It is the sixth time that Ryman, New Zealand’s largest retirement village operator, has taken the top award in the ‘Aged Care and Retirement Village’ category in the Reader’s Digest Most Trusted Brands awards.
Ryman previously won in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019.
With 32 villages in NZ, they now have 11 in the pipeline in and around Melbourne.
Ryman villages provide a continuum of care, from independent living to serviced apartments to residential care.
From now until nearly the end of the year Resident Committees play a significant role in the formation of operating expenditure budgets, providing feedback for future capital works projects and assisting with annual meeting proceedings.
This month in the DCMI Village Manager PD program we have been discussing the role of the Resident Committee and how building collegial relationship with them can in fact be extremely beneficial to the village, resident satisfaction and harmonious operations.
The role of the resident’s committee is really as the voice of the residents, a safeguard mechanism for the residents financial/lifestyle interests.
Whilst there are some variances from state to state on the specifics of the role of Resident Committees, in nearly all states Resident Committees are not the decision making bodies. Instead they are bodies that represent the residents.
One of the most important activities you can undertake with your Resident Committee is to document the agreement of roles, responsibilities, behaviours, expectations and process.
This will assist to provide clarification on who is to do what, what the expectations are of each person in the relationship and timelines for identified activities.
Some items to consider when documenting this process might include:
Meeting with the Chair prior to the meeting to jointly prepare
The provision to table research or issues for discussion prior to meetings
Process for communications outside of meetings – perhaps nominating one person from each party as the communication medium (Chair/Secretary)
Type of activities the Resident Committee is happy to assist with (research perhaps)
A timeline for review of the process
Communications to residents after the meeting
Process for disagreements or escalation
In my own experience when the relationship between the Resident Committee, the Village Manager and the Operator is one based on trust, respect, and honesty, then great things can be achieved in villages, and village operations tend to be more efficient.
There is a lot of concern and frustration about sales, understandably.
Limits on onsite inspections, the hit to residential home sales, the ongoing confusion (especially in the media) about aged care homes and retirement villages – and of course families asking when ‘mum’s home will be sold’. Plus operator’s are keen to receive their DMF income.
Here is a basic step we can all make, right now and at no cost. Check your processes for handling the first contact by a potential customer with your village.
In 2017 when sales were last hit (by the ABC Four Corners report), the leading advisory firm KPMG did a village Customer Experience Survey. It found that ”80% of Retirement Village operators did not answer a mystery shopper call and only 50% returned that call (from a message left on an answering machine)”.
We all know that first impression is vitally important.
To back this up, interesting results were provided by American Seniors Housing last year. Their research found:
“84% of the time the first village that has a meaningful (sales/marketing) conversation will be the prospect’s village of choice.” And further to that:
“By having a meaningful conversation within 5-minutes of a prospect’s enquiry increases the prospects likelihood to buy from you by over 400%.”
What happens at your village? What really happens to a prospect’s call when your village admin transfers them to sales – do they get a voicemail, is it picked up, are they left waiting, do they hang up without the opportunity to provide information?
Do they move on to the next village?
What about after hours if a prospective calls? What do your prospects experience then?
Do they get a message and set the expectation when their call will be answered? Are they directed to your website for further information, or do they get a voicemail beep?
And what happens if they land on your website after hours and they are seeking some basic information about your community?
Can they easily find your operating hours, inspection details, testimonials from other residents, virtual tour, guides/e-books about the many benefits of retirement living, and an opportunity to leave an enquiry?
Is there a chatbot that may be able to answer their basic questions and encourage them to fill out an enquiry form?
These are the basics, but powerful basics that we can all make sure work.
We have been fielding a number of enquiries around legislative obligations of operators during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week national law firm Minter Ellison came out with yet another great communication as a guide for retirement living operators who may have legislative or contractual obligations to call a meeting of all residents during the pandemic.
Meetings still have to be held.
Tammy Berghofer, a senior counsel at Minter Ellison shared;“The retirement villages legislation generally does not provide for any suspension of, or basis to delay, residents meetings that must occur within specified time periods”.
No state or territory has changed this in response to the COVID-19.
The Minter Ellison guide covers all this and makes recommendations. You can check it out in full here.
The first questions you will have:
Can you do video meetings?
In summary, audio/video meetings are most clearly permitted in South Australia (in all cases) and Tasmania (where an exemption from the Minister is obtained).
Operators in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory can hold their meetings by audio/video means with reasonable confidence on the basis that the common law position permitting such meetings is preserved in those jurisdictions (subject to the exceptions mentioned above).
For Queensland the matter will be even clearer if the expected regulations are passed.
The position is least clear in Western Australia where the legislation may require physical meetings – regulatory guidance from the relevant authorities to put the matter beyond doubt would be ideal.
What should operators do?
Minter Ellison recommends that operators take the following approach to meetings required under the retirement villages legislation while the COVID-19 restrictions are in place:
Consider whether the meetings can be lawfully avoided or delayed until after the COVID-19 emergency passes.
If a meeting cannot be avoided or delayed (for example, because a resolution of residents is required to pass the services charges budget for the new financial year), consider whether it can lawfully be held by audio/video means instead of in person, having regard to our comments above.
For Western Australia, it would be ideal to wait (if possible) for the government to pass regulations specifically permitting the holding of non-physical meetings to ensure there is a clear mandate to do so, and to avoid the risk of any subsequent challenge to the validity of the meeting by residents.
In Tasmania, the safest course of action is to apply to the relevant Minister for an exemption allowing a non-physical meeting as soon as possible.
If a non-physical meeting is to be held, make arrangements to hold the meeting in a way that complies with the common law requirement that all parties be able to be ‘present’ with, and respond to, each other.
This will involve selecting an appropriate communication or technology platform that allows for full communication between participants, and which can handle a large number of participants at the same time.
Various available technology platforms allow for audio (ie telephone only) and/or video participation. They also have in-built meeting functions such as voting, sharing information or videos, asking or submitting questions, and producing a recording or transcript of the meeting.
Operators should consider which platform is best for the type of meeting planned, and any assistance residents may require to have access, such as the installation of any necessary software or hardware in their unit.
Engage with the resident body (or residents committee) as soon as possible to ensure all residents are informed and consulted about the format of the meeting and any vote to be held, and that any specific concerns are addressed.
Consider inviting residents to submit questions for the meeting in writing as soon as possible so they can be efficiently answered in the meeting.
Make any supplementary practical arrangements necessary to allow full participation and voting (if required) at the meeting, which may include:
o delivering physical ballot papers and information packages to residents’ units; o providing a locked container in the village for postal votes; o providing clear instructions to residents on how to interact and vote; and o checking and testing the technology before the meeting.
Ensure that the conduct of the meeting (particularly if a vote is to be taken) complies with all rules for meetings under the relevant retirement villages legislation and common law.
This may include rules about the giving of meeting notices, who may attend, quorums, voting rights and proxies, voting by former residents of vacated units, the counting of votes, and recording of minutes.
Our advice: engaging the Residents Committee is always a first move.
Over the last fortnight, nearly 300 village professionals have shared with us your honest sentiments on the impact that COVID-19 is having on your communities.
I am thrilled to inform you that the survey indicated strong levels of positivity.
It also highlighted the dedication and hard work you and your operators around the country have been doing to support your residents, staff and community, so far with the pandemic.
In short, the survey showed:
village teams were feeling well-supported and confident that your organisation could successfully navigate the pandemic
nearly 3/4 of village teams have been given the opportunity for flexible work arrangements during this time
on the whole, village teams have an overwhelming confidence in supporting residents and the community, during the crisis
The immediate concerns you raised focused around:
the decrease in sales inquiry and buyer commitment
concern for your residents in social isolation
fear for the health and safety of your residents and your teams
your ability to complete maintenance or refurbishments in a timely manner
the impact of compliance obligations
Other concerns raised included:
access to PPE if required
loss of ‘community’
reduced resident confidence
and job security for you and your team
Looking at the bigger picture, you also talked about:
the long-term implications of the pandemic
concerns around sales taking a long time to rebound
the financial viability of operators
the financial impact on residents
and the unknown.
The survey also showed you are thinking about:
resident health and engagement being a concern
what would be the impact if an outbreak occurs in your village, or a village nearby?
the media still confusing aged care and retirement villages
and the implication of compliance measures, such as buybacks
Thanks again for your participation in the survey and we hope this feedback shows you are not alone in your thinking.
Going forward we will do more surveys to hear your messages from the field – please join in.
Since the Government’s forced closure of pubs, clubs and community centres on March 23, both operators and residents have shared concerns with us about the impact COVID-19 may have on monthly resident fees and annual village expenditure.
In some villages, residents have requested monthly fee reductions, due to the closure of common facilities.
In others, managers have shared concerns about unexpected costs for infection control; and potential changes to service delivery.
What are the obligations of operators and residents in relation to monthly service fees?
It was a relief last week when Tammy Berghofer – from leading industry law firm, MinterEllison – gave us some legal insights on this front.
First up, there is no obligation to reduce monthly resident fees because of temporary closures ‘in compliance with legal directions’.
“There is no legislative requirement for recurrent (non-optional) services charges (variously described as general services charges, recurrent charges or maintenance charges) to be reduced due to the temporary closure of facilities or cessation of activities within a retirement village in compliance with legal directions”.
She says these fees are not your normal consumer ‘fees for service’. They are the resident’s ‘contribution’ to running the village.
“These types of recurrent services charges in retirement villages are fundamentally different from many other fees or charges for common consumer services.
“As a general rule, these recurrent services charges are:
a resident’s individual contribution to the overall ongoing costs of operating the village (similar to strata levies or council rates) – they are not a ‘fee for service’;
‘cost recovery’ only, with all charges applied to paying the costs of operating the village; and
levied under a budget set at the beginning of the financial year, which may not be able to be changed under relevant retirement villages legislation until the next year.”
She also talked about the possible impact of COVID-19 on the overall costs of the village over 12 months, which residents will need to take into account.
“The closure of facilities will not necessarily mean there is an overall reduction in operating costs.”
“The reduced operation of some facilities may result in lower costs being incurred throughout the year (such as certain maintenance or energy costs). However, other village costs may be increasing at the same time as a result of COVID-19 (such as additional costs of management, administration, and staff and resident communications to comply with government rules and safety guidelines)”.
“It may not be until the end of the current financial year that the ultimate cost impact can be determined with any certainty”.
Tammy also highlighted the importance of checking in with your industry legal partner early if you need clarification or support. She has made herself available to her clients – often times, at little or no expense.
There are understandable concerns about village sales, especially the refundable deposits and longer-term potential buyers who may think to pull out as they try to sell their homes. Have you got a plan?
I had the opportunity this week to interview Alison Abel. She is Sales Director at the leading marketing agency Marketability, but also the on the ground Sales Manager at the new village The Gracewood, at Kellyville in Sydney, a BaptistCare village.
I’ve always admired Allison for being a “doer”, a relationship builder, a fellow customer-experience junkie, and a lover of “all things retirement living”. But even more so now that I have uncovered her “WHY”.
Alison’s “why” is simply, “to provide the best customer journey to her clients that is possible”.
Long before COVID-19, Alison and her team focused on relationships, education and customer experience as a key part of her sales solution.
This included hosting information days and education sessions for potential clients; individualising client experiences (e.g. by hand-writing name cards for designated car parking spaces); and welcoming clients to The Gracewood.
In fact, Alison and her team typically have five touchpoints with clients – before they arrive for their first onsite inspection.
These strategies have allowed Alison to begin her “coping during a pandemic” journey, with an engaged database built on trusted relationships.
Coping with COVID
As soon as COVID-19 hit, Alison and her team decided to up her focus on supporting The Gracewood’s 100 incoming residents. They set out to deepen their existing relationships with prospective clients on their database.
Allison immediately instigated:
a weekly EDM to her depositors and database, to continue engagement
Zoom interviews with incoming residents to uncover their real-life stories, which were then shared with others
Five-minute videos with guest speakers around topics of interest to her prospects, which she then shared with her prospects
All of these activities have served to build on her existing relationships and are ensuring that communication channels remain open.
They also further develop the trust that has been established in The Gracewood and BaptistCare since day one.
So far, the feedback on these initiatives – from prospects, depositors and families – has been overwhelmingly positive. Many have enjoyed the opportunity to share their own stories.
Check out this example of one incoming resident, Helen, HERE.
Remember, it is a lot harder to find new buyers compared to the real buyers who already know and trust you.
Here is a great idea that you might be able to use if you are in NSW – and think about elsewhere.
The NSW Liberal government late last week launched the Combating Social Isolation for Seniors during COVID-19 Grant Program.
These grants are available to organisations (like villages and operators) to help create programs that foster social inclusion for seniors activities.
The grants must help older people connect with each other through online engagement or other ways,
Example programs could include:
a service provider starting a program of social support calls to isolated seniors (an example would be your emergency call centre doing outbound calls to residents – INS is one supplier that does this)
running regular online conference calls for groups meeting up such as craft, men’s sheds, etc. ‘House Party’ is a popular app for this and you may get funding to drive it
creating an online cafe or carer support group
Even if you’re not based in NSW it is worth doing some research into other grants that may be available for seniors during the pandemic.
A great place to start is obviously google but don’t forget your Local Member is also likely to have information in relation to possible grant options for a program you maybe wanting to get off the ground.
We all know that communication is paramount in operating Retirement Living communities.
With COVID-19 I am confident the communications from operators to residents have been many, but so too am I confident the communications from residents to operators have been plentiful as well.
Normally our preferred communication style is face to face, but that is not ‘socially isolating’.
We have less opportunity to walk around the village, and less likely to be able to be present to minimise rumours (which is no doubt heightened).
For complaints in the past we may have visited in person and resolved a complaint in person, or at the very least relied on visual cues and personal relationships to verify the differences between someone venting Vs a complaint/dispute to be managed.
So it is a time where written, emailed or text information prevails, but these can so often be taken the wrong way or misinterpreted; and the information to hand suggests this is the way we will be operating for some many months.
I suggest it may be beneficial to revisit how complaints and disputes can be managed. If you’re not sure where to start with a review, then perhaps using the Retirement Living Code of Conduct guidelines as a tool is a good place to start.
If you are a DCM Institute participant, we have put together some best practice guides for complaint and dispute management that will be shared during this month’s topic.
If you are not a current member and would like us to share with you some of these tools please contact Judy Martin at
firstname.lastname@example.org and we would be only too happy to share them with you too.
We at the DCM Institute are committed to continue to provide industry specific tools, resources and support throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to assist you in your day to day operations.
We want to understand what is working, what you are finding challenging and what solutions you require.
We have created an online survey to help the sector understand how village communities are navigating the changes required for the coronavirus.
The findings will be released back to you and used by us to build future tools and resources of support, and to help inform businesses, industries and governments on how they can provide services and support to benefit and improve the lives of older Australians and the village teams that support them.
Keep an eye out in your inbox, you will receive an email for the survey 5 minutes after receiving this newsletter.
Please, can I request you take 5 minutes to complete this short survey.