When isolation and boredom are two common issues of the ageing population, Columbia Pacific Communities transforms the old system into a warm and lively ecosystem where senior-living is re-imagined. Resonating the Banyan tree’s philosophy, Columbia Pacific Communities stands on the pillars of wellness, real estate, and hospitality.
We had an in-depth conversation with Mr. Mohit Nirula, CEO, Columbia Pacific Communities. CPC is Mohit’s second organization, where he implemented his diverse knowledge, gained in the last three decades of his career. In conversation with us, Mohit expressed India’s perception of the concept of “senior living community.” The senior living community can become a guilt-free concept in India, but can it potentially break the social taboo?
Q. Thanks for accepting our interview request. Since the senior living community is still a new concept in India, what is the awareness level in India?
Mohit: Thank you for the opportunity. It is a privilege and a pleasure to be able to exchange thoughts on a subject that is so dear to me and so important as an option for seniors in the country – the opportunity to spend their best years in the company of friends within a community designed with their needs in mind.
The concept of senior living communities does need to be differentiated from another concept with which it tends to get confused – old age homes. For social and historical reasons, the latter have been tainted as establishments inhabited by residents abandoned by their progeny and filled with despair and a sense of hopelessness. This perception is not necessarily true and definitely not universally applicable to all such establishments.
Senior living communities are more a “service” solution than they are a “product.” Communities designed with seniors in mind encourage social interaction among the residents. In Columbia Pacific Communities, this is especially important as large, open, multi-utility spaces allow residents to embrace our unique and proprietary concept of Positive Ageing – an approach that allows them to remain physically fit, mentally alert, and intellectually engaged in a socially active environment.
Furthermore, at a Columbia Pacific Community, the service design is such that we take responsibility for all day-to-day chores, thereby liberating the residents to pursue their interests and passions and allowing them to become the best version of themselves.
Finally, the on-site presence and support of medical and para-medical service personnel trained by our healthcare partners – Columbia Asia Hospitals ensures that the residents can have the required peace of mind, secure in the knowledge that their regular and emergent needs can be attended to without having to risk increased exposure by trips to hospitals and nursing homes.
Q. How do you see the rate of growth in the last few years? Was it higher? Particularly during COVID-19, was there any change in the demand?
Mohit: There has historically been a gap between the demand and supply of homes designed for seniors. A CII study confirmed that while the urban demand for such homes is 200,000, there are barely 10,000 homes available at this time and another 10,000 in various stages of development.
Furthermore, the experience of seniors in the last six months, especially those living on their own in villas or in mixed-family condominiums, has only accelerated this demand. The contrast in the care and the peace of mind experienced by seniors residing in communities dedicated to their needs was stark. The need and convenience of such communities have been acutely felt by seniors and equally by their children whose careers have taken them to different cities and countries.
At Columbia Pacific Communities, we have seen a 4x increase in the organic traffic to our website as seniors and their families look for solutions to their needs. Demand for homes in communities – on rent and on resale has resulted in there being a waiting list at all our 9 communities. We are confident that more and more elders will see communities designed for seniors as the preferred lifestyle option for their golden years.
Q. What is predicted in the senior living space in India in the coming years?
Mohit: We see a growing acceptance and adoption of this lifestyle solution. In time, and sooner rather than later, this will be the preferred solution for seniors and their children.
At Columbia Pacific Communities, we aspire to launch between three and four communities every year for the foreseeable future. While Tier 1 cities will have a higher demand owing to larger numbers of nuclear families and empty nesters staying alone, we expect Tier 2 cities with good medical infrastructure and weather becoming desirable destinations.
We also see more homes being bought by groups of friends as more and more active and independent seniors are looking to enjoy the best years of their lives. This is a stage in life when they have financial independence, have fulfilled their responsibilities, and have the time and energy to pursue their passions. And who better to do this with, than with old friends and new.
Q. Do you see the Government & senior living communities coming together in the future, if not already?
Mohit: There is an urgent need for the Government to support the needs of seniors.
As can be seen, healthcare costs increase at a rate faster than inflation. With increasing life expectancy, it follows that the most expensive years of a senior’s life are being added to their lifespan while there is no commensurate increase in savings or retiral benefits.
Policy level support from the Government to support retiral income to keep pace with inflation improved medical insurance plans and capping of cost of treatment for the elderly, reverse mortgage schemes that are attractive and support a senior to benefit from their investment in their own life are various measures that require the Government’s immediate attention.
Equally, the removal of Good and Services Tax on services provided to seniors in communities designed for their well-being is another area where the Government can support the seniors and their financial well-being.
Q. What is your advice to seniors who want to look at senior living communities as an option?
Mohit: I would say to them that it is the best decision that they can take for themselves and their children.
Increasingly, people in the age group of 50 and above are becoming empty nesters. Their children have been educated well and have travelled far and wide in pursuit of their respective careers.
The parents are pleased and proud of their children’s success. Equally, they value their own freedom and wish to retain their independence.
Moving into a community designed for seniors is hence, liberating.
Freedom from the daily chores and time to do the things you desire. Freedom from what you have to do and instead, doing what you want to do. Freedom from being a burden on children to the joy of remaining independent. And most importantly, giving themselves and their children the peace of mind that comes from being in an environment such as a Columbia Pacific Community where each team member is guided by the Company Dharma of Unconditional Love, Respect and Care.
Q. “Parents not living with kids is like kids not taking care of their parents’ concept” in India, with the changing dynamics of work, city vs town opportunities, parents having a say in how they want to live their lives, things are changing for sure but what type of culture battles families go through while looking at senior living? Do people really understand senior living or they still confuse it with old age homes?
Mohit: The perception of old age homes as the place one goes when there is no other option vis-à-vis senior living communities that are a preferred option is something that is changing and will only accelerate as there are more and more communities that act as “proof of concept.”
There is a large number of seniors who are seeking a solution for their current and future needs.
A community designed to ensure that all areas, facilities, and services offered remain accessible and usable by them at 50 and 90 years of age. A community that adapts to serve and fulfil their needs, as they change over time. A community where their friends are an elevator ride away. A community where each day is designed to promote positive ageing – so one remains physically fit, mentally alert, and intellectually engaged in a socially engaging environment. A community where the daily chores are addressed by the service provider and where the medical support is ever-present and reassuring.
We are at the tipping point and one can see the acceleration in demand. It is only a matter of time when senior living communities will be the desired and preferred option for both the parents and their children.
Q. Your final comment on senior living for India post COVID-19.
Mohit: I think COVID-19 and the manner in which it affected the lives of the seniors and their children will remove any apprehensions that both these cohorts are attached to communities designed for seniors. Senior living communities will relieve the seniors of stress and worry. They will also relieve the children of concern and guilt.
As we move towards the fast-paced competitive world, where children are getting busier with their ambition, elderly parents are left alone with their loneliness. The senior living community became a beautiful concept of re-imagining old age as the golden age. Slowly, the independent older generations will demand more for a safer, secure, and engaging living environment.
We profusely thank Mr. Mohit for his time and critical insight.