Why Does Social Support and Mood Matter to a Community’s Financial Success?

Depression is associated with cognitive impairment regardless of age and is a precursor to higher levels of care.  Interestingly, depression is less likely among people with strong social networks. It’s important for communities to do whatever they can to decrease depression in their residents – but, it’s equally important to decrease perceived loneliness.

One of the most interesting things about studies focused on understanding loneliness is that feeling lonely really is in the eye of the beholder. One study followed 800 older adults over four years and found that those who felt the most lonely were more than twice as likely to develop dementia in the next four years.

If you believe that you are lonely, regardless of whether you are surrounded by people who really do love and support you, you will experience the same physical and cognitive effects of actually being alone. In other words, our perception of our support networks is more important than the support networks themselves.

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Wellness Increases the Length of Stay for Senior Living Communities.

Hypothetically, let’s say that there’s a community that generates $3000 in monthly revenue per resident. If the community achieved a 5 month increase in the average length of stay, that amounts to $15,000 in revenue gained. If the community has 250 residents and is able to decrease their turnover rate by 20% (50 residents), and if half of those residents (25 residents) participated in a wellness program, that could equate to as much as $375,000 in increased revenue for only a 5 month increase in the length of stay.

The ICAA reported that for senior living communities in Illinois, the average length of stay jumped from 6 years to nearly 9 years when residents participated in a wellness program.

The fact is that the average length of stay for seniors in Independent Living has been proven to increase if they are participating in wellness programs. This increased ROI can then be diverted to back into the community’s wellness program, generating an even higher ROI.

The Revenue Impact of Wellness for Memory Care Residents

A 2013 study published in the Journal of American Medicine found that offering high-quality physical exercise programs to memory care residents saved $12,000 per patient per year.

“From a dollar and cents standpoint, increasing length of stay in independent living or assisted living can have a substantial revenue impact. If, for example, 60% of residents in a purposeful wellness program stay 2-3 months longer in their homes, it doesn’t take too long to see a significant ROI. The revenue from those added months helps cover the cost of the program.”

 – Brian Boekhout, VP Wellness Services EnerG by Aegis

Wellness as a Source of Revenue

We must shift our mindset from wellness as a cost to wellness as a revenue generator.  Many communities across the country are already doing this in creative ways such as:

  • Opening up their fitness center to the public for a fee. This strategy not only generates revenue directly, it’s been proven to increase occupancy rates because many of the seniors who visit the fitness center eventually want to move in. This also has an indirect benefit to marketing because it attracts younger seniors, which is often desirable to potential residents seeking an active community.
  • Charging an extra fee for personal training or special classes.
  • Maximize Indirect Revenue Sources that are the result of a longer Length of Stay and additional money spent in cafes and shops that are attached to the fitness center.

One Continuing Care Retirement Community in California was able to generate an additional 90,000 in revenue by charging for personal training.

“The HUR Smart Technology and the HUR SmartBalance have given us a way to create a data-driven program… our trainers incorporate it into progress reports as a way to keep residents motivated. Participation in the personal training program has increased which resulted in a $90,000 increase in revenue.”

– Jan Olsen, Fitness and Living Well Manager for Paradise Valley Estates

Walker Methodist, a CCRC in Minnesota, was able to offset their fitness center costs by 62% by charging a small membership fee.

“We’ve experienced charging for membership increases participation because it deepens member commitment to showing up… The membership fee also allows us to create a higher quality program with better equipment, more classes, and staff committed to providing a personal touch that’s important to members.”

– Aaron Aslakson, Director of Fitness Centers, WalkerMethodist

Wellness Elevates Competitive Positioning

When prospective residents and family members visit a community, it’s obvious when a community truly cares and invests in wellness rather than just talking about it. Communities with robust wellness programs align to what the Baby Boomer Generation wants, and helps communities compete with other housing and service options (like just remaining at home).

How can your marketing budget be diverted to support or enhance activities and fitness programs?

Let’s rethink how we deliver wellness in order to have the greatest impact creating environments where people can live meaningful and purposeful lives with a positive impact on business outcomes.

This approach requires a shift in marketing strategy as well. Feature wellness programs as the heart of the community whenever possible. When designing communities or new fitness centers, make it so that the wellness center is featured prominently right at the front of the campus. Use wellness programs to attract younger residents and as an additional revenue generator. It’s also important that fitness centers are able to house a variety of programming and are equipped with machines that have been specifically designed for seniors.