Nothing is Untouchable: Why SNFs Need to Forge a New Path In the Face of Disruption

Now may be the perfect time for senior living and care executives to take a page from brands and companies such as Olay and Cirque du Soleil, hit the reset button, and reinvent themselves.

At least that’s what John Cochrane, president and CEO of HumanGood, thinks.

HumanGood is the seventh-largest nonprofit senior living provider in the country with 22 life plan communities and 97 affordable housing communities in eight states.


Out of the chaos of the pandemic, Cochrane sees an opportunity for providers to change the overall perception of an industry that has evolved beyond the institutional-like settings that may have once been the vision of senior care organizations.

That’s especially true for the skilled nursing space, which makes up about 40% of HumanGood’s total revenue today.

“It may not be 40% of my revenue tomorrow, or if it is, it may be delivered in a very different way than it is today, and the value proposition to that customer may change,” he told Skilled Nursing News.


Cochrane said that it’s easy to think that HumanGood’s skilled nursing assets should be untouchable, since it represents such a large portion of the company’s bottom line; but the truth is that disruptions to the space are “going to happen” whether he asks for them or not.

“I can’t just put my head in the sand and say, ‘I’m just going to hang on to my 40%,’” he said. “That 40% is not going to look like it does today in five years.”

Cochrane used skin care company Olay as one example that should inspire senior care executives as they look to the future.

He described Procter & Gamble, the parent company of Olay, as “brilliant” in their customer research and understanding of their market, and sees many similarities between their rebrand and what leaders in the seniors space now face.

Years ago, Oil of Olay was among the top skin care products on the market, but intensive market research indicated to executives that the pathway forward for their top selling product was “eroding” as it had become a “stagnant brand,” Cochrane explained during his keynote address at the LeadingAge Illinois conference on Tuesday.

“Their customer base was aging and not only were the people buying it getting older, but the younger people weren’t coming in to fill in the gaps to balance that out,” he said. “They were losing market share even though they were successful.”

As such, Procter & Gamble decided to forge a new path in order to have a successful future.

“They took a damaged brand and they made Oil of Olay into Olay, a multibillion dollar juggernaut,” Cochrane said. “Think about the application Olay could have to our field. What does that mean for us? How do we reinvent ourselves?”

Similarly the circus, which had long headlined with elephants and other animals, needed to rethink its product as customer expectations and concerns evolved; while Barnum & Bailey shut down, Cirque du Soleil was born.

There’s much the senior care industry can learn from examples like Olay and Cirque du Soleil, according to Cochrane.

“These same descriptors … stagnant brand, aging consumers, eroding market share, strong competition, momentum in the wrong direction, doesn’t that sound familiar,” he said during his presentation. “Yes, that was Olay, but that’s also our field.”

“We’ve learned the past two years everything we need to be successful,” he added.

Embracing technology

One way HumanGood has looked to grow and improve amid changing consumer expectations, labor shortages, supply chain disruptions and inflation is through technology.

In fact, technology has allowed its communities to improve care despite continuing staffing shortages across the space.

“We’ve invested in technology at HumanGood that uses artificial intelligence that can pick up early signs of cognitive decline before it becomes a problem clinically,” Cochrane said. “The technology can also pick up signs of early depression.”

Depression is one of the greatest, and often undiagnosed, health risks that seniors face, and Cochrane thinks that providing a suite of services for a holistic assessment could serve senior care organizations better moving forward. 

He thinks it’s time for operators to develop personalized interventions that can better test their patients’ intellectual, psychological and physical abilities.

External disruption vs. ‘self-disruption’

While the senior care space has attracted interest from well funded and resourced companies, Cochrane remains confident that the executives already in the space are the ones best equipped to move it forward coming out of Covid.

He remains unconcerned that new players are going to supplant existing operators as “nobody knows” the senior care space more than the people who have been navigating through it, particularly over the last two years of Covid-19.

“You’ve got the resources, you’ve got the time, you’ve got the experience, you’ve got the judgment,” he said. “This is your chance to change the world and that is what our future is looking for.”

Over the course of the pandemic, senior care executives have learned to embrace new models of doing business and have learned to embrace innovation and technology in ways that they never would have before.

“What does successful aging look like, I don’t know, nobody does but nobody is better equipped to answer that question than us,” he said during his presentation. “We need to figure out what successful aging looks like. That doesn’t just mean with a life plan community, that means in affordable housing, home health, assisted living, SNF and memory, every one of those areas has an opportunity [to grow] as a field.”

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