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Getting CCRC Feasibility Studies Correct … and Other Studies as Well

In my consulting career, I’ve done a fair amount of feasibility work (market, economic, etc.).  Similarly, I’ve done a fair amount of similar analyses, primarily related to M&A activity and/or where financing is involved (debt covenant reviews, etc.). Heck, I’ve even done some bankruptcy related work!  I’m also queried fairly often about feasibility, demand, market studies, etc. such that I’m surprised (often enough) that a gap still exists between “proper” analysis and simplified “demographic” analysis.  Suffice to say, feasibility work is not a “one size” fits all relationship.

I’ve titled this post “CCRC feasibility” principally because the unique nature of a true CCRC project provides a framework to discuss a multitude of related industry segments simultaneously (e.g., seniors housing, health care, assisted living, etc.).  Starting with the CCRC concept, a set of basic assumptions about the feasibility process is required.

  • Demographics aren’t the arbiter of success or failure – feasibility or lack thereof.
  • Demand isn’t solely correlated to like unit occupancy, demographics (now or projected), or for that matter, how many units are projected to be built (following the Jones’ as a qualifier).
  • Capital accessibility isn’t relevant nor should it be.
  • National trends for the most part, are immaterial.  Local, regional and state are, however.
  • Projects pre-supposed are projects with inherent risk attached.  This isn’t an “if you build it, they will come” type exercise.  The results shouldn’t be thought of as a justification for a “specific” project already planned.

The last point typically generates  a “heresy” cry from folks and certain industry segments. Regardless, I am adamant here in so much that true feasibility analyses determines “what makes sense” rather or as opposed to, justifying that which is planned (or the implication that the client is paying for a study to justify his/her project).  Remember, I am a fan of the fabled quote from Mark Twain attributed to Benjamin Disraeli (the former Prime Minister of Great Britain): “There are three types of lies….lies, damn lies and statistics”.  As an economist, I have deep appreciation for this as all too often, I see analyses that smack of this latter type of lie.

(Note: The source of the actual “lies, damn lies” quote is still a mystery…thought initially to be said by Lord Courtney in 1895 but since, proven invalid.)

Carrying this feasibility discussion just a bit further, the approach that I recommend (and use) incorporates the following key assumptions about seniors housing (CCRCs) and to a lesser extent, specialized care facilities (Assisted Living, SNFs, etc.).

  • The demand for seniors housing, true housing, is very price elastic.  Given the elasticity, all demand work must be sensitized by price. The more specialized or unique the project might or may be, the more sensitive the demand elasticity becomes (greater or lesser).
  • Local economic conditions matter – tremendously.  This is particularly true for CCRCs and higher-end seniors housing projects, especially real estate conditions.
  • Regional and state trends matter particularly the migration patterns, policy issues, job issues, etc.  Doubt me?  Let’s have a discussion about the great State of Illinois (for disclosure, I have a home and office in Illinois).
  • Location(s) matter.  I incorporate location/central place theory elements in all of my feasibility work and analyses.
  • Demographics are important but not in the normative sense.  Yes, age and income qualified numbers are important but education and real estate ownership, location and years residency in the market area(s) can be as impactful.
  • Competition is important but in all forms.  Given the demand elasticity of seniors housing, the higher the price, the greater the wealth status required of the potential consumer, the greater the options available to that same consumer.
  • Ratios matter.  The demographics are important but the ratio within the demographic correlated to the project, within various locations, etc. is “money”.  (Sales folks love this stuff).  How many seniors does it take to fill a CCRC?

Because no one project is equal to another, feasibility work and like analysis is both (an) art and a science.  I liken the process to cooking.  Recipes are key but taste and flair and creativity are important as well.  Honestly, knowing the industry well from an overall perspective is ideal – like being a chef trained by the masters!  When I see flawed analysis, it typically comes from a source that follows a recipe; a recipe for market analysis, etc.  Knowing the industry, having operated organizations or facilities, being trained in quantitative analysis, etc. separates good or great from average.  Remember Twain/Disraeli.

So to the title of this post; the correct or proper methodology for feasibility studies and similar analysis (sans some detail for brevity and not in any particular order)….

New Facility/New Location

  • Location Analysis – in economic parlance, the application of elements of Central Place Theory.  This includes a review of the site in relationship to key ranked variables such as market/demographics, accessibility, staff/employment access, proximity to other healthcare, other services, etc.
  • Pricing – what is/are the core pricing assumption(s)….I’ve written on strategic pricing models on this site.  If I am doing the pricing work, I apply the concepts in the Strategic Pricing presentations and worksheets found on the Reports and Other Documents page on this site.
  • Demographics – I’ll use my pricing data and my location analysis to frame my demographic analysis.  Aside from age and income, I’ll look at migration patterns, education, career history, etc. plus I’ll review the information on a geocoded basis to refine market relationships between customers and other competitors.
  • Demand Analysis – From the demographic data and tested against the pricing, I’ll build a demand analysis and a penetration analysis that provides a range of likely target customers, within the market areas, give the pricing information, for a particular product.  Historic migration and market area occupancy of like accommodations is used to sensitize the demand analysis.
  • Economic Analysis – This is a review of current market conditions and trends that can impact the project’s feasibility, positively or negatively.  Real estate, income, employment, business investment, economic outlooks, policy implications such as tax policy, etc. are all key elements reviewed.
  • Competitive Analysis – What is going on within the area/regional competition of like or quasi-comparable projects is important as a buffer or moreover, a stability (or lack thereof) check.  I like to look at all potential or as many as practical, comparable living accommodations – not just seniors housing (condos, apartments, etc.).

Expansion Projects

I will complete a major portion of the above with less time spent on location analysis and pricing work (though pricing is still key for accurate demand).  I have watched organizations cannibalize their own market share and occupancy levels with expansion projects so accurate gauging of current and pent-up demand is critical along with conditional trends (economic, competitive analysis, etc.).

M&A, Financing, Etc. Projects

Again, all of the above work is relevant but depending on the circumstances, I will incorporate benchmark data from industry sub-sets.  For example, for SNFs I look at compliance information, CMS star ratings, staffing numbers, payer mix/quality mix and of course, federal and state reimbursement and policy trends.  When I review covenant defaults and provide reports, I narrow the analysis based on the core nature of the default but most often, the issues of late are occupancy, pricing, and revenue models versus fixed and variable cost levels.  Pricing work is often key along with a review of marketing strategies.

Is there more to this topic area?  Of course and this post isn’t meant to be exhaustive nor a text-book supplement.  It is however, a ready framework that can provide guidance to those looking at conducting or contracting for, a feasibility, financing or market analysis.  My advice: Getting it done right the first time saves money, prevents future problems, and assists with positive outcomes for any project or purpose.

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February 23, 2016 Posted by | Assisted Living, Senior Housing, Skilled Nursing | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment