The BIG Picture: Once invincible business models aren't so bulletproof after all

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John O'Connor, Editorial Director
John O'Connor, Editorial Director
As 2010 dawns, many providers and publishers find themselves limping along. Both have just endured one of the more challenging years on record.

Who would have thought the once bulletproof continuing care retirement community model would be reeling? Erickson Retirement Communities offers a good example of how weird things have become. As fewer and fewer prospects were able to sell their homes (essentially a prerequisite for moving in), occupancy rates tumbled, along with operating revenues. The result: a sell-off of the company in tandem with a Chapter 11 filing.

An assisted living juggernaut—Sunrise Senior Living—is on the brink as well.

And if you haven't been reading much about new skilled nursing facility construction lately, it's because there hasn't been any. This, despite an uptick in our nation's 85-and-older population. If that's not a red flag, what is?

In my chosen field, publishing, the news has hardly been happier. These days, it's a rare week that doesn't see the announcement of a major publication closing, layoffs or bankruptcy filings.

So how did we both get into this predicament? It would be possible to cite hundreds of reasons. But I think the bottom-line answer is the same for both sectors: We took our eyes off the ball.

In the case of long-term care, success is about providing desirable health and service amenities at the best possible cost. For publishing, it's about meeting the informational needs and desires of readers. As we've seen lately, both goals have proven easier to describe than accomplish.

That noted, it's encouraging to see that many senior living operators are catching a second wind. They are inventing or reinventing themselves in ways that better serve their communities and accountants. It's a good start.

As we begin our 30th year, McKnight's is adapting as well. We offer a top-notch Web site ( that is chock full of news, information and perspective. And our Daily Update news service is the first thing many industry pros turn to each morning.

We also have jumped into the world of social networking: Our recently launched Twitter site has more than 500 active followers, and the number grows each day.

There's no doubt that these are challenging times. But by adapting and improving, we can all increase our chances of staying in the game.