Severalyears ago I called some industry experts with a simple request. I asked ifthere was a place where I could find some basic benchmarks about industryspending. Didn’t think I was looking for anything that was really off the wall,just run-of-the mill budgeting-type stuff.

Thingslike: what is a typical budget for a 100-bed facility? How do facilitiestypically carve up their budgets? How much of a typical facility’s budget goesto areas like labor, physical plant purchasing, software, etc.? Essentially, Iwas looking for the sort of information that players in many other real estateclasses take completely for granted.

Turnsout I should have tried something simpler, like asking bluesmen to reveal theirharp playing secrets. Now it is possible I asked the wrong people and/or lookedin the wrong places (and if you can tell me where to find this stuff, pleasedo).

Itwasn’t long before I hit more dead ends than a blind mouse in a maze. In afinal desperate act, I asked a person who prepares tax information for a local facilityif I was stupid, or if something else was going on. As only a friend can, helet me know that something else was going on, but that did not change the factthat I remained stupid. Thanks, buddy.

That“something else” turns out to be a general reluctance among providers to sharethe so-called secret sauce: how they spend their money. These are theindustry’s family secrets, and the prevailing mood is that they are not toleave the room.

Insome ways this is an understandable sentiment. Why let the competition —  or the government — know what you are upto? At the very least, you might lose an edge. And the worst case scenario?Let’s just say that things could get a tad uncomfortable for some operators. SoI let it go.

Thenlast week I had a more troubling conversation. A guy who watches this fieldmore closely than most let it slip that the challenge extends beyond purchasinghabits. In fact, basic benchmarks about execution are largely a mystery aswell.

Isthere a dollar amount that a well-run 20-facility chain with an average of 100beds should be taking in? Or spending? Apparently not. Individual firms certainlyhave their own quotas, but industry-wide data that can be used for comparisonpurposes? Lotsa luck pinning those numbers down.

Itshould be noted that some companies do include very general numbers in their earningsstatements. But here the information tends to be extremely cryptic andqualified. (And again, if someone can point me to this information, please do.)

Theirony here is that more data analysis than ever is being used in this field.And in some selected areas, the information is extremely good. Moreover, thanksto NIC MAP, we have unprecedented access to information like new construction,occupancy rates and relative competition.

Butat a time when this field is trying to woo institutional investors, we oftencan’t let these potential partners know how to distinguish truly well run communitiesfrom those that simply claim to be well run. This is largely the residue of asector that feels others cannot be trusted with its proprietary information.

Familysecrets are understandable. And some may serve a purpose. But as far as seniorliving is concerned, the practice seems to be causing more harm than good.