BY: RHODA WEISS
Ms. Weiss is a Santa Monica, CA–based health care consultant and speaker.
More and more hospitals and health systems are purchasing, building, partnering
with, or sponsoring housing developments. These developments include facilities
for assisted living and skilled nursing, independent living arrangements, continuing
care retirement communities, rehabilitation and subacute care programs, and
low-cost housing for people of all ages. Even hospitals that do not have investments
in housing are affiliating with senior facilities for the purposes of education
and medical and market share. And with the arrival of the baby boom generation,
this trend is likely to become even more prominent.
As with their other programs, health care organizations must craft and implement
comprehensive communications plans intended to increase public awareness of
and appreciation for their housing activities, because such awareness and appreciation
will help increase market share and profitability. Health care organizations
must also understand that the target audience—depending, of course, on the resident's
health status—may include both the resident and his or her family members and
The Personal Touch
Marketing elder housing is more personal—because it is based on developing and
maintaining one-on-one relationships—than marketing hospitals. Because it is
more personal, those who do the marketing must connect with health care providers,
such as physicians, social workers, rehabilitative therapists, nurses, and case
managers, as well as with community organizations like senior centers—and also,
directly, with the potential resident and his or her family.
Here are some tips on marketing housing for senior citizens.
Start with Research Numerous sources of research material are available.
They include your organization's own demographic data and information from senior
citizens' groups (your senior membership group, for example), chambers of commerce,
city planners' offices, universities, and health associations. Don't forget
reliable sources on the Internet. Tap college students and volunteers to conduct
phone surveys, focus groups, interviews with key decision makers and "influencers,"
and on-the-spot surveys at senior programs and events. Conduct periodic surveys
and satisfaction assessments among the residents of existing housing, to learn
what they like and don't like.
Talking and listening to residents, their families, and loved ones will not
only help you develop a marketing plan but will also reveal practical ideas
on how to improve their quality of life.
Educate Consumers Educate consumers about the cost of senior housing
and long-term care. According to a 2001 study conducted for AARP, most consumers
are uninformed about the costs of long-term care.1 To educate seniors
about senior living expenses, the financial impact of health care costs, and
the role of Medicaid and Medicare in nursing care, form alliances with government,
business, service organizations, educators, and other health-related groups.
An understanding of these costs helps seniors and their families to make wise
choices and reduces "sticker shock."
Enlist Staff and Friends Involve employees, physicians, volunteers,
and board members in promoting your senior facilities. Inculcate pride among
staff members by giving them customer-service training. When you are recruiting
new staff members, include in your job ads descriptions of the role that employees
play in creating positive impressions in patients.
Encourage Diversity Recognize the cultural and religious diversity
in the facility. If necessary, conduct a self-assessment to better understand
your residents' backgrounds. Engage staff members, residents, and families to
sponsor programs that honor different religions and cultures, perhaps by sharing
traditional foods, stories, and other cultural artifacts.
Put Residents First Always put the residents first, giving them an
opportunity to make choices concerning their activities, meals, social interactions,
and surroundings. You might, for example, allow them to design their own rooms
and choose their mealtimes, thereby enabling them to feel more at home than
they would in more institutional surroundings.
Focus on Activities Create activities for residents that improve their
health, functioning, independence, and sense of satisfaction. Exercise classes,
musical events starring local talent, book reviews, craft shows, Internet classes,
and pet therapy sessions have all been shown to engage the interest of residents.
Schools, clubs, and church and community groups are often willing to help put
on such programs. Try to design programs that will meet individual residents'
Be Inventive Try to think "outside the box" in creating programs.
Camps for handicapped younger people are today welcoming senior campers, for
example. The Wishing Well program at Ridgewood Care Center, Racine, WI, uses
a wishing well built by volunteers to make residents' "dreams come true."2
Each month a resident's wish is granted. Among the wishes granted have been
taking a train ride to visit a family member and flying in an airplane for the
Encourage Visitors Visitors enliven any facility for seniors. Encourage
visits by volunteers, family members, creators and maintainers of websites,
marketers, event coordinators, and others. When my Uncle Saul was in a retirement
community, I'd go to visit not only him but other residents as well.
- AARP, The Costs of Long-Term Care: Public Perceptions versus Reality,
Washington, DC, December 2001, available at http://www.aarp.org/research/reference/publicopinions/aresearch-import-50.html.
- Leis Peterson and Candy Brown, "A Well of Wishes," Contemporary
Long Term Care, February 2002, p. 13.
Copyright © 2005 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.