Q&A with Mather LifeWays Vice President of Senior Living

This month, InvestigAge reached out to an expert in the field of senior living for a Q&A about his experiences and insights into the aging services industry. David Kane is Vice President of Senior Living for Mather LifeWays. David has been working in senior living for over 30 years and has been with Mather LifeWays since 2008.


What are the biggest changes in senior living that you have seen during your time in the industry?

-I’ve seen a number of changes over the past 30+ years. Some of the biggest are:Changes in societal views and expectations of how and where we serve and care for older adults

-The shift from a more clinical model of care to a wellness model

-Consumer expectations of greater choice, both geographically and environmentally

-More engaged and educated consumers, including older adults as well as adult children

-Customer thirst for greater service/program innovations and customization, necessitating organic change in organizational thinking


What changes do you see on the horizon for the senior living/aging services?

In terms of meeting the needs and preferences of older adults, I think we will see greater innovation and customization in living environments through flexible design. Additionally, I think we will need to embrace and cultivate an older workforce. As more baby boomers enter senior living, we will see a greater need to maintain seamless, state-of-the-art technology throughout entire campuses. Additionally, I think it will be necessary to broaden the spectrum of affiliations to create and satisfy baby boomers’ differing desires for stimulation and meaningful engagement. This will require the aging services industry to continually study trends and other industries to innovate services and programs, which will regularly challenge function to dictate form.


What are the biggest challenges facing operations within the senior living/aging services industry? And what steps do you recommend for successfully facing these challenges?

Organizations must become more nimble to remain relevant in the industry. If not, they may wither and die. Some single site and/or small system organizations may face increased challenges as a result of changing economic or regulatory environments. Consideration of affiliation or merger with a like-minded, financially sound organization can offer greater assurance of having the capability to fulfill their mission, potential for expansion, and ultimate sustainability.

Staffing will continue to be a challenge as well. An unwavering commitment to continuous staff education and development will help organizations attract and retain individuals who are passionate about working with older adults. The workforce is looking for organizations where staff members are valued, nurtured, and enjoy a career of fulfilling purpose and meaning in their lives.

Regulatory changes and social consciousness will alter how we currently serve and care for older adults. Organizations will need to respond with operational and practical design modifications in older/existing communities and more intelligent design in all new developments/environments. Residents, families, and staffs will need education to understand and accept evolving service and care delivery models across these more “blended” living environments.

Consumers are also seeking increased transparency from owners and operators in virtually all aspects of the industry. Organizations will need to more fully understand the impacts of applicable regulations and confirm organizational guidance and responses to this accelerating trend.

 

What do you think are some of your greatest accomplishments within senior living? Why were these needed and what steps needed to be taken to realize your vision?

While a number of accomplishments come to mind, I fondly recall the first community I was involved in over 30 years ago, where I had the privilege of assisting in the development of a condominium CCRC. Unheard of at the time, this fee-simple real estate model required more progressive thinking in its design and operation than anything then available.

The 37 -acre campus combined the redevelopment of a 1950s-era school building where classrooms and auditoriums became apartment homes and amenity areas, in addition to new construction. The baseball fields and portions of the extensive grounds were transformed with clusters of semi-custom homes amid a bucolic landscape—unheard of at the time.

Innovations in programming included access to lectures and classes at a local university (with thoughts to offer live broadcasting back to the community), an artist in residence who unleashed the varied talents of residents, and an ample greenhouse, as well as fine restaurant dining by reservation and elegant catering services.

The care venues were intentionally designed to be boutique-like. Person-centered staffing tailored care and service to resident owners and their families in environments designed and furnished quite similarly to all other amenity areas of the community.

Prospective staff members were carefully selected for their passion, and were taught new skills for their personal and professional development. Most had no previous work experience with older adults and quite a number remained as employees for many years until their own retirement. Notably, the administrative assistant rose to become the executive director of the community.

This likely seems mundane in comparison to communities of today. At the time, this development emanated from a deep commitment to bring a daring vision to life—one involving the passionate commitment of dedicated individuals to deliver services and care to older adults in new and unique ways. The same holds true for us today, and is no doubt truer for tomorrow, as we will be continually challenged to innovate our organizations and the industry.


Can you tell us about some of your major influences and why they were so influential?

I have found the influence of two individuals whom I consider mentors to have been particularly helpful to me in the industry. One was a successful businessman and the other a social worker. While each touched me in different ways, they helped further shape my core beliefs that decency, kindness, and nurturing the value in each human being should predominate in everything we do. This has served me well during my life.

 

What is the best piece of advice that you have received in the senior living industry?

Listen to residents, families, and staff with your heart; and when you speak, always do so from your heart. In doing so, anything is possible.

 

What other pieces of advice do you have for other professionals overseeing operations within senior living or in other aging services roles?

-Improve your earsight. Be more passionate in your practice of active listening. It’s not about you—really!

-Residents are reasonable and resilient individuals. Communicate with them openly, honestly, and often.

-Value and hold staff members in great esteem, for they will reciprocate their value a hundredfold in their interactions with residents, families, and coworkers, and in their own lives.

-Value and nurture others, especially those who challenge you the most.

-Intentionally open yourself to inspiration from other sources, especially outside of your organization and the industry. View things through a different prism.

-Innovate or die. Proactively create the future, rather than being a passive observer of it. Improving yourself, the industry, and the human condition cannot be achieved by being a complacent follower.

-Celebrate small wins. They are huge!


Lastly, what core wisdom would you like to impart to this audience of aging services professionals?

-Dare to be different. There is no real reward in achieving sameness.

-Embrace failure. It is a wonderful path to growth and discovery. It is priceless.

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