Herb Hildebrandt Ph.D., Hl.D. of Trinity Health’s Glacier Hill’s senior living facility
Herb Hildebrandt Ph.D., Hl.D.

A generalization: Most groups, such as seniors living in retirement communities, have within them social, professional territories. That is, there is an assumption that groups, clusters, committees, political parties, leaders, followers and hundreds of other societal gatherings have concerted purposes, interests and beliefs — like grains in a silo.     

Take a metaphorical leap: a group that has the mentality to support and store their points of view in rituals and beliefs, often in opposition to others, may have a “silo mentality.” Accordingly: does healthcare and its innumerable divisions or senior residential facilities have members with a silo mentality? We’ll find out, taking a look at two categories, in-groups and out-groups, both fitting under the label Social Identity.

Social identity

Perhaps all of us associate with or support intra-groups (a football team, a political party). A single team is intra-group. Whereas relations with another group is inter-group activity, between groups, for instance Northwestern vs. Michigan in football.

I cautiously suggest the medical area has many intra-groups, several medical schools listing over 50 areas of specialty. Thus, their group identity is professional. A seminal study (Kreindler, S. et.al, 2012) suggests that silos abound between medical fields, between doctor fields — and also within nursing groups. Contrariwise are less professional groups, residents or individuals within senior living facilities, who espouse an idea or goal within the hurdles of their residence. As seniors entering the amber color of an aging life with similar companions, they still may associate with others of like mind.


Senior organizations are burdened heavily with committees, most continuing as historic entities: Dining Committee, Executive Committee, Entertainment Committee, Foundation Board and many other leader titled in-groups. Its members may be less professional but may act as advisers or supporters of selected beliefs —generic voices from outside.

       Positive aspects of senior in-groups:

  • Non-professionals on established committees can bring peripheral viewpoints. New members often willingly testing polarized traditions.
  • Membership terms on senior committees are usually short.
  • A new member may challenge an idea molded for years in stone; parliamentary law suggests amendments are in order to test changes.
  • A common thesis and purpose may grow into a large organization, perhaps via an M&A with similar missions, beliefs and measures.

       Negative aspects of senior in-groups

  • “I never was at that level” implies the observer feeling both a social and professional distance from the in-group power.
  • “They’re all a bunch of stuffed shirts.” Similar to the above, this suggests a built-in formality and consistent reaction against outside influences.
  • A potential silo mentality assuming that their views and proposals are in lock-step.
  • Members may fall under the influence of stolid in-place members, moving their views from mild support to more solid, even vehement positions.
  • No group achieves 100% perfection; conflicts, as within any enterprise is open to internal disagreement.


A whole array of research in social psychology and sociology of groups goes far beyond my overly simplistic “we vs. them.”  An out-group does not identify with central ideas and perhaps procedures of another group. As an aside, the current U.S. political situation is two political groups vying to become the lead in-group power.

At the residential level of a senior housing continuum in a senior care facility, on a casual level, it is easy to know the in-groups and the out-groups. I know, over years, the individuals who consistently eat at 5 o’clock, where they sit and with whom. That may sound as a negative, but some psychologist would suggest that cohesion of familiarity in beliefs and social compatibility is a positive. That casual daily intra-group activity only occasionally leads them into a dynamic oral discussion platform founded on deep cognitive or procedural changes.

       Positive aspects of senior out-groups

  • There is human comfort for certain individuals to align themselves with others holding the same beliefs and values of life.
  • When an out-group disagrees with a policy determined by elected or an appointed in-group leadership, an out-group may rationally form their own group to review a policy or procedure —Democracy is alive.
  • While many out-groups have no legal authority, they may recommend or pass resolutions that are advisory, often getting serious attention.

Negative aspects of senior out-groups

  • A paradigm of a social identity out-group is they may begin small, but as others of like mind are persuaded, the group increases in size and intra-and inter-group conflicts may occur.
  • If appointments to committees are controlled by executives in authority of like mind, they can appoint residents who already agree with in-place authorities of a similar mind.
  • Some out-groups resort to violence.
  • Some out-groups seek power over institutions or people, seeking that goal via innuendo, banners and falsehoods.

Conclusions, suggestions

Thousands of hospitals, medical practitioners, platforms for serving seniors, intra-and inter-group conflicts, hundreds of entrepreneurial advisory businesses, formal associations for academic and non-academic groups—continue; the list of health-related institutions for senior care is boundless. Out of that palette come innumerable contours of advice. Our focus was primarily on one issue applicable primarily to one segment of society: seniors in continuum of care communities experiencing the silo effect.

It is a metaphorical image to compare a silo containing a harvested grain within a steel, cement or an open storage pit with a senior living facility wherein certain groups refuse to comingle with other views, using their closely held values to oppose others. 

Therefore, social gregariousness and positive interactions may be affected. A few suggestions.

  1. Review, renew, replace mission statements that are dated.
  2. Appoint at least 1/3 of each established committee or an ad hoc group formed by residents.
  3. In regular communications, allow 1–2 insertions by residents.
  4. Every three months, have a 15–20-minute open period to hear from residents on any issue, e.g., before the board.
  5. Have CEO give bi-yearly report to residents.
  6. Bi-yearly have the CEO, after an M&A, report to residents.

Main two sources as basis for above article. Kreindler, S. et.al. (2012, June).  Silos and Social Identity…The Milband Quarterly, London, 90., 2, 347-375; Tajfel, H. and Turner, J. (1979). An Integrative Theory of Intergroup Conflict.  In S. Worchel (Ed.)  The social psychology of intergroup relations (Chap 3) Monterey, CA: Brooks Cole.                                                                                                                               

Herb Hildetandt Ph.D, Hl.D., is a 1962 founder and today a resident of Trinity Health’s Glacier Hill’s senior living facility in Ann Arbor, MI.