We recently received an email from a myLifeSite user inquiring about how the resident advisory council of a continuing care retirement community (CCRC or life plan community) typically operates in conjunction with CCRC management. He asked how these “voice of the resident” committees work to impact financial, healthcare, and master planning changes that are being considered by the community’s administration.

This is an important topic and something that should be considered not only by prospective residents of a retirement community but also by leaders and influencers in the senior living industry as a whole. If CCRCs and other types of 55-plus retirement communities want to gain market share, they must meet the expectations of their target market. Yet research shows that many communities are falling short when it comes to listening to residents’ feedback.

>> Related: The Voice of the Resident: Why the Senior Living Industry Should Listen

Many residents don’t feel heard

Holleran is a consulting firm that works with senior living communities across the country to collect actionable feedback on resident and employee satisfaction. They are contracted by communities to conduct surveys focused on topics like resident engagement and satisfaction, resident experience, and culture, as well as move-in and exit surveys. The results can then be benchmarked against other communities’ results.

In the last three years, Holleran has surveyed 77,000 independent living residents and over 11,000 assisted living residents, plus nearly 60,000 senior living employees. Of note, residents surveyed are typically asked about various dimensions of four “engagement markers”: voice, connection, well-being, and fulfillment.

Michele Holleran, Ph.D., observes that of these four markers, it is “voice” that is consistently ranked lower than the other three in resident engagement surveys. She attributes this frequent finding to several factors.

She contends that there is a gap between residents’ feedback and administration’s response. Oftentimes, she believes that employees and administrators think they are responding to residents’ suggestions, but that is not always how residents perceive it.

Holleran also notes that residents typically do not rate their resident associations or councils very highly either, and she also believes that administration needs to increase transparency with their decision-making processes when it comes to issues that impact residents.

>> Related: Senior Living ESG Initiatives Help Attract Today’s Prospects

A varied response to the voice of the resident

Circling back to the user email we received, there is no single answer to his query. The fact of the matter is that some retirement communities are better than others at listening to and acting upon the feedback of their residents.

Some communities have resident advisory councils that are extremely engaged, with management frequently consulting them on topics that impact those who live in the community. Other communities’ resident associations are rarely active or called upon for input.

This aspect of moving to a senior living community may be very important to one prospect and a non-issue for another. Depending where you stand on this topic, this may or may not be something you would need to take into account as your vet prospective retirement communities. 

However, from an industry trend standpoint, it does seem that senior living residents increasingly want a say in the decisions management makes. Of particular interest are topics that directly impact residents’ day-to-day lives — things like dining, expansion projects, healthcare, and other services or amenities.

Of course, listening to the voice of the resident doesn’t mean that residents will get everything they ask for, and some complaints, for example, may be unfounded. But it’s more about how this type of feedback is handled by the community. Is there an open and productive means for communicating to management? Does management make it clear that they care and want to hear from residents, even if they can’t accommodate every request? 

Especially as the fiercely independent Baby Boomers continue to reach retirement age and consider their senior living options, it seems demand within the senior living industry will surely suffer if retirement communities’ management doesn’t find new and better ways to listen to the voice of the resident.

>> Related: What The Best Life Plan Communities Have in Common

Tapping the expertise of residents

Finding effective ways to listen to residents’ feedback may be particularly vital within CCRCs, which often have a higher price point than some other types of retirement communities. They also often tout their services and amenities in their marketing initiatives, so if they want satisfied residents, it is important that residents feel that they are getting what they are paying for.

It’s understandable that residents of retirement communities want nice amenities, and for CCRC residents, great care, if needed, but there’s another key ingredient that goes into resident satisfaction and that is a sense of respect, which includes feeling like your input is heard and valued.

All retirement community residents have been around long enough to have gathered important lived experiences, and many are also highly educated professionals who bring that knowledge with them to the community. Retired engineers, accountants, city planners, nurses — these are just a few of the professions that could have expertise that could directly intersect with the management of a CCRC or other type of retirement community.

Administrators of senior living communities would be quite remiss not to tap into the knowledge possessed by their own residents. In fact, in a previous blog post on listening to the voice of the resident, we shared a real-world example of how a CCRC resident helped their community save nearly $100,000 per year on their water bill!

>> Related: Choosing a CCRC That Will Keep Its Promises (and What to Do If It Doesn’t!)

The voice of the resident, a show of respect

Starting at the senior living industry level, listening to the voice of the resident should be prioritized and systematized. And it should be part of the culture of any top-tier retirement community. People living in a retirement community have chosen to make that place their home, and as such, they should feel comfortable and respected there at all times. They should feel that their voice matters.

Of course, in any community — whether it is a retirement community or not — issues can arise. In situations where something isn’t right or could be improved, retirement community residents should have an avenue for voicing that feedback with the expectation that their input will be heard and considered, and if appropriate, changes made. Residents deserve that respect.

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