Watercrest Rolling Out New Memory Care Framework Called Illuminate

Under the leadership of its recently appointed chief experience officer, Watercrest Senior Living Group is overhauling its memory care program.

The Vero Beach, Florida-based provider is poised to roll out new programming for memory care residents as part of an initiative called Illuminate. Spearheading that effort is Hollie Kemp, who joined Watercrest last October as vice president of dementia services and programming, then ascended to the chief experience officer role a few months later in February.

Kemp has made a name for herself in the industry, particularly for her approach to memory care. She previously helped Chicago-based Senior Lifestyle in developing its memory care model, Embrace. Kemp has also snagged accolades from industry association Argentum for her memory care aromatherapy program, Essence; and as one of the 2019 Senior Living Leaders Under 40.


On the whole, Watercrest is making a sizable investment in its programming for residents and company culture, according to Watercrest CEO and Principal Marc Vorkapich.

“Our initial investment, which we consider to be over the next two to three years, is just over $1.25 million, with additional resources of $250,000 allocated for innovations to [the memory care] program alone,” Vorkapich told Senior Housing News.

Watercrest currently has eight senior living communities open today, with another four scheduled to open to residents this year. The provider has sought to make itself a sizable regional player in the U.S. Southeast, and in the process has linked up with companies such as real estate developer the St. Joe Company (NYSE: JOE). The two organizations this year pledged to jointly build and own a 107-unit assisted living and memory care community in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.


Watercrest is embarking on an ambitious growth plan that includes another 12 community openings by 2021 — and it’s not done there.

“We have a robust pipeline putting us over 30 communities by 2022, slowing down with 38-40 by end of 2023,” Vorkapich said.

Illuminating memory care

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Part of Watercrest’s decision to overhaul its memory care program came from a desire to add a new element to its memory care communities, three of which have “market plaza” areas with a faux-outdoor streetscape (pictured above). The design will also be included in forthcoming Watercrest projects in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.

“Watercrest had a beautiful memory care design, but they felt they needed to enhance the program behind the design,” Kemp told Senior Housing News. “That’s where I get to use my expertise in memory care, to design this new program that is evidence-based and resident-focused.”

Illuminate is centered on the idea that residents should be defined by their life story, not their cognitive changes. The program is dedicated to creating a welcoming memory care setting where residents feel like family.

“When someone is diagnosed with a dementia-causing disease, sometimes the disease is what we define the person by,” Kemp said. “There are years of stories behind them and there are years in front of them. When you forget about that, you change how you treat people.”

The new program touches many aspects of resident wellness, such as physical fitness, food and dining, the arts, spirituality, sensory touch and horticulture and floral design. Some of the planned features include:

  • Daily programming and personal life “silhouettes” for residents
  • A small-plate snack program called “Aprons and Appetizers”
  • A mobile app for families
  • Real-time sharing of resident photos and information about activities
  • Digital communication and displays across all communities
  • New team training and curriculum
  • A new coaching role under a fitness program dubbed “Get Active”
  • Wellbeing data collection and analysis tools aimed at improving the resident experience
  • New supplies, tools and resources for each community

On the culinary side, Watercrest brought in a nutritionist to help create snacks that would specifically entice memory care residents, who sometimes have trouble eating regularly or sitting still long enough for a full meal.

“We focused on creating snacks that appeal to the tastes that tend to be most prevalent in people throughout their dementia progression: sweet and salty,” Kemp said. “This is about how we can satisfy those cravings with higher-quality, more nutritious food.”

Evidence-based approach

The new Illuminate program draws from a wide range of care philosophies, and places a heavy emphasis on concepts and techniques that can be measured and benchmarked.

“[A good memory care program] needs a framework that people can follow, and it needs to be something that you can have good training for,” Kemp said. “It needs to be underpinned by some sort of philosophy that people can get inspired by.”

The provider is working with outside partners — such as digital health company Sagely — to capture data about its programming. Watercrest is also collaborating with other companies such as Eversound, which makes hearing and resident engagement technology for senior living communities, and elder-focused fitness provider Spiro 100.

The full Illuminate program is planned to roll out in three phases in the coming year, with the first set to go live in July.

The initial phase will include new technology tools and digital assets, some of the training curriculum, the new memory care culinary offerings and the addition of the new Get Active coach role. Watercrest anticipates it will roll out its second phase in the fall, with the third phase currently set for the spring of 2020.

The core idea behind the phased rollout is that the company will be able to measure and tweak its programming as it goes along.

“We’re not rolling this out in one piece, and that’s intentional,” Kemp said. “One of the things I really want to focus on is doing each piece exceptionally well.”

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