Last week’s Senior Housing News Summit in Chicago made for some incredibly candid discussion among senior living operators about where the industry stands today and where it’s headed. I moderated a panel that focused on the C-suite’s outlook for senior living for the rest of this year and beyond. The participants on the panel included:

Our conversation centered around a number of topics, including consolidation of the senior housing market, technology and innovation, rising labor costs and the growing shortage of caregivers for the future.

All the senior care operators believe the consolidation trend will continue. However, many agreed that in the process, we need to think beyond our small business mentality and start acting as the largest business segment in the nation. What used to work — “mom and pop” approaches — will no longer be acceptable. The focus used to be first on hospitality and second on healthcare. Today, working with more healthcare systems, it is the reverse: Now it’s a healthcare focus with hospitality on the side. As consolidation continues, one operator emphasized the importance of having the right culture in place and another noted that at the end of the day, we must look at mergers and acquisitions through their impact on the seniors we serve.

Our technology discussion stayed relatively broad, but we did talk about some of the back-office technology, including sales and marketing solutions, that operators are using. And one operator brought up an important topic that I’m happy to see us having more conversations about: security. As new technology is considered, security risk is a necessary part of the discussion, and every community and home health organization should be carefully assessing potential risks and consulting with a trusted technology advisor to make sure they’re addressing these risks.

One operator on the panel believes senior care should be able to offer the “Disney experience” to residents and has been working with us to develop the “21st century community.” What exactly does this mean? In the same way that Disney provides bracelets that offer seamless access and scheduling focused on a flawless customer experience, this operator hopes to harness technology so residents and their families can have single access for meals, health records, telemedicine and more. This is where innovation is headed.

Ultimately, the biggest takeaway for me was that we need to continue to have a healthy, disruptive discussion in this industry. We need to look at the current situation — there’s a need for urgency. Five years is not that far away. Caregiver count is static while the number of seniors is continuing to rise. We keep mentioning this statistic, but now we need to get serious about making real changes. Technology can help in solving these industry problems. (To learn more about our discussion on staffing, see Jason Oliva’s piece in Senior Housing News on “How to Solve the Staffing Crisis.”)

Another point I think is really important but that we didn’t get a chance to address during the panel discussion is how we better involve the younger generations in the senior care industry, both as involved players and as innovators. Also, how do we better engage the wisdom of the residents themselves? When you put technology in a senior care building, you get a reaction from younger people. They gravitate toward it, so we need to spend more time educating younger people and dispelling their preconceived notions about what senior living is. At the same time, we need to incorporate seniors into the technology and solutions conversation. There’s a wisdom that’s lost because of the disconnection between the greatest generation and the younger digital generation; technology can bridge that gap. More than anything else, I think harnessing these two groups’ knowledge and perspectives will prompt a major shift in the level of attention paid to the process of aging, and in solutions to ensure we’re doing it better.

What’s your take on the state of senior living? What do you think will be game-changers for the industry? How do we better involve younger people and residents themselves in innovating for the future? Tell us on Twitter @CDW_Healthcare. Considering your own technology future? Check out our Senior Care Solutions brochure as your first stop.

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