One of the nation’s largest senior living providers, Senior Lifestyle, has reconfigured its leadership structure with the goal of being more nimble even as it gains scale. Its growth is expected to come in both senior housing and ancillary services such as home health.
The Chicago-based company currently is the seventh-largest senior living operator in the nation, according to recent ranking from the American Seniors Housing Association. Last month, Senior Lifestyle announced C-suite changes, including the appointment of co-COOs and its first chief clinical officer, as well as some new appointments at the vice president level.
Having two COOs is unconventional, but Senior Lifestyle CEO Jon DeLuca believes it is the right move. He thinks it will enable Senior Lifestyle to achieve better results even as the industry as a whole faces challenges, particularly related to supply and labor.
“We think it’s a better mousetrap,” he told Senior Housing News.
A focus on speed
While co-COOs Justin Robins and Jim Pusateri have the same job title, they have distinct roles and contrasting backstories. Robins has had a long career with Senior Lifestyle already, after starting with the company as an intern. Pusateri is a newcomer; prior to Senior Lifestyle, he was working for its even larger rival, Brentwood, Tennessee-based Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD).
Robins will be focused on traditional operations, capital expenditures, asset management, and other strategic items—areas where he already has been in leadership positions for the company.
“This opportunity felt like a great next step for me,” Robins told SHN. “It allows me to grow in my role but not say goodbye to what I’ve already been working on and maybe have not brought up to the point, yet, where I want them to be.”
Pusateri will focus on sales, marketing, recruiting, training and strategic opportunities—his areas of expertise from being senior vice president of sales with Brookdale.
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“I have the opportunity to bring a broader scope of sales and marketing, and different components of management, to the company,” Pusateri said. “I’ve seen a lot of things from a larger perspective, and that helps us in a situation where we have an opportunity to scale into that.”
DeLuca thinks a divide-and-conquer approach to the COO role makes sense.
“Having one person in charge of sales, marketing, operations, asset management, et cetera, places a lot of demand on one individual,” DeLuca said. “We’re trying to avoid bottlenecks and have expertise in major components of the business.”
This is also the thinking behind creating eight vice president of operations positions. Each is teamed with a dedicated asset manager, and each duo is assigned specific investors to work with as liaisons. Though it’s still early days, communication with investors is going more smoothly and is more consistent, DeLuca said.
Add to this mix Paula Adams, the new chief clinical officer. Like Pusateri, she also was with Brookdale until joining Senior Lifestyle. Prior to Brookdale, she was with Toledo, Ohio-based skilled nursing giant HCR ManorCare. She now is the leader and key decision maker on clinical matters for Senior Lifestyle.
“We’re trying to enable Justin, Jim and Paula to make decisions more timely, in their areas of expertise,” DeLuca said. “The feedback from the field has been very positive. The fact that communications are quicker, more decisive, is creating a really positive atmosphere.”
Ancillaries and assisted living
Rapid-fire communication and decision-making will also help the company be a more assured and speedy dealmaker, driving growth, the executive team says.
A key initiative is to grow its ancillary services, and Adams is taking the lead on evaluating these opportunities in areas such as home health, hospice, private duty home care and pharmacy services.
In June, Senior Lifestyle bought a 30% interest in a home health company in the Chicago area.
“The strategy is to penetrate our communities with home health care, to assist with increasing length-of-stay with our residents, as well as growing the home health care company,” DeLuca said.
While it might not be a permanent aspect of Senior Lifestyle’s buildings, the company also is exploring adult day care at its newest developments, and is finding that it is a good feeder into those buildings, he added.
Other senior housing providers have also started expanding their ancillary offerings recently, as they have faced occupancy challenges related to new supply.
“I think the new buildings will continue lease up because they’re new and shiny, but there will be a lot of pressure on existing buildings to gain occupancy,” DeLuca said. At the same time, he added, the new supply worsens existing labor and wage pressures in the industry, as more communities compete for the same pool of workers.
Yet, this does not mean Senior Lifestyle is shying away from expanding on the senior housing side. Growth will focus mainly on the acquisition and development of mixed assisted living/memory care buildings, usually in the 110-120 unit range.
The company is taking an opportunistic approach to acquisitions and there are no firm numbers in terms of how many deals it is targeting to complete, DeLuca said.
On the development side, there have been eight buildings either completed in 2017 or to open by the end of the year. Senior Lifestyle will most likely break ground on at least four more in 2018.
Senior Lifestyle would also consider building independent living communities in attractive markets, but DeLuca finds standalone memory care less appealing. Leasing up standalone memory care is more challenging than transitioning residents into memory care as the need arises, he and Pusateri agreed.
Overall, despite the challenges facing senior living providers at the moment, DeLuca, Pusateri and Robins perceive that there are good opportunities to be be seized, and quickly.
“Time is of the essence in making decisions in the industry in this time,” Pusateri said.
Written by Tim Mullaney