Transitioning one or several senior living communities to your portfolio is an exciting and challenging time for your company. The addition is one that will impact your entire organization. Marketing, sales, operations, legal, accounting, IT, human resources, and senior management are just a few of the departments that will have to work together for an effective and smooth transfer.
However, it’s important to remember that your existing and potential residents, their families and the staff who work at the community will be the most impacted by the transition. With this in mind, effective and timely communication with these stakeholders is the most important factor to your success.
“Ownership changes make consumers uneasy,” says Sue Johansen, VP of Strategic Customers for A Place for Mom. “Current and potential residents who have engaged with the community already may face uneasiness about the transition because they felt confidence with the brand of the previous owner.”
That’s why maintaining strong communication with residents, families and staff is crucial. “The more information you can provide, the more secure and aligned customers will be with the new direction,” Johansen says. “Get your arms around the families and contact them proactively rather than have them approach you.”
Melissa Owens, VP of Marketing for Eclipse Senior Living, agrees that communication is integral to a smooth transition. Eclipse Senior Living recently and successfully transitioned 10 communities onto their portfolio.
“The community level stakeholders in the process are the residents and associates,” Owens says. “Our primary concern is the day to day things that touch residents.”
With residents and families top of mind, Owens and Johansen shared their best practices for transitioning a senior living community to new ownership:
- Identify, understand and address key concerns
It’s important to listen to residents and their families to identify questions and understand their concerns about a change in ownership. Once these concerns are identified, your organization should clearly and effectively address questions, giving detailed information and realistic timelines whenever possible.
Some of the main concerns and questions that existing and potential residents often have include:
- Will existing services remain intact?
- Will the level of care change?
- Will costs increase or financial obligations change?
- Will the day-to-day associates and caregivers remain in the community?
During each transition, the goal for Eclipse Senior Living “is to honor what has been promised up to that point,” Owens says. “We don’t want to upset that sales process, so we continue to honor the rates and services promised.”
Johansen recommends focusing on the future rather than the past in your communications with families, including identifying new benefits and positive changes as well as providing a realistic sense of what to expect including timelines and strategic goals.
- Strong communication includes being present
Your success depends on strong communication, which includes an effective marketing and PR strategy that moves beyond press releases and branded messaging. “It’s important to have a presence inside the community prior to the transition,” Owens says, which allows you to address questions and concerns on the front end. This opportunity to talk to and see the community beforehand gives families the confidence that the transition will be smooth.
Create opportunities for these conversations, which could include:
- Meetings with staff, caregivers and associates to assure them that they’ll be retained and to discuss pay, benefits, time off, schedules, pay dates, new uniforms, etc.
- Family town hall meetings to address the key concerns that families have and answer questions
- Calling long-distance families unable to attend town hall meetings to explain changes and address concerns
- Having an approachable team on-site to facilitate the transition
- Encouraging families to ask questions in person to on-site staff
- Work together as a team and keep residents top of mind
“When you look at all the things that need to be done, it can be dizzying,” Owens says. “There’s lots of little details to manage.” For this reason, Eclipse Senior Living divides the workload by department. “It’s important that you have a team you can trust,” Owens adds. “From operations to partners, you want to ensure everyone is executing at the same elevated level.”
The day to day impact on residents is always the priority at Eclipse Senior Living, and includes important steps like ensuring:
- Food orders continue on schedule
- Staffing and scheduling is taken care of
- Care services continue
- Utilities are switched over
- IT has all new software in place
- Marketing and branding are ready to go with temporary banners and new marketing collateral (like name badges, uniforms and business cards) so that the community can really see the new identity of the community
- All legalities are taken care of including new contracts with vendors, staff and residents.
- Preparation and flexibility are key
According to Owens, preparation and flexibility are critical. “Most of the work happens before the first day,” she says. “We do everything we can do ahead of time to make us really successful on the first day.”
This means having a team in place at a community before transition day to help determine if there are any missing pieces and ensure an efficient changeover. “Prior to the transition, we identify if something is outside of our transition checklist and a specific, unique piece for the community,” she explains.
In this way, the transition team acts as the touch point for the organization and begins work on the transition at least 90 days before the change in ownership. The team may also schedule a few onsite visits prior to the transition as well as during the first three to four days of the actual transition, monitoring communication, confirming due diligence and supporting residents on site.
Although it’s a complex undertaking with many moving parts, a smooth transition in ownership is possible when you keep your residents, families and new employees top of mind. Preparing well ahead of time, establishing a strong team and an on-site presence, and always keeping the lines of communication open while engaging with your community are critical to ensuring the continued comfort, trust and wellbeing of your residents and the success of your new community.
Share with us any tips you’ve learned during a transition.