The eighth P

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The eighth P

Posted on March 25, 2009

>Steve Gurney’s speech at Vinson Hall on Thursday March 19th 2009 was very compelling and serves as a great platform for discussion for change on how we perceive the role of retirement communities in our society. After planning his move and spending a week at the Paul Spring senior Community in Alexandria, VA, Steve came up with interesting points.

As we all know, the industry is under stress as it needs to answer increasing expectations from residents, residents’ families, and government officials while undergoing a rapid growth due to our aging population. Recent reports show that half of today’s US population will spend some time in a retirement community while 25% of us will actually call it our last home.

The findings of Steve’s experience are elegantly summarized in 7 Ps: Perspective, Possessions, Pricing, Proximity, Purpose, People, Positive attitude. These points highlight “friction points” that are felt by any senior citizen moving into a retirement community.

On the social science perspective, the transition to one of these communities is of extreme significance as the individual will knowingly decide to be “taken care of”. To be “taken care of” has a lot of meaning and is very seldom fully understood. An aspect that is often overlooked is the loss of agency: the philosophical concept of the capacity of an agent (in our case, the resident) to act in a world.

The fact of “being a resident” and the shift in the physical or mental condition are the basis for society, through the retirement community, to exercise power over the individual. In most cases, the loss of agency is not consciously felt as the discourse of the institution and support from the medical body provide sufficient credibility to appease concerns from residents and their family.

This loss of agency actually starts from the moment when the person moves in: it is difficult for him/her to consider moving out. This shift can also be seen as a lot of decisions are taken on behalf of residents and sometimes their families. The loss of control represents one of the main aspects of an already important step in life and is too often misunderstood and overlooked. Therefore it is one of the reasons many Americans do not look forward to moving into these institutions.

This does not mean that residents are powerless agents that suffer from the domination of the retirement communities; there are plenty of organizations that benchmark the conditions of the elderly and monitor abuses. These bodies also provide protection to individuals. Moreover, a lot of communities do a great job including and empowering their customers and taking into account their opinions in important decisions such as budgeting, management and long term strategy of the company. However, these initiatives seldom entirely alleviate this loss of agency.

In addition to the 7Ps that Mr Steve Gurney pointed out, an 8th P should be added: Power.

Power alteration or the shift in one’s agency when moved to a retirement community is a major life event and should be considered and set forth as such.

Some of the powerful avenues to promote the significance of the Power of residents are based on a deep shift in the perception and the role of the institutions. This generally starts by the way the Long Term Care industry represents itself and trains its staff but also in the way technology is used and benchmarks are put in place. One should be confident that the rapidly evolving Long Term Care industry will soon integrate these expectations.