Dean Oh meets with faculty members.

Putting the Hospitality in Health Care

It is not a coincidence that hospital and hospitality share the same Latin origin, yet when many of us think about needing medical care or perhaps moving to an assisted living community – we don’t usually think of luxury service. That gap in care impacts quality of life at a time when it matters most, and it is an issue facing more families than ever before.

More than 77 million baby boomers in the United States began to turn 65 in 2001, and their last cohort will do so in 2029. The U.S. population included 43 million seniors (65+) in 2012 and the number will reach 84 million, nearly a double, by 2050.

As the U.S. population continues to age, South Carolina is in a unique position to bridge the care gap and support well-being and best living at every stage of life and health. South Carolina is a top destination for retirement. Over the last 10 years, South Carolina’s senior population has grown faster than the national average, increasing from about 13.8 percent in 2010 to 17.2 percent of the total population of South Carolina in 2017. In addition, South Carolina is currently home to about 10 percent of all assisted living facilities of the country.

The state is also a pillar of hospitality and a leader in health care, with top-ranked degree programs and research centers dedicated to advancing and increasing capacity for hospitality management, nursing and public health. Combining these innovation sectors and creating an integrated approach to caring for all of a person’s needs has the power to change the way people think about aging, reduce the burden on family members serving as care givers, and build a strong network of lifestyle and care industries that support vibrant communities.

While the prospect of senior care industry growth is not a new one, now is the time to transform it. The industry’s growing demand for various products, services and infrastructure is amassing a “tsunami” for our country and society. The aging population is the worry of cities and families around the world. What can an academic institution do to solve such a sociodemographic challenge? Through an interdisciplinary approach, we have the opportunity to integrate business, hospitality, medical and technology education and training to create a new system of human-centric care.

At the core of the issue is caring for people. Seniors are not automatically patients; they are and want to remain active, independent and engaged members of our community. We must embrace them from a social and psychological perspective beyond a unified health care or medical approach. Not only supporting their need to live in good physical health, but also to live an active and enriched life.

The original meaning of hospitality includes respecting humanity by attending to the fundamental needs of a human being. Such needs include food, shelter, entertainment, and individual rights to pursue a happy and enriched life.

The University of South Carolina’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management (HRSM) is home to one of the top 25 programs in the world for hospitality management. Crafting exceptional experiences for people is integral to how we prepare our students to lead customer-centric industries. The senior care industry is a natural extension of hospitality management, and the College is excited about forging new programs that will prepare a talented labor force for this blooming industry.

The College of HRSM is working on an innovative partnership that would merge hospitality, technology and health care to create a new model for senior care to benefit the state of South Carolina and communities across the country. Working with physicians, independent living specialists and senior care innovators, the partnership is exploring potential for new curriculum and centers that could become the foundation for redefining senior citizens’ quality of life.  

Entering the senior living business includes an unprecedented expansion of hospitality education, including collaborative curriculum, career development, research and community outreach. As this is so fresh an attempt, there are some unknown factors that will take time to develop. However, we are in the venture with every intent to succeed in providing a healthier, more vibrant life for seniors.

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