Even before Avanti Senior Living welcomed its first resident, the Texas-based operator attracted industry attention due to the experience and background of its leaders, the scope of its development pipeline, and its ambition to be innovative in areas ranging from design to marketing to technology.
About six months ago, the company opened its first community, Avanti at Towne Lake, in Cypress, Texas, about 30 miles northwest of Houston. The 90-unit assisted living and memory care building cost approximately $15 million, and is located in the master-planned community of Towne Lake.
Now that the high-profile new operator is up and running, Senior Housing News sat down with Chief Operating Officer Lori Juneau-Alford to hear how the company has approached these early days in taking a senior living concept to reality, with a focus on staff training, family outreach, and building and marketing a distinct brand.
The Hospitality Difference
While there’s an ongoing debate over whether private-pay senior living is primarily a hospitality or health care business, there’s little doubt that best-in-class operators have to be strong in both areas. And these high quality providers may be inclined to tout both their lifestyle and health-centric offerings equally—but Avanti is taking a somewhat different approach, investing heavily into health care aspects of the operation but emphasizing hospitality foremost to forge an identity and, if all goes according to plan, gain a competitive edge.
“There are only so many ways to pass meds or give a shower, so it’s really hard to create a differentiator based on that,” explains Alford. “[We are approaching] hospitality as a differentiator, [but our] health care is really robust, as well.”
In terms of the health care approach, Avanti is working with area medical providers to be fully integrated, Alford says. This means working with residents’ physicians to create good care plans, and also leveraging technology to be more connected with the health care ecosystem. Avanti staff members are equipped with iPhones that work as point-of-care devices, so that both caregivers at the community and also outside its walls—such as home health agencies, therapy providers, and hospitals—have real-time access to health information about residents.
Residents and families “feel good” about these systems, Alford says, but she’s firm in keeping health care a bit in the background when describing what Avanti is all about.
“We’re giving residents a lifetyle they want and deserve, and it just so happens we provide really good care as well,” she says.
Training to ‘Make It Happen’
The building design and amenities at Avanti at Towne Lake are part of the hospitality experience, but another crucial component is the service provided by the roughly 75 workers. To achieve five-star service requires rigorous training, which Avanti does in the form of paper training, face-to-face training, shadowing people, and ongoing training, Alford says. But beyond the extensiveness of the training, achieving the desired results also comes from driving home the right message.
“One of the things we have to really impress upon [staff members] and train on is to do the right thing,” Alford says. “A care partner is in the resident room and the resident wants a glass of juice? Well, go make that happen.”
Other examples of the “make it happen” mindset would be getting a resident something special to eat, or accompanying a resident to one of the community’s work-out classes. Part of the challenge is letting caregivers know that they have permission to provide these types of services, Alford says, but part of it also is shaking people out of their traditional silos. A care partner might not be used to doing anything beyond care-related tasks, but they need to go beyond these job functions to deliver on the Avanti model.
“It’s about delivering a true hospitality model versus working like a robot in their own silo,” Alford says.
While Avanti is asking a lot of its care professionals, the company also is working to provide a top-notch experience for its employees. For instance, the company offers monthly in-services on topics such as leadership or money management, and there is a team lounge at the front of the building with a ping-pong table, dartboard, charging station, and other perks. It’s reminiscent of a space that might be found at tech company such as Google, Alford says.
Sharpening the Focus
Getting the operational model just right is not a straight-out-of-the-gate proposition, of course. It is a process that involves ongoing refinement. Focus groups with family members have helped Avanti in this undertaking.
“We’re relying on families to help us be the change agent,” Alford says. “[They say] we really like that you’re trying this, here are some suggestions for how to make it better.”
One “a-ha moment” for Alford came when family members said they wanted to engage more in the effort to motivate staff members. They have a stake and role to play in the culture of the building as well, the family members said, and they offered concrete ideas for how they could support workers, such as by knowing their birthdays.
Getting this type of feedback is helpful but may not be achieved if a community doesn’t grasp the difference between a focus group and a satisfaction survey, Alford emphasizes. A focus group is not trying to measure how satisfied family members are, but to engage them on a deeper level to get actionable intelligence that will go into creating the Avanti model.
“What we’re tring to measure is, is our vision working, and how can we make it better?” Alford says.
Written by Tim Mullaney