United Church Homes Targets Senior Living, Middle Market in Rapid Growth Push

A sizable regional player in non-profit senior housing is taking steps to grow its independent and assisted living offerings, including for the middle market — and it’s brought an industry veteran on board to help with that push.

Marion, Ohio-based United Church Homes (UCH) in December hired Teresa “Terry” Spitznagel to serve as its chief growth officer, a newly created role which is effective Feb. 10.

UCH previously had a COO, Charles Mooney, to lead its operations. But Mooney retired last year, and President and CEO Rev. Dr. Kenneth Daniel decided to take the leadership of the nearly 100-year-old organization in a slightly different direction.

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Spitznagel comes to UCH with more than 25 years of experience in senior living, hospital and post-acute care, hospice, affordable housing and home and community-based services. In 2000, she began working for senior housing nonprofit National Church Residences, eventually becoming the organization’s senior vice president of senior living. In that capacity, Spitznagel helped manage operations of the organization’s skilled nursing and assisted living communities, HUD Affordable Assisted Living (ACLP) communities and independent living communities.

Reporting to Spitznagel will be two recently added regional operating directors. Together, they will aid the non-profit senior housing organization in growing new and existing business lines.

“The chief growth officer is really looking at two broad areas: current revenue generating lines of service and developing future revenue generating lines of service,” Daniel told Senior Housing News. “In that way, we think we’re positioning United Church Homes more and more to anticipate how the senior living market is evolving.”

To that end, the organization has been in “rapid growth mode” for the last few years, Daniel said. In that period, United Church Homes has added three affordable senior housing properties, two skilled nursing properties and two market-rate independent living communities.

On the senior housing side, the organization has five life plan communities, two independent living communities, two assisted living communities and four standalone skilled nursing properties. The organization also manages two other life plan communities and two skilled nursing facilities for other owners.

Combined with its sizable affordable housing portfolio, UCH has 75 different communities in 14 states and two Native American nations. The organization in 2019 ranked as the nation’s 57th-largest not-for-profit multi-site senior living organization, according to the most recent LeadingAge Ziegler 200.

‘Over-reliance on skilled nursing’

As part of that rapid growth, UCH hopes to even out its unit mix by paring down its total share of skilled nursing exposure.

“Our board has supported a rapid development cycle, and is encouraging management to be more intentional about growing the organization away from an over-reliance on skilled nursing and its exposure to Medicaid and Medicare,” Daniel said.

The company’s unit mix in recent years has gone from about two-thirds skilled nursing to just under 50%, and UCH expects to drive that number even lower, ideally to around just a third of the organization, he explained.

“We’re going to do that by acquiring, building, and perhaps taking beds offline where we have that opportunity to create more private rooms,” Daniel said.

In growing its senior living offerings, UCH hopes to offer more independent living settings tailored with a la carte services to help residents age in place longer.

“It’s very attractive to our seniors in Ohio, they like the idea of having an independent-looking apartment that we can augment with supportive services,” Daniel said. “So that’s an evolving service line that we want to develop.”

The idea is for UCH to offer something more residents can afford, as well. UCH is developing a prototype for a middle-market product, and hopes to have it ready to roll out in the next 12 to 18 months.

“People who have the ability to afford between $2,500 and $3,500 a month with meals included, that’s who we’re trying to address,” Daniel said.

The organization is currently planning two greenfield development projects which are expected to be completed within the coming four years. On the acquisition side, UCH plans to acquire one or two more affordable housing properties. And, the organization is working on forging a joint venture partnership with another organization that has expertise in senior housing development.

“We’re very much looking at joint venture partnerships and affiliations as another strategy to grow the organization,” Daniel said.

Other initiatives UCH is working on include a relationship with researchers at Ohio State University to pilot robotic therapy animals. The organization also recently adopted VirtuSense’s VSTBalance program to help prevent falls among its residents.

At the end of the day, all of this is aimed at keeping the organization nimble enough to last another century, Daniel said.

On the whole, other nonprofits are pulling away from skilled nursing settings in favor of ones that don’t rely as much on government reimbursements. St. Ann’s Community, for example, is paring down its skilled nursing beds in favor of independent living, assisted living, memory care and other services.

Other organizations are pushing for growth in the middle-market or active adult spaces as well, with Trinity Health Senior Communities as one example of that trend. Though Trinity is still in the exploratory stages of creating its active adult model, the concept could take shape in buildings of 100 to 200 units, with relatively limited common spaces and light services and at a middle-market price point.

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