Alexis Ohanian’s predictions about senior living disruption caught the attention of Senior Housing News’ readership last year.
The Reddit co-founder’s interest in developing tech solutions for seniors was our top-read story of 2019, ending a two-year stranglehold on the top spot by Jimmy Buffett’s Latitude Margaritaville expansion.
In fact, the intersection of innovation and senior living was the main connecting theme for most of our top 10 stories of the year. Groups of providers laid the groundwork for Medicare Advantage consortiums. Projects involving building senior housing on cruise ships and incorporating Zen Buddhist principles were announced. And providers looked outside the industry for the talent to shape tomorrow’s senior housing.
Here are the 10 most-read stories from 2019:
Ohanian admits that he did not have an initial plan to target elder tech investment with his venture capital firm, Initialized Capital. But with its latest $225 million fund, he is making up for it. Already, Initialized has seeded a variety of tech startups focused on senior care such as autonomous car company Voyage, “grandkids on demand” startup Papa, and secure banking service True Link Financial. He believes senior living will evolve to the point where a new brand may emerge with a top-tier software platform in place to meet the needs of future generations of seniors who grew up in the computer and internet ages.
Storylines Co-CEO, Founder and Chairman Alister Punton believes his concept can help seniors overcome their reluctance to transition from their single-family homes to retirement living. Targeting a summer 2020 launch, Storylines will launch a cruise ship retrofitted with 630 living units available for purchase, and is being designed with the health and wellness needs of older adults in mind, from wide passageways and doors to a medical center and helipad for wellness operations. Punton is also in talks with health insurance providers to draft a plan for seniors who would not be covered by Medicare in international waters.
LaSalle’s financial troubles were mounting for months before the Dallas-based firm filed for bankruptcy in May. Five LaSalle memory care communities triple-net leased to NHI (NYSE: NHI) were out of compliance with lease provisions and unable to meet rent obligations, while court filings indicated a litany of financial institutions and vendors filed lawsuits against the company. The bankruptcy filing underscored just how tough the standalone memory care business has been in the last few years.
A Place for Mom’s new CEO, Larry Kutscher, is well aware of the numerous criticisms levied by providers against the nation’s largest senior housing referral platform. Redefining that relationship with providers is the foundation for Kutscher’s plans to revamp the company. “They’re customers,” Kutscher told Senior Housing News. “They pay us money, and we’ll live and die by making them successful. Listen to them, meet their needs, have open and transparent dialogue.”
The active adult pioneer is adapting its development strategy in order to capitalize on the growing demand for active adult senior housing. Del Webb is moving away from the larger, master-planned Sun City model in favor of building 55-and-older communities on smaller footprints in locations that are closer to city centers. The company is also rolling out new floorplans, starting with its forthcoming eTown development in Jacksonville, Florida, where prices start in the mid-$200,000s.
Sycamore Springs, an independent living community, is Garden Spot Village’s attempt to bring social architecture — a deliberate design of an environment intended to encourage a desired range of social behaviors — to senior living. The community consists of 27 homes, grouped in small neighborhoods around a common green space. Outdoor design elements such as walking paths and sidewalks connect the homes, with two common area buildings that act as a shared venue for neighborhood events. Since its opening in 2017, Sycamore Springs has proven successful and was the Best Independent Living winner in the 2018 SHN Architecture & Design Awards.
While the industry at large seems to be taking a wait-and-see approach to Medicare Advantage, providers such as Juniper Communities are laying the groundwork for leveraging the program in order to capture financial upside and claim seats at the care continuum table. In February, Juniper announced The Perennial Consortium, a partnership with Christian Living Communities, Ohio Living and AllyAlign Health. The Consortium, an operator-owned MA network, is launching in 2021 in Colorado and Ohio. Juniper founder and CEO Lynne Katzmann has been vocal in her belief that the only way senior living can capture the value that communities provide to the health care system is to control the health care dollar. To do that, providers need to become insurers, and changes to MA policies announced by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in January expanded providers’ abilities to capture revenues through MA programs.
Enso Village, an upcoming CCRC project in Healdsburg, California from Kendal Corporation, Greenbrier Development and the San Francisco Zen Center, brings an innovative new twist to the rising trend of wellness-oriented senior living communities. It is also an example of two other industry trends: creative partnerships and the integration of senior living into mixed-use developments. In May, the Healdsburg City Council approved a master plan to develop a 32-acre site — formerly home to a lumber mill on privately owned land — into a mix of uses including the CCRC. Zen Center Spiritual Director Zesho Susan O’Connell told SHN that part of the interest in Enso Village is the incorporation of Sōtō zen principles into a CCRC. “People don’t understand how much fun zen people have,” she said. “The idea of us being completely silent is not as true as much as being present in all involvements.”
Private equity real estate firm The Wolff Company made a splash three years ago when it announced it would enter senior housing. With a portfolio off Revel-branded independent living properties now open and a significant pipeline under development, Wolff announced in January it would be assuming operations internally and tapped former Kimpton Hotels President and COO Nikki Leondakis to lead the effort. Kimpton is one of the pioneers of the “boutique” hotel concept, and Leondakis — also former CEO at Equinox Fitness Clubs and Two Roads Hospitality — believes there are synergies in the service side of hospitality that can be applied to senior living, and improve the overall resident experience.
Toledo, Ohio-based real estate investment trust Welltower (NYSE: WELL) spent 2019 restructuring its senior housing operating portfolio and its decision last June to transition management of 20 memory care communities from Silverado to Frontier was among its higher profile moves —- and yet another reverberation of the brutal headwinds hitting standalone memory care. The majority of the communities— 11 — were located in Texas; overall, the transition cut Silverado’s portfolio roughly in half. Silverado CEO Loren Shook, in an August interview with SHN, said that the company controls its own destiny moving forward, through ownership of most of its properties and the others locked into long-term leases.