Sunrise Program Targets ‘Huge Opportunity’ in Assisted Living

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Thursday, September 25, 2014 10:43 am EDT

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Senior Housing News

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As the senior living industry struggles to gain a foothold in the accountable care organization (ACO) landscape, one senior living giant is devising an alternative strategy in hopes of achieving the same outcomes.

Sunrise Senior Living, ranked among the top five of the nation’s largest senior living providers, is implementing a program that could make its assisted living product more attractive to hospitals looking to reduce readmissions.

It may seem like an ACO strategy, but by definition it’s something different that aims for the same outcome of partnering with a larger health system in an effort to better coordinate care.

Through its short-term stay “Road Home Program,” Sunrise is working to form strategic partnerships with area health systems to gain referrals, reduce readmissions and, as an added benefit, give people the chance to test drive its facilities.

“Health care is changing and is going to continue to change, so we all have to learn how to work together to provide that continuity of care,” says Sharon Beeby, Sunrise area manager of business development in the Detroit region. “We’re trying to be an integral part of the health care [system].”

The Road Home Program is designed specifically for those who have been recently discharged from a hospital or rehabilitation center. Although it isn’t rolled out across all 240-plus Sunrise communities, it is implemented at communities in Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Philadelphia and North Carolina, among others.

The provider’s leadership team is building the program from the ground up, sending staff members out into the community to make connections with health systems. But it won’t take long before people recognize the benefits of sending discharged patients to the short-term stay program, Beeby said, adding, “It only takes that light bulb to go on once.”

Although the program is still fairly new, having rolled out last year with a marketing push beginning this year, the provider has noticed one unique benefit: The Road Home Program can be an avenue for prospective residents to “test drive” their assisted living services.

The length of stay is limited to 30 days, but these short-term stay residents have access to all of the services and amenities that long-term assisted living residents enjoy.

Many people don’t think about assisted living until their health quickly deteriorates and it’s forced upon them, Beeby said. Often, when family members choose what assisted living facility to place their loved one in, they’re operating in “crisis mode.” But the Road Home Program gives them a sort of sneak peek at the community and time to think about that decision.

“No one wants to make a decision in crisis mode. This gives them so much more time — to come to the Road Home Program, continue to get stronger and talk with their families,” Beeby said. “It is a really good test drive for residents and their families who might not have otherwise known about Sunrise or about assisted living in general.”

While most assisted living providers generally cannot become part of an ACO — since they are not reimbursed by Medicare — devising their own strategies to form partnerships and gain referrals could mean big business for the senior living segment, industry experts say.

“In the current health care environment, the primary goal is: How do you provide the best possible outcomes at the lowest possible costs?” says Khristine Rogers, virtual vice president of memory care in senior living and founder of Get Booming LLC in Golden, Colo. “It’s my belief that assisted living can play a critical role in solving that problem, and that it’s a huge business opportunity for senior housing providers if they choose to get involved.”

Rogers has looked at the topic in-depth through her research on how health care reform is impacting the senior living industry. In a report she co-authored last year, she analyzed strategies assisted living could use to grow business without joining an ACO.

One such strategy comes from leveraging short-term stays, much like what Sunrise is doing with its Road Home Program.

In the quest to decrease hospital admissions and readmissions, the health care environment has created an “immediate opportunity to package and sell short-term transition stays as a preferred option to discharging to home,” according to the report, titled “How Healthcare Reform Opens New Doors to Senior Living.”

And opportunity is knocking at assisted living’s door.

“Every assisted living operator has the potential to translate the changes in health care into strategies that grow business and enhance peoples lives,” Rogers said. “It’s not about being a part of an ACO, it’s not about vying for any of the Medicare dollars, but rather it’s looking at how assisted living can specifically activate and leverage their brand as a post-acute recovery alternative to going home.”

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