ProMatura’s Wylde: Seniors Housing Must Get Back to Basics

by John Nelson

LOS ANGELES — Bells and whistles may be a distracting way to get a prospective seniors housing resident’s attention, but Margaret Wylde, CEO of ProMatura Group, believes they can take away from the core purpose of providing a safe, welcoming environment for seniors.

“We spend so much money in this industry on amenities that people will never use,” she said. “People want a place they can call home. A place they can live in. A place where they don’t have to hide their things. We can cut out some amenities and invest more in rentable space and give them a better home to live in.” 

Wylde made the comments during her keynote address at InterFace Seniors Housing West, held March 7 at the Omni Los Angeles. The audience for her address was nearly 300 seniors housing industry professionals.

The latest data from Mississippi-based research firm ProMatura notes that amenities aren’t identified as a priority to seniors, though they can make their families feel optimistic about a facility. The actual residents are focused on the type of unit, floor plan and price. 

“Gardening areas, libraries — they don’t help,” said Wylde. “It’s not about how much we can cram in to entertain. It’s the apartment and the comradery that matter, and comradery comes from culture.”

Wylde suggested that camradery involves staff engaging with residents regularly, which means operators must prevent turnover. After all, having strangers in a senior’s new home is not an ideal way to make that space feel like it is, indeed, a home. 

Another way to build comradery is by cultivating meaningful ways for neighbors to connect, added Wylde. For example, ProMatura’s research shows that seniors are more satisfied with their communities when they can eat when they want, rather than feeling like they have to march down to the hall and get in line to eat at a certain time. For this reason, many communities have adopted a 12-hour dining schedule.

Another assumption that has turned out to be false is that nicer or more expensive communities equate to better communities. Once again, this is a fallacy many adult children fall for as they attempt to place their loved ones in the nicest setting possible. 

“Old buildings of 30-plus years get the same rates and same levels of occupancy as new buildings,” said Wylde. “The unit mix that is provided to us does not match what consumers typically want. Build what people want, sell it at a price they’re willing to pay and you’ll be amazed at how well it sells.”

The best way to undertake this plan is to focus on industry and local market research, truly listen to residents and referrals, and establish a budget before an architect gets involved. The reason for the latter advice, Wylde asserted, was because architects tend to run away with grandiose design plans that involve large amenity spaces seniors don’t really want and won’t actually use. 

When done correctly, Wylde believes seniors housing operators can offer a premium product to an appreciative population, providing a pleasant experience for the residents and their families — all the while making a healthy profit. When it isn’t, however, the industry suffers a reputation hit that can drive seniors to hunker down at home, whether that’s the appropriate choice or not.

“We have to remember we’re a commodity,” said Wylde. “Our people culture is weak, our product is pricey, we’re overbuilt and we’re over-programmed. Period. You can tell whether this describes your communities by the referrals. If you don’t have a lot of referrals to incentivize your customers, then you’re not building what people want.”

— Nellie Day

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