As many senior living operators know, planning and building a new community is a lot of work—and it can be even more challenging when that community is in a foreign country.
Houston-based senior housing owner and operator Belmont Village Senior Living knows this all too well after building its recent $55 million project in Mexico City, its first community outside of the United States.
Venturing off into a new country took a lot of time and consideration, according to Patricia Will, Belmont Village CEO and founder.
“It was not a decision that we took lightly,” Will told Senior Housing News.
But after much planning and deliberation—and ultimately seeing the project come into fruition—the company feels that it is poised for growth within Mexico to meet the needs of that international clientele.
Blazing a trail
The decision to build in the Mexico City market was four years in the making, and took a lot of examination and re-examination, Will explained.
“[We] decided that, although we’re blazing a trail here, the market was ready, and the particular opportunity that we had to launch was very, very attractive,” she said.
Assisted living options for the elderly are scarce throughout Mexico, according Will. And while the needs of seniors in Mexico mirror those of their American counterparts, options that combine medical care, housing and hospitality are few and far between.
“With respect to assisted living, there are a couple of independent living communities in Mexico City; there are one or two communities that are credible, but [they are] quite different in nature and location from what we do,” said Will. “And then, for memory care, there’s absolutely nothing. There are one or two providers of day care for memory care and that’s it. So, for a city with 21 million people, you’ve really got no supply.”
With an apparent need to fulfill, Belmont Village sought strategic partners within Mexico, eventually aligning itself with one of the country’s leading health care institutions, ABC Medical Centre in Mexico City.
The Belmont Village team invited the board of directors and the chief executive of ABC Medical Centre to several of its locations in the United States to showcase the Belmont Village brand. After highlighting the capabilities of its professional staff, processes and facilities, Belmont Village became successful in winning the trust of the ABC team, according to Will.
With the ABC Medical partnership in place, Belmont Village broke ground on its first international location in the summer of 2013.
Four years of work resulted in a 104,000 square-foot mixed-use building in Santa Fe—a “thriving, metropolitan, urban” neighborhood, according to Will, roughly seven miles south east of Mexico City. Retail space and a restaurant is housed on the ground floor, while Belmont Village occupies 11 floors of the building. Above the senior living community, occupying eight floors, is a Hyatt Hotel.
The new building also sits opposite of ABC Medical Centre, and is adjacent to a medical school and is connected via skybridge.
Since its opening in late May 2017, Belmont Village Santa Fe has roughly 100 staff on hand, including licensed nurses and doctors who are on staff 24/7. The facility has 133 residences: 67 units for assisted living; 34 for its Circle of Friends memory program; and 32 for its memory care unit.
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Unique logistical challenges
Establishing Belmont Village’s first-ever international location did not come without its set of unique logistical challenges.
“With respect to building abroad, you have to be prepared to not just make a building, but to create a company to bring the building alive,” Will said.
Establishing an operating and development company was integral to the project’s success, and aligning themselves with local partners enabled Belmont Village to make the project successful, explained Will.
“It has to function as a company in the country and you have to make a very big commitment in order to make that happen,” she said.
Designing the actual building came with its own architectural and engineering challenges, especially considering the facility’s mixed-use capabilities, adds Will.
“Nobody’s built anything like this, so describing it… and building it to our U.S. regulatory standards for this product type was an interesting adventure,” she said.
Adapting the Belmont Village brand for an international clientele was another key factor in making the move a success.
“With respect to our training, our processes, protocols, all of the systems and any infrastructure of Belmont Village, we’ve lifted those out of the United States and put them in Mexico with the same rigor that we execute [in the U.S.],” said Will.
This entailed not only translating their training guides into Spanish, but also adapting their processes and embracing the local customs and cultural differences—like different meal times, for example.
“The big meal of the day in Mexico is a late lunch. The heavy meal is probably at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon when there would probably never be anybody in a dining room at Belmont Village in the States,” said Will. “Families are larger, so we [also] accommodate the dining room with a lot more space for not only our seniors, but a very large number of family members.”
Future growth plans
Though their first venture abroad has been a learning experience, Belmont Village is already in the planning stages for a second location in Mexico City, with the goal of eventually having four or five locations in the city, explains Will.
In terms of its impact on the industry, Will foresees more U.S.-based senior living communities branching out internationally.
“We’re going to see more of it and it’s very positive,” said Will. “I think that while we’re still a young industry in the States, we have a lot of experience. I think what we’re beginning to see is the whole world needs some of that.”
Written by Carlo Calma