Growing Operator Cascadia Bucks Memory Care Woes

While many senior living providers across the U.S. struggle with memory care headwinds, that isn’t the case of one growing regional operator in the Pacific Northwest.

Yakima, Washington-based Cascadia Senior Living has carved out a niche by developing communities throughout the Evergreen State, including some freestanding memory care buildings with indoor streetscapes.

Though the memory care sector faces a slow road to recovery elsewhere throughout the country, Cascadia isn’t feeling the squeeze. In fact, the company is seeing robust occupancy, and has laid out a busy development pipeline, according to the company’s founding partners, Doug Ellison and Justin Younker.

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“We’ve had really strong lease-ups in our memory communities,” Younker told Senior Housing News. “When we open up the doors, we typically have deposit lists and are moving in quite a few residents.”

Ellison added: “We haven’t felt the pain.”

The provider has 11 open locations in Washington and one in Portland, Oregon, all of which operate under the Fieldstone brand. Three more are under construction, with another three in the company’s development pipeline.

Cascadia’s memory care buildings all have between 40 and 62 units and typically run above 90% occupancy, with a few that are fully occupied with waiting lists. That’s well above the national average for memory care occupancy, which was 83.7% for 2Q19 in the top 99 markets tracked by the National Investment for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).

Some of that success is attributable to the fact that the markets in Washington where Cascadia does business aren’t overbuilt, Younker explained. Indeed, in the four local markets that NIC tracks — Longview, Seattle, Portland and Spokane— average senior living occupancy was 80.9%, 90.1%, 91.6% and 96% in 2Q19, respectively.

But the company additionally employs a unique mix of design features to attract new residents living with dementia or Alzheimer’s, such as freestanding memory care buildings with large, walkable hallways and “town squares” that include ‘50s diners, art studios, hair salons and serenity rooms. There, Cascadia hosts frequent events for residents, such as ice cream socials, barbecues, live music performances and petting zoos.

Cascadia Senior Living

Outside of memory care, Cascadia has some communities open or under construction with between 75 and 130 assisted and independent living units. Amenities for those residents include Wii Bowling alleys, cafes, exercise rooms, game rooms, libraries, theaters, spas and even oversized outdoor chess sets.

“We’re doing standalone memory care buildings even if they’re right next to independent living or assisted living,” Younker said. “Although it’s not the most cost-effective route to go from a capital side, we think we’re serving our residents better with separate programming for each.”

Development costs for Cascadia’s new communities typically range between $12 million to as much as $87 million. Rates for these communities vary market-to-market, but usually lie between $3,000 and $8,000, depending on the services offered.

Looking ahead, Cascadia plans to develop around three new Fieldstone communities per year, with the overall goal of having up to around 20 communities in its portfolio.

“The thought behind that number is, we’re big enough to have some scale,” Younker said. “But not too large where we’ve got layers of middle management and are losing touch with what’s really going on at the community level.”

The company also recently snagged the no. 18 spot in the most recent Best Workplaces in Aging Services list, an accolade won partly by offering employee programs such as a hardship fund and tuition assistance, the co-founders said.

“What we’re doing resonates with people,” Younker said. “We also just understand these markets. When you add all that stuff together, it’s a pretty good recipe.”

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