Building Census in Nursing Homes

Building census is surely one of the most important responsibilities of every administrator. The battle for profitability begins and ends with occupancy. It drives the revenue. Serious and chronic census problems, unacceptable numbers of vacancies, do not appear overnight. Specific marketing or sales failures cause them. Your marketing mistakes are self-inflicted wounds. You can’t blame them on your competition. Mark Twain once told us the smartest thing he ever did was to stop making dumb mistakes. Stop making these mistakes and you will not only market smarter but much more effectively, too.

1. Don’t confuse public relations with marketing. Be clear on the difference. Marketing means to promote a product in such a way that people buy it. The purpose of marketing, therefore, is to increase revenue.

Public relations, on the other hand, attempts to create a more favorable public opinion of some beleaguered industry, company or person. Indeed, one reason why assisted living became so popular was due to the negative image surrounding nursing homes. But even if the entire population of the United States suddenly developed a more favorable opinion of skilled facilities in general, that perception shift would not necessarily bring more admissions into yours. Even if you have a favorable public image, you still could have empty beds.

2. To increase census, learn to promote your products (skilled nursing, rehabilitation expertise, specialized Alzheimer’s care, etc.) in such a way that families not only understand the strengths and benefits of placement with you (instead of with a competitor) but actually come in to arrange for it. Medicare, Medicaid, private pay – no matter. Some revenue is better than none. Empty beds pay no paychecks. Never have and never will!

3. Don’t follow fads. It’s always been hard to find sufficient funds to support legitimate marketing efforts. Time and again, administrators and owners claim they don’t have the money for a new brochure or newspaper ads. Marketing money is hard to come by. But somehow, some way, administrators always seem to find the money to spend on the latest marketing fad.

Remember the ice cream parlor frenzy? The belief was that if facilities would only set up an ice cream parlor in one unused corner of the recreation room, admissions would explode! I said then, as I say now: Fads don’t work.
Prospective residents requiring skilled care and rehabilitation are more in need of your medical and nursing expertise than they are of a banana split. Put what money you have into the promotion of your products. Do what you do best – and then make sure your prospective residents know about it.

4. Check your strategy. What makes a diamond valuable? It’s not one thing that sets the price but four! Cut, color, carat and clarity. When you need to evaluate your marketing, make sure you are covering these next four essential components – not one of them but all four of them.

5. Enhance your product. Make sure your facility – inside and out – is marketable before you promote it. Why invite customers in if the facility or its services are not ready? Quality of care can only be judged by families after they admit – but they see, observe and smell before they decide on placement.

6. Promote your product. There are several types of promotion you must master. There is formal promotion, or advertising. There is mass marketing and targeted marketing. Informal promotion is better known as “networking” or “word-of-mouth.” If you have a specialized product and you want to target a specific illness, such as Alzheimer’s, then you must use “niche marketing.” Census problems can be overcome, provided you know how to effectively promote. If you don’t, you are wasting money.

7. Position your product. You can have the most beautiful facility and provide wonderful care; you can promote from dawn to dusk, but if your admissions people can’t sell and don’t even know, much less ask, the closing questions, your beds will remain empty. Marketing brings customers to your front door. Selling puts them in the beds!

8. Package your product. Almost every product comes in or with a package, box or wrapper. The package is not the product. It accompanies the product. The better the packaging, the more attractive and appealing the product is even before it is purchased or used. Your staff must be packaged

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