Murry Mercier illustrating society’s historic reactions and practices toward seniors needing care. Photo by WSU Photo Services.

Granger Cobb Institute Taps Murry Mercier for Inaugural Senior Living Lecture

By Sue McMurray

When it comes to pick up lines, “I love old people” may be one of the worst—or weirdest—in the history of dating. Add “I was raised in a nursing home” to the conversation, and it’s understandable why the person of interest might mentally “swipe left” and look for the nearest exit.

But that’s not what happened for senior living executive Murry Mercier, who introduced himself this way to the woman who would eventually become his wife.

This comical exchange all made sense during Mercier’s senior living lecture “Living with Dementia: Hospitality, Home, and Relationships” during Hospitality Week 2022, when he shared insights on how he developed a deep regard for seniors and established a successful career in the senior living industry.

It Started In Childhood

As a toddler, Mercier often went to work with his grandmother who looked after him while she managed a nursing home. The residents, whom Mercier viewed as surplus “grandmas and grandpas,” adored him. The connection to seniors he felt during those years stayed with him for life, he said.

In college, he took an elective gerontology class to fulfill credits needed for swim team eligibility. The class included visits to local assisted living communities where he was shocked to see residents living a much more fulfilling life.

“I thought ‘This is so much better than what I experienced as a child; still, we can make this even better,’” Mercier said.

A Hospitality Perspective Pays Off

After graduating from college, Mercier spent eight years in various IT and administration roles at Erickson Senior Living, a senior living management network including more than 27,000 seniors in 11 states. During his tenure, he took Erickson’s mission “we share our gifts to create communities that celebrate life” to heart as he opened new senior living communities that mixed independent and assisted living together.

“We opened without any of the institutional trappings that exist in normal senior living,” he said. As he created a model of administrative transparency and allowed residents freedom to make decisions for themselves, his bosses thought he was taking too much risk. But in fact, the opposite was true.

He said his hospitality-centered approach resulted in 98 percent staff retention and 100 percent satisfaction ratings from all 15 residents and their families in his community. No incident surveys or citations occurred.

“It changed the conversation,” he said. “From a hospitality perspective, it told me inclusion is better sometimes.”

As Mercier built his career, he focused on the power of technology in creating higher quality operations and resident care in senior living communities. He became the senior living industry market leader for PointClickCare, a leading cloud-based healthcare software provider for acute care and senior care industries. In this role, he works with hundreds of senior living providers and tech partners to help senior communities focus on person-centered care.

Personalized Care Plans Make A Difference

During his presentation, Mercier said person-centered care entails customized plans in which all decisions belong to the resident. Those who are able can write their own iCare plans based on their physiological, emotional, and environmental needs. The plans help create a roadmap for a better quality of life as seniors face loneliness, helplessness, boredom, and negative stereotypes associated with aging, he said.

“It’s important to combat ageism. I refer to senior living residents as ‘elders’ who have wisdom and experience,” he said. “Language matters.”

In that same vein, he said the term “care partner” is preferable to “care giver” because a partner not only gives but receives value from the relationship, for example, the rewards of a resident’s story, smile, or laughter. This concept is important for residents with dementia or Alzheimer’s. A care partner equipped with a personalized care plan can use specific knowledge and communication to bolster residents’ self-worth, validate feelings, or calm and reassure them during a dementia or Alzheimer’s episode, he said. What doesn’t work well with these residents is talking louder, commanding, asking memory-based questions, arguing, and giving them long explanations.

“People want to live in an environment that fits them,” he said. “We’re seeing an increase in residential and multigenerational care homes, and long-term, skilled nursing homes are being exchanged for more flexible assisted living options with less restrictive licensing.”

Mercier complimented the Pacific Northwest’s forward thinking toward senior living regulatory and legislative efforts that give people an opportunity to age in place.

“We need to continue to reinvigorate and reengage senior living into the greater world. Switzerland is a great example, where education on aging starts in elementary school,” he said.

*Listen to Murry Mercier’s recorded lecture.