Blog: Roger Myers

Roger Myers is the president and CEO of Presbyterian Villages of Michigan. He is responsible for executive staff leadership and helping develop policy and strategic planning decisions. Roger will be writing about aging baby boomers in SE Michigan from an economic development perspective.

Post No. 2

Old View vs. PVM’s View

We’re living off of old, tired stereotypes about our aging population – especially about how they live and what they want. Our specialty at Presbyterian Villages of Michigan (PVM) – living environments for elders – is based on stereotype-busting truths.

Allow me to compare the Old View vs. the PVM View of senior residential living:

Old View: Hospital-style living

PVM View: Building communities in non-institutional settings. That’s why we call it Presbyterian Villages. Each has its own Residence Association that makes independent decisions. We have a resident point of view rather than a landlord/tenant point of view. And we have an interactive feedback model to be constantly focused on customer service. We have fitness centers. Interactive computer centers. The stuff you need, to have a community.

Old View: Smelly, acrid, environments

PVM View: Pleasant, walking, working, interactive environments. PVM believes that “Institution” needs to be removed from the senior living and nursing home equation. We’ve started by getting rid of institutional food, cleaning operations, nurse’s aide and recreational services. Instead we have direct care partners who do it all for small groups of customers. They build relationships, lasting friendships, and most important, they put the elder at the center of the environment. Medical service comes in just like any visiting doctor or nurse would in making house calls.

Old View: Outrageous cost for poor quality

PVM View: High-level benchmarked quality regardless of income level.  One of our managers told me the story about a man who came into the lobby of PVM’s Clinton Township village, which provides housing for low income seniors. The man walked in, looked around, and walked quickly out of the building. The manager followed the man into the parking lot and asked what he needed. The man apologized. He said he was looking for a residence for his older mother who has a very low fixed income. He explained that there’s obviously no way his mother could afford to stay at a residential village of the kind of quality we have. Of course, we told him he was wrong.

And that’s part of the problem. When it comes to quality for seniors, we’re conditioned to believe "If it looks too good, it must not be for me."

Old View: Under-trained, neglectful or abusive staff

PVM View: Heavily screened, compassionate mission-driven work force. I’ll never forget the time I was talking to one of our residential staff. She really loves the service partnership she has with residents of one of the PVM villages she works at. But she was a little down in the mouth because, she explained, often when friends and acquaintances ask her what she does, and she explains she helps seniors in a residential environment, they ask her, "How can you do that?", as if she’s a participant in abuse!

The point is this: the expectation "bar" is ridiculously low when it comes to serving the elder population. Not only should expectations and demands be far higher – but the economics should (and do, at PVM) align with top-flight service, regardless of income. Unfortunately, some in the senior living field exploit the low expectations of elders as well as adult children of elders. PVM’s view is that all customers should demand excellence, regardless of income.

Old View: Isolated, depressed residents

PVM View: Building vibrant, creative relationship communities. PVM is a national leader in the development of so-called "Green Houses®" for seniors. A small group of seniors live in a large, spacious house. Each has private living and sleeping quarters, but there is a large living room and dining room, recreational facilities, gardens, and other anti-institutional amenities. A beautiful, fully equipped kitchen (NOT a cafeteria) is where custom meals are prepared every day. All meals are developed by residents in partnership with a very special PVM “servant leader”. That person takes care of cooking, cleaning and housekeeping chores. But the PVM "servant leader" does more than that. He or she is invested in the human relationships at each Green House®, and helps with continuing education, resident/family satisfaction, workforce development, etc.

Old View: Low-tech, with seniors baffled by technology.

PVM View: Technology applied for better care; better communication. Research shows an openness and interest among elders in dealing with technology. So the appetite is there. The problem is that many service organizations think they need to "dumb it down" to have any direct technical interaction with their older customers. Nothing could be further from the truth. For example, PVM created a high-technology, highly efficient "Livable Lifestyle" home in Traverse City, Michigan, in partnership with AARP. The overall design of the home was extremely safe, designed for mobility-challenged people, and using extraordinary technology to enhance safety, health monitoring, and energy efficiency.

Old View: Institutional warehousing mentality

PVM View: Continuous, active residential learning for the long-term future. According to the AARP, 80% of Boomers say hey plan to work at least part-time during their retirement. All of our goals need to be focused on feeding the aspirational needs of our customers, not to "manage" a population of people.

That’s where the paradigm shift needs to be among leadership, development organizations, and capitalists. It’s not about exploitation. It’s about Servant Leadership – and that can happen whether you’re a profit making firm or a not for profit organization like PVM.