Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

What Does Wellness Really Mean for Senior Living Communities?

Our use of the word “wellness” in senior living is confusing and potentially problematic for the consumer. When the possible definition by organization for “wellness” swings all the way from a few group fitness classes at one community to a full-blown medical clinic in another organization, it’s challenging to succinctly define what is being offered under the wellness banner. 

Nurse_doing_fitnessThinkstockPhotos-474647990Sometimes I visit a community and they have a wellness director who is an RN with primary responsibilities for running the community’s outpatient clinic and helping residents navigate their health care needs. In other cases, I interact with an individual at the community level whose title is wellness director, but whose primary roles are focused on running the fitness program. Those two individuals have two very different focus areas, diverse areas of expertise, and they offer two entirely different value propositions for prospective residents. And neither of them paints a full picture of what community wellness can be.

How you define your community in the area of wellness can be a point of distinction and a clear competitive edge for your business. But I wonder if that definition is best suited to be made at the community level or if there is a need, or even better a benefit, to defining it at an industry level. LeadingAge has initiated a “NameStorm” to find a new term for “continuing care retirement community” (CCRC). Is there a need for this kind of industry-wide focus on how we universally define wellness in senior living?

If we use the well-recognized dimensions of wellness (and I’ll go with the seven defined by the ICAA) as the means to define individual wellbeing, then the essential duties of the RN clinic director and the fitness program manager fold into various dimensions. But so do the essential duties of several other common jobs at a CCRC, including the activities director, the social worker, the dietician, the chaplain, etc. I could argue that each employee at the community has some portion of his essential duties impacting resident wellness.

I think, in a lot of cases, we get wellness all wrong. We want to box it into neat compartments, but it really spills out to all areas of the organization. Wellness is about building meaningful lifestyle opportunities for residents. It’s about honoring who they are as individuals and finding ways to help them tap into what motivates them, what provides them with purpose, and what keeps them engaged in life.

As I’ve started shifting my view on resident wellness in senior living to this broader perspective, I’ve started wondering whether resident wellbeing doesn’t need to sit a little higher in the organizational chart. Wellness isn’t just fitness and it’s not just activities. It doesn’t belong under either of those “departments.” It’s not limited to nutrition or spiritual designations, and it’s not focused on health care and clinical services.

Perhaps it’s the culture we’re trying to build.

But if that’s true, if wellness provides a cultural focus for our organizations, then each employee needs to have a stake in what it means to provide person-centered opportunities for well-being. And that message needs to come from the top. It can be supported by a well-developed employee wellness offering, as well (which is being discussed more and more in senior living). It can get folded into employee goals, job descriptions, and team meetings. And while one person should probably have ultimate responsibility for wellness in the community, it cannot operate in a silo apart from other elements that are unique to what your community offers. (This post talks more about how the various departments can collaborate better.)

How are you cultivating wellness beyond your fitness programming, your activities calendar, and your clinic?

Download our whitepaper on how you can create a culture of wellness in your senior living community.

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Topics: senior wellness CCRC continuing care retirement community