NameStorm –CCRC Title Change

Wellness Month. Is the CCRC title the problem? We’re focusing on Wellness this month. To that end we interviewed Cornelia C. (Cee Cee) Hodgson. cc hodgson architectural group.  Cee Cee is a national thought leader in designing for wellness. She’s a regular contributor to LeadingAge. And one of the principal authors of the National Whole-Person Wellness Survey and Report. 

CCRC Title: Is the name the issue, or something else?

Cee Cee brought up the LeadingAge NameStorm task force. NameStorm developed a new name for Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC). “Life Plan Communities” debuted at the 2015 LeadingAge Annual Meeting in Boston.

CCRC vs. Life Plan Community, the Title Match

nature & wellness trends

Cee Cee Hodgson with c.c. hodgson architectural group. National expert on designing for wellness

Cee Cee mentioned during our interview, her support for the Life Plan Community name. She preferred Life Plan Community over the long-standing generic industry and regulatory label, CCRC. Cee Cee explained. The “Care” in CCRC sends the wrong message on proactive wellness. Care conveys things done to or for you, emphasizing any disability. Wellness, by contrast, done right, emphasizes ability.

 

Cee Cee describes the cultural change,  “We are seeing this shift from illness. T0 a focus on wellness. It’s not about what I can no longer do, but it is about what I can still do. And that shift is being played out in the name change you’re seeing. . . from CCRC to Life Plan Community. I think that is a perfect example. We’re changing our language to better represent what in fact we’re doing. That it is not about we’re going to care for you because you are now retired, but rather, it’s about life planning. Yes, I might not be working the same hours or at the same position. But I certainly am planning, and I have lots of opportunities. It’s all about my directing my life plan rather than having someone care for me.”

The “Retirement” part of CCRC also carries a passive connotation. This is in contrast to current retirees choosing an active retirement lifestyle. We want a retirement filled with travel and new experiences. Or at least, in our minds, we think we do.

As a consequence, CCRC’s marketing emphasis on “care” may self-select for older, sicker residents. The CCRC title says, you don’t need our package of services until you need care.

We’ll confess, we’re not overwhelmed by the new name, Life Plan Communities. The arguments against the Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC) label are fair. It’s imperfect, but it’s the incumbent or installed base, hard to dislodge. It does emphasize the continuum of care. Yet, almost none of the industry standard labels are problem free. Senior living, retirement community, elder care, aging services, all touch on the concept of getting older. And age isn’t honored in America’s youth oriented culture.

We’re just not sure Life Plan Communities solves the problems. It’s still a long noun string.  It is a noun string we are not to abbreviate into an acronym. LeadingAge’s style guide bans LPC. Life Plan Community is too long in the age of Twitter hashtags. The generic words are weak key words in Google or Bing searches. Others use the same words unrelated to senior living or retirement housing.

Cee Cee shared some evidence of industry adoption. Ziegler uses the Life Plan Community label in its annual industry report.  But other industry voices resist. Not everyone in the target market is a planner. The new “plan” label may be as exclusionary as the old “care” label.

The great NameStorm debate is a symptom of deeper problems. Things are changing around the CCRC campuses.

CCRC Title Tempest in a Teapot-

The great NameStorm debate is a symptom of deeper problems. Things are changing around the CCRC campuses.

Is terminology the real problem?

Branding issues are always a fun topic. But it got us thinking. Is the terminology the real problem? Or are we papering over the real issue with happy talk?

Does the CCRC title encourage people to wait until they need care? Does the label yield older and sicker senior living communities?

The industry already tries to solve the entry-age challenge by marketing. Almost every ad, brochure or website pictures active lifestyle residents. Vibrantly smiling residents live the life of sport and leisure in Potemkin marketing. This is true regardless of the real average age of entrants or average age of residents.

Here’s an interesting challenge. Look at a community’s Internet homepage. This is how the community wants prospective residents to see them. Now look at the community’s Facebook page. This is closer to the reality experienced by existing residents. The depictions are often vastly different.

Current residents and management all benefit by attracting younger and healthier new residents. Healthier residents contribute fees over a longer period of time. Healthier residents reduce turnover or “churn rate” in marketing terms. Occupancy rates drive both current year financial results and long term balance sheet stability. But is the terminology the real problem? Is marketing the answer?

The great NameStorm debate is a symptom of deeper problems. Things are changing all around the CCRC campuses.

Affordability

The more we think about it the less we think marketing can solve the fundamental problem. We think affordability is the issue. We think people are waiting until they have to move for care, not because of the name CCRC, but because of the cost.

Affordability is an issue compounded by inertia. Inertia of consumers to stay with the familiar, at home and age-in-place. Inertia of an industry used to selling real estate to wealthy consumers. Inertia of a continuum of care originating in the reactive sick care model. As consumers, we wait until we have to spend money on sick care. For most of us, retirement savings and cash flow are not unlimited. It’s challenging to move the point of intervention from treating sickness to maximizing wellness. Starting the move earlier rather than later helps. Those communities shifting focus to wellness are onto something.

Look at the savings rates for the baby boomers. Baby boomers are now entering the prime Life Planning Community marketing target. Most baby boomers are almost entirely dependent upon Social Security.  If they’re good they have value in their house. Pensions are now rare in the private sector. Only a relatively small, comparatively wealthy subset of baby boom consumers can afford a CCRC. The industry is racing to build fancier communities with more and more expensive hospitality services. We fear this is compounding the real problem — affordability. Everyone is chasing the same group of consumers. Yes, the demographic wave means that the absolute number of wealthy boomers is large. But the share of the overall opportunity is, if anything, shrinking. The upper middle class was hard hit by the Great Recession.

Is it any wonder that the age-in-place strategy predominates? And it predominates no matter how unrealistic it is or how apt is the Peter Pan House problem?

The industry seems focused on the wealthy upper-end of the market. The tallest trees. But are we ignoring the forest for the trees?

Instead of new marketing terminology, we wonder if the focus should be on price. Offer some services at a lower price for younger retirees. Should we focus on extending services off-campus (e.g., CCRCs without walls)?  Collaborate on population health as the senior wellness expert with insurers and hospital systems. Doctors and hospitals see people only in the clinical setting. CCRCs see people in their homes. This is the nonclinical setting where people spend most of their time. The industry needs to redefine what it’s selling. Is it selling real estate, sick care, or hospitality services? Consumers need the venue redefined beyond the existing brick and mortar campuses. Affordability to enter the “system” at a younger age is critical. If CCRCs do not step up to these emerging roles, others will. And retirees will already inside someone else’s programming as they age.

All Things to All People

Cee Cee mentioned as a wellness trend the increasing willingness of CCRCs to collaborate. A CCRC can’t be great at everything without expert partners.

It’s shibboleth of entrepreneurship that you can’t be all things to all people. What you emphasize as your unique brand promise precludes or excludes other options. Consumers don’t believe conflicting messages.

The industry is already confusing and dense. Another name just adds to the confusion. It doesn’t clarify muddy water. A lower entry price point and an emphasis on wellness or successful aging would help.

This requires a broader definition of community beyond the current CCRC campus real estate. Success requires leveraging the real estate and existing expertise to serve nonresidents. They may or may not move on campus eventually.  But CCRCs should be the local expert in successful aging. CCRCs can offer health, wellness and hospitality services in non-clinical settings. And do so both on and off-campus. If CCRCs don’t take this leadership role someone else will.

Bottomline?

The great NameStorm debate is a symptom of deeper problems. Things are changing all around the CCRC campuses. New markets are emerging, pushed by new regulations, new technology and changing demographics. There are new competitors unanchored from past practices and real estate. We think Cee Cee Hodgson has the right emphasis in wellness or successful aging. This should be the core of the industry’s expertise. Help us live healthy, proactive lives longer in all six dimensions of wellness. Regardless of where we live. Wellness is more than health care. More than hospitality. And real estate and architecture can either enhance or diminish wellness. Make it affordable. Get us to start earlier rather than later. Don’t wait until we’re sick.

We’ll share more of our interview with Cee Cee Hodgson in later articles. Next up her designing for wellness principles. It’s an important topic. Cee Cee always gets us thinking and fuels the inspiration.

The NameStorm (unintended irony) is a bit of a tempest in a teapot. Terminology or marketing alone won’t solve the challenges ahead for aging boomers. Or their service providers. Life Plan Communities (aka or fma CCRCs) just adds to the cloud of confusion. Making wellness affordable is a better solution than adding to the terminology arsenal.