HRA’s New CEO Details Provider’s $450 Million Growth Plans

For fast-growing senior living development and management company Harbor Retirement Associates (HRA), the future lies in wall-mounted culinary gardens, trivia games, and roomier apartments.

That’s the provider’s focus as it embarks on a $450 million growth spurt, according to Sarabeth Hanson, HRA’s new president and CEO. Currently, the Vero Beach, Florida-based provider has 30 communities in operation, with eight more under construction in Texas, Florida, Virginia, Delaware, Ohio and South Carolina.

But that’s not all: HRA is also planning to break ground on nine more locations this year, and has identified 40 more sites for possible future development, said Hanson, who officially started her new role on Jan. 2. Though HRA has traditionally focused on assisted living and memory care, its current development push includes more independent living offerings.

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“By this time next year, 50% of our portfolio will be our newer product that we are developing,” Hanson told Senior Housing News.

When those new communities come online, they’ll have amenities geared toward attracting the looming influx of baby boomers, such as multiple dining venues with farm-to-table options and spacious one- and two-bedroom apartments.

“The baby boomer now is looking to have choice. They want options,” Hanson explained. “We are building our communities for people who are accustomed to having service and hospitality, and will pay for that.”

No more ‘birthdays, bingo and boring’

One unique design feature planned in HRA’s forthcoming communities is a wall-mounted “vertical garden” for farm-to-table produce. HarborChase of Palm Beach Gardens, an assisted living and memory care community that opened last year, has one such garden (pictured above).

To make that happen, the provider partnered with a handful of local farmers, who grow and tend to each garden locally before transporting it—soil and all—to hang in an HRA community. Herbs from the garden are then used to enhance salads, wraps and other meals.

“Your bartender might clip fresh mint, make you a mojito, and serve it,” Hanson said. “Or the chef is clipping basil to put on your margherita pizza and trimming Boston bib lettuce to make your salad for the evening.”

Another innovation in HRA’s newer communities is an in-house trivia program that allows residents, their families or staffers from across the country to compete against one another.

“Everybody has their own little tablet, so a question will pop up, then everybody hurries to answer it,” Hanson explained. “It’s really been a lot of fun. Our associates even join in.”

And fun doesn’t stop with trivia. Other perks for HRA residents include special computer programs for memory care, candy dispensers and even video games.

“In each of our newly developed communities and in many of our classic communities, we have Wii Bowling alleys,” Hanson said. “You can’t imagine how wildly popular they are.”

The end goal of all of this is to give residents an experience they might not find at one of HRA’s competitors.

“If there are things we as consumers are enjoying at nice hotels or great restaurants…why can’t our residents enjoy that as well?” Hanson said. “Our residents today are tired of birthdays, bingo and boring.”

Staffing remains key

Having all the cool design features in the world isn’t automatically going to boost a provider’s bottom line, though, which is why HRA is also heavily focused on attracting and retaining top industry talent.

“As an industry… our biggest challenge going forward probably isn’t, will there be enough seniors to keep all of our communities adequately filled?” Hanson said. “It’s really, how will we staff them, and how will we make senior living more attractive to millennials?”

Part of that challenge is nabbing younger, talented workers early in their careers. To do that, HRA has implemented college internships, flexible training regimens for non-supervisory employees and executive-director-in-training programs.

“If we really are taking a conscientious approach to business and our leadership styles, we have found that people are very responsive to that and this is an environment they want to work in,” Hanson said.

Written by Tim Regan

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