Most of us know the top three questions to ask before making a significant investment: “What’s the return?” … “What are the terms?” … “What are the risks involved?” But for those of us concerned about the social impact of our investment choices, there are three more I’d recommend asking.
As an equity provider in the senior housing space, I have two responsibilities. The first responsibility is to my investors. I need to invest their money in the communities that will provide strong returns for their portfolios. The second responsibility is no less important. It is my responsibility to invest in communities that provide high-quality services—not just amenities—for senior community residents.
On the surface, many equity providers may assume they are already doing this. After all, it makes good financial sense to work with operators who have successful track records, high occupancy rates, and above-market rents—all of which are markers of solid care. But I believe as investors, we should look beyond market metrics. We can encourage certain standards of care for residents, as well.
So, how do we move senior housing from a simple opportunistic CRE investment to a true impact investment? We need to start by asking three new questions.
Question 1: Do I personally feel like the staffing plan established for the community in which I am investing would keep my loved one safe?
Today’s focus on private-pay, upscale senior communities provides significant amenities and services for seniors, enriching their lives. However, capital providers need to look beyond the amenities. Research has proven that proper staffing is a critical element in patient care. This includes not only total staffing budget, but the overall long-term strategy to hire, educate, and retain highly trained staff.
Guidelines for Mental Health Support
Question 2: What screening and treatment options does this facility provide for those struggling with mental health issues?
Many may not realize how important mental health support is for our aging community. For instance, research shows depression affects nearly 30 percent of residents in assisted living communities. Currently, the screening and treatment of depression, anxiety, and other common mental health issues in assisted living communities is not consistently mandated. We can encourage communities to do a better job assisting those residents suffering from depression, anxiety, and other stress-related disorders by offering ongoing screenings, as well as treatment when needed. Doing so could help reduce hospitalizations and ultimately save lives.
Emergency Response Training
Question 3: Does this community have clear emergency plans and ongoing training in place to ensure residents will be safe should an emergency situation arise?
As we saw in the tragic deaths of eight nursing home residents following Hurricane Irma, assisted living and elder care communities should provide better emergency training to protect the lives of residents. Although laws do require that facilities have plans and procedures in place for emergencies such as storms or terrorist attacks, the recent hurricanes proved minimum federal requirements are not enough. Investors can encourage the adoption of even higher standards for keeping residents safe—including consistent ongoing training to ensure employees are 100 percent confident in their ability to execute them.
We are at an important juncture in senior care investment. We stand in the midst of the largest demographic shift in history, and we as an investment community have the ability to impact how seniors throughout the country will experience the final chapter of their lives. We must remember that capital always has a voice—and we have a unique opportunity to use that voice for the good, simply by asking the right questions.
Dan Brewer is Chief Fund Manager of Senior Living Fund, a private equity company investing in quality senior housing communities nationwide. Dan has nearly 25 years of business development and real estate investment experience, including 15 years in commercial real estate (CRE), and is a frequent speaker and panelist at industry conferences throughout the country. He is passionate about the social implications of aging and bringing senior housing to the forefront of the impact investing sector.