At a recent presentation I was making to a university board, I was asked to describe the changes I had seen over my 30 years of experience in senior living. This topic was not a part of the PowerPoint I was presenting, but I quickly adapted. My initial response was to set the context of 30 years. When I began my senior living journey, only the owner of our company had a cellular phone…and it was the size of a brick. Very few of our clients had a facsimile machine. One of the younger board members actually looked at me in confusion until I explained that fax was the shorter version. By this point in my response, I was beginning to feel my age.
It donned on me that 30 years ago this year, OBRA 87 came into existence. If you read the history of SAGE, that was milestone legislation that had a significant impact on a more humane approach to long term care and senior living as a whole. OBRA 87 had tremendous influence on how we thought about the environment for seniors. This was about the time that Dr. Bill Thomas had the gall to invite pets into the care environments. He, among others, began talking about scale…not in terms of weight, but in terms of size. We began bringing food to the people rather than herding people to the food. The concept of dining with 10-12 of one’s closest friends, rather than being fed in a cafeteria of 120 became so appealing! Maggie Calkins (founding SAGE Member) encouraged us to stop hiding the toilets! Lori Hiatt challenged the concept of the nursing bunker. David Green (founding SAGE member) gave residents a voice. Betsy Brawley (former SAGE board member) shed light on the visual experience in senior living…pun intended. Rob Mayer gave the regulations an overhaul.
In this name dropping/acknowledging exercise, I have probably missed a number of pioneers in our world. One of the hallmarks of the past thirty years involves the progression from the medical model to the social model to what I would call the experiential model. Actually, I credit Apple for raising our level of awareness when it comes to user experience and quality, which has transcended into so many markets today. Today, we talk about the bathing experience, the admissions experience, the discharge experience, the dining experience, the wellness experience and even the outdoor experience. This all relates to culture. Our built environments can’t create culture, but they can surely enhance the experience.
I am excited to see what the next 30 years will bring in terms of change for the senior living space. At the rate we are progressing, I believe even the next five years will provide for some amazing breakthroughs.