Granger Cobb Institute Begins to Take Shape at Washington State University

A push to set in stone a new Washington State University institute named in honor of a senior living pioneer is coming close to bearing fruit.

Already, the ongoing launch effort has garnered nearly $2.5 million in naming gift donations this year with more on the way, and is moving steadily along in its planning process at the Pullman, Washington-based state college.

While one of the institute’s main goals — to offer a groundbreaking senior living-focused major for students of the School of Hospitality Business Management in the Carson College of Business at WSU — is still likely years away, the school is set to relaunch its online senior living management certification program in the coming months. And the institute could start to churn out new research as early as the spring or summer of next year, said Scott Eckstein, a clinical assistant professor and senior living executive-in-residence at Washington State University.

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“[We’re asking senior living CEOs], what problems do you really want to have answers to?” Eckstein told Senior Housing News. “We don’t want to just do esoteric research, we want to do something that will make a difference.”

Cobb, who passed away in 2015, was a senior living pioneer who worked in leadership roles at a series of companies, including as CEO of Emeritus Corp., the largest provider nationally prior to its 2014 acquisition by Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD). Cobb also was a board member of industry groups such as Argentum, NIC, and ASHA, and taught students at Washington State University.

Throughout his decades-long career, Cobb was a mentor, colleague, leader and friend to many current senior living leaders, including Chris Hyatt, partner and COO of New Perspective Senior Living.

Hyatt, along with Bill Pettit, president of R.D. Merrill Company, first introduced plans for the The Granger Cobb Institute at the Argentum Senior Living Executive Conference in Nashville last year.

Overall, it was Cobb; Pettit; Jerry Meyer of Aegis Living; and Tana Gall, formerly of Leisure Care and now of Blue Harbor Senior Living; who were the founding “parents” of the senior living program at Washington State University.

“When we talk about those disciples of Granger’s legacy, we’re talking about Jayne Sallerson, COO of Charter Senior Living; Keven Bennema, CEO of Charter Senior Living; Shamim Wu, COO of Eclipse Senior Living; and Chris Guay, President and CEO of Vitality Living,” Hyatt told SHN. “All of these different servant leaders who had operated under Granger’s leadership are now positively impacting multiple companies.”

Cobb also mentored Eric Mendelsohn, president and CEO of National Health Investors (NYSE: NHI) and Justin Hutchens, CEO of UK senior care provider HC-One.

The idea is that the Granger Cobb Institute, through its research, educational efforts and assistance, would continue to influence many of tomorrow’s senior living leaders, just as Cobb himself did throughout his life.

And the need for new talent in senior living is potentially dire. The industry will have to attract more than 1.2 million additional employees by 2025, according to 2016 projections from industry association Argentum.

“Most of the people that are in the industry now got here by accident,” Eckstein said. “When someone comes to WSU, honestly, they’re not usually thinking about senior living management. We have to change that conversation.”

Written by Tim Regan

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