LeadingAge Magazine · May/June 2016 • Volume 06 • Number 03

Marketing Your Innovations

May 13, 2016 | by John Mitchell

Innovation is an imperative for those who serve seniors, and so is incorporating information about those new ideas into marketing plans. Here is how some providers spread the word about their innovations.

Any provider intent on marketing to seniors needs to take notice of what can come as a surprising truth: Older customers are versed in a lifestyle that defies any stereotype about aging.

“People spend too much time looking at the apartment where they plan to live,” says Vassar Byrd, CEO of Rose Villa, a 22-acre retirement community just south of Portland, Oregon. “The real estate and countertops are only 10% of what’s important in moving to a community. It’s a connection to the community … that really makes people happy.”

For Byrd and John Schallberger, director of facility operations at Rose Villa, their technology ah-ha moments came when they conducted a survey of residents 3 years ago about their use of wireless devices and the Internet. According to Schallberger, they found that 100% of the residents who responded had devices—ranging from Apple TV to cell phones to tablets. About 25% owned more than 1 and up to 4 devices.

“I was surprised,” Schallberger says. “I couldn’t believe it; it was a lot more than I thought it would be.”

Residents had reported frustration with Internet dropouts while they were streaming a movie and at the same time answering email on their tablets. Or they were disappointed that they couldn’t instant message with their grandchildren while sitting by the pool. It was no wonder; the Rose Villa network, installed in 2004, was only delivering about 1.5 megabytes per second. But residents are now living in a 150-megabyte-per-second world. A 2015 Pew Research Center survey found that while for years older adults lagged behind the 84% Internet use rate of all adults, seniors are catching up. The Pew study found that 58% of “senior citizens” now use the Internet.

“Our pipes weren’t big enough to handle the demand,” Schallberger explains. “It was like people were trying to take 15 showers at once in the same house.”

With input from staff, Byrd decided remedying the issue was worth a $1.5 million investment to upgrade Rose Villa’s Internet and wi-fi capability.

“Our residents want what everyone wants: free, incredibly fast Internet and to be able to use all their devices at the same time, just like I have at my own house,” she says.

Byrd says that not only have they built a network to solve the immediate increased need, but they now have a platform they can expand for future demand. They are using only about a third of their new 300-megabyte community-wide capacity. Byrd points out that adding the network is a great example of how to succeed when managers listen to their residents.

She also says it wasn’t just the residents who benefitted. The increased network muscle power has also made the staff’s job easier. Many resident-facing work functions, such as maintenance, housekeeping, activities, handbooks and newsletters are now managed electronically.

“We market this and make sure every incoming prospective resident is aware of our network capability and how it makes Rose Villa a better place to live,” says Byrd.


Across the country, in New York on the banks of the Hudson River at the 32-acre campus of RiverSpring Health, innovation emerges in other initiatives. President and CEO Daniel Reingold also cites creativity as the key to figuring out their mission of transforming the landscape of aging into a healthy, empowered experience.

“Every Leading Age community has to have that [creative] culture,” says Reingold with conviction. “It can’t just be about who has the best house. There are a lot of ways for even a small community to be different. It doesn’t require a lot of capital. All this can be accomplished with clever thinking.”

For RiverSpring Health, that cleverness has, in Reingold’s words, been partly achieved through “sex, drugs and rock and roll.” Hebrew Home adopted the nation’s first sexual expression policy in 1995. The policy, which maintains the right of older adults to engage in consensual, intimate relations, has been updated to keep current over the last 20 years.

“A lot of adult children seem to think their parents are virgins,” Reingold explains, teasing just a bit.

But the policy is serious business and was very much ahead of its time. Reingold cites a 2015 case of an Iowa man who was charged with sexually abusing his wife in a nursing home. She had Alzheimer’s and the staff maintained could not give consent. However, the man—who was arrested after his wife’s funeral—was found innocent after a trial. It was established he had a loving relationship with his wife who, in fact, often initiated their intimacy. Reingold stresses that a good policy could have prevented the incident.

Reingold also believes that the Hebrew Home at Riverdale should be able to act under the just implemented New York state Medicaid marijuana law to provide cannabis to their residents who hold a medical marijuana card. He notes that marijuana is used to the treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s, MS and AIDS. However, he adds, due to the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic (the same as LSD, heroin and cocaine), long-term care communities cannot hold a license to distribute cannabis. This, he believes, needs to change.

And as for the rock and roll?

“We do a lot of music therapy, which helps with memory,” he explains. Reingold and his staff have a lot of memory to help maintain, with residents in 845 skilled beds, 35 Medicaid beds and 200 independent living apartments, as well as 11,000 older adults in its managed long-term care plan.

The Hebrew Home is the home of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention, the first national model for elder abuse shelters established in 2005. Its Good Morning Mom and Dad program enables family members to greet memory care unit residents every morning via a laptop rolled into their room. The organization also created the Balance smartphone app to help families’ better coordinate Alzheimer’s care for their aging parents. It developed an outpatient transfusion program in partnership with local hospitals that reduces health care delivery costs by $600 a day.

“Anecdotally, families mention these innovations as amenities that make the Hebrew Home a superior place to live for residents,” Reingold adds.

Cedar Village, a retirement and skilled care community in Mason, OH, opened a new aquatic therapy center late in 2014. The center averages about 20 patient sessions per week on its aquatic therapy treadmill, serving both in-house and outpatient rehab clients. The center also hosts aquatic classes and open swim times, open to Cedar Village independent and assisted living residents as well as some local community members.

Cedar Village uses a variety of high-tech equipment for many rehabilitation purposes and employs 55 staff, 25 of them full-time.

LeadingAge interviewed Cedar Village CEO Dan Fagin to ask about how his community markets its innovations.


LeadingAge: How do you use innovation in your marketing?

Dan Fagin: It’s very important to give consumers a reason to believe and trust in our care. We see that most of our competitors are running ads full of checklists listing every service they offer. To differentiate ourselves, we market specific services to the demographic most likely to use them. Most of the patients in our in-house rehabilitation center live within 10 miles of Cedar Village. To reach them, we run targeted ads and sponsor other outreach within that footprint. The residents in our apartments and long-term nursing care are predominantly Jewish. They tend to come from a few clustered zip codes that are different from the communities where our rehabilitation patients reside. We target them through two local Jewish publications and by advertising in synagogue bulletins and directories.

We have a brand migration underway that includes a new series of health care ads. In them, we talk about specializing in senior care and our investment in the equipment and technologies to help them get well.


LeadingAge: How does marketing of your wellness and rehab services fit into your larger marketing approach?

Dan Fagin: Our in-patient rehabilitation center is our largest revenue generator. With length of stays growing shorter, we have an increased focus on volume. Many organizations maintain in-patient rehabilitation centers that primarily serve their apartment residents. In our case, with only 105 apartments and 50 skilled rehabilitation beds, we can’t rely on what health care organizations call “domestic utilization.” We have to reach beyond our walls into the community to keep our beds filled. We also promote home care, hospice, long-term nursing care and outpatient rehabilitation. Our skilled nursing operation is much larger than our apartment line of business. That means we have to reach out to a wider marketplace to maintain patient flow.

We have health-care-specific campaigns in the marketplace. We are also looking at more aggressive outreach to health care providers who can reinforce our consumer messaging and refer patients.

We hold regular meetings with our primary referral sources and are investing heavily in strengthening our relationships. We also promote metrics that demonstrate our unique value as a care delivery partner—including monitoring length of stay, falls and readmissions. Physician-to-physician communication has been an essential part of that strategy, with our chief medical officer serving as an ambassador to other health care organizations.


LeadingAge: What is the relative value of innovation as a marketing hook, compared to other points of attraction?

Dan Fagin: It’s okay to talk about technology, as long as the patient benefit stays in the forefront of the message. When we discuss aquatic therapy, we don’t want to focus on the pool. Instead, patients need to understand that the medical evidence shows aquatic therapy can help them heal faster and with less pain.

It’s very important to be able to communicate why we are the best choice. Even today, it’s challenging for consumers to judge the quality of the care they receive. They often focus on experience instead. Being able to promote leading edge technology and care protocols helps consumers understand that we can deliver a higher standard of care.

Technology often matters most to providers. When hospitals call us about patients ready to discharge, they frequently ask whether we have the specific technology needed to deliver care.

At Blakeford in Nashville, TN, locals have an innovative alternative to onsite community living. The organization’s leadership team has developed a combination of non-housing services and long-term care insurance to meet an important goal for many older people: to age and live in their own homes.

“We can never build enough real estate to meet the demand (for senior living),” says Van Cluck, CEO at Blakeford. “So we looked for an innovative opportunity to provide non-housing products to seniors to stay in their homes. We wanted to create a complementary product to help residents who want to age well at home, rather than saying a residential option is the only product we have for you.”

To meet this demand, Blakeford introduced LiveWell By Blakeford two years ago—a combination of long-term care insurance combined with hospitality outpatient clinical services and home services. These services include: home safety evaluations and recommendations for improvement; health care coordination; wellness assessments; physical therapy; dietary services; mental health services; on-site socialization; classes; and other aging support services.

“There’s a shared incentive between the program and our members to take a very proactive approach from the very beginning,” says Jane Kelley, executive director of LiveWell By Blakeford. “Because we’re taking on financial risk, we want to do everything we can to support our members in living as independently as possible at home, for as long as possible. Our members fully sign on to this approach. They don’t want to have to go to a nursing home either.”

The LiveWell product is a key part of Blakeford’s marketing program as it often serves as the initial point of introduction to the community. Because LiveWell is not a product in the traditional retirement community sense, but rather a service, Kelly said they hold seminars over dinner at local restaurants and hotels in their market area to explain the concept.

“The average age of our prospect is about 10 years younger than that of the average of residents in our retirement community,” she explains. “The big reasons why people enroll are because they want a plan to live at home, they don’t want to burden their family, and they want to know what the program will cost.”

If LiveWell members do need to make a move out of their home, they go to the head of Blakeford’s 2-year waiting list for its 124 independent living units. The community also includes 46 assisted living units and an 83-bed skilled and intermediate nursing home.

According to Cluck, there is a strong demand for the LiveWell at-home model in the market.

“One of the trends we’re seeing is for a professional “mother-daughter” relationship for our clients and their families,” says Cluck. “That means we want to offer all the professional savvy with love and compassion that a daughter might take on to help their aging parent. We’re working to make sure we’re filling that role at every level.”