Adapting to the changing demands of seniors housing

A rendering of the renovated Woodside Senior Communities in Green Bay, Wis.

A rendering of the renovated Woodside Senior Communities in Green Bay, Wis.

by Dan Rafter

There was a time when the seniors living in traditional nursing homes had to eat at certain times. And when it was time to eat, they had to eat whatever they were served.

And when it was activity time? Everyone had to do the same activity at the same time.

That’s no longer the case in the seniors housing world. Just ask Bill Aubrey, senior project manager and internal senior living team leader with Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction in Appleton, Wis.

Aubrey knows all about the changes that have hit the seniors housing industry in the last decade. Most of these changes come down to choice: Today’s seniors have more choice when it’s time to move into seniors housing. That choice can be something small like deciding to eat at 5:30 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. or something major such as choosing a seniors facility that offers them the ability to live independently or, depending on their health, one that provides them with more intense skilled care.

“The changes we see in this industry are positive ones,” Aubrey said. “The care is moving from an institutional model more to a resident-centered model. In the past, you had to eat between this time and that time and this is what you’re going to eat. More facilities are now going to restaurant dining. Seniors have options. And that’s the trend. There is a big surge in choices. These facilities are now a place where seniors are moving on to another chapter in their lives. It’s not a warehouse where they wait until they die.”

The faciliities themselves are more comfortable and modern. They often resemble high-end apartments.

Aubrey says that the change has been dramatic. In the past, for example, residents would often share bathrooms and showers. Today, they expect their own private baths. They want their own private showers.

This means that developers such as Hoffman have to be more flexible when working in the seniors housing industry. Aubrey said that developers are more often being asked to develop seniors facilities that focus more on independent-living and assisted-living methods of care. They are not being asked as often to build skilled-care nursing homes, the seniors facilities that provide the most intense form of medical care.

Part of the reason for this switch is cost. The cost for skilled-care is extremely high. Today’s seniors, though, are living longer. And many of them are staying healthy longer. They might not need the services of a skilled-care facility, but they might, as they age, need a facility that offers independent- or assisted-living services.

“You can’t afford to have people in a facility that is offering more expensive care than they need,” Aubrey said. “That’s why more people are moving into facilities that offer less-intensive care. It’s not as expensive to provide that type of care.”

Hoffman has plenty of experience in this. The company is currently leading the expansion of Woodside Senior Communities in Green Bay, Wis. This project includes the design and construction of a 20-unit assisted-living facility, a rehabilitation center and the renovation of a skilled-nursing facility.

It’s also an example of a seniors housing provider offering a wide range of services, from independent living to skilled-care.

Officials at a facility like Woodside understand that they have to adapt to stay competitive in the seniors housing business. The renovation and expansion project will help the community attract residents in the future.

“The facilities at Woodside range in age. They needed to do something to make the facility current and competitive,” Aubrey said. “If you have a 40-year-old facility in the same market with a brand-new facility, people who can afford to go to the new facility will choose that newer option.”

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