Part of $30B Health System, CHI Living Seeks to be National Player With New CEO

The senior living operations arm of one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health systems has a new leader and an ambitious goal to grow the organization’s national presence.

CHI Living Communities last month welcomed Aaron Webb as its CEO. Webb, a former COO with MorningPointe Senior Living, succeeded former CHI Living Communities CEO Rick Ryan, who retired in May. Webb has big plans for the organization and its 13 continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) in seven states.

“We’re striving to become a national player in every way,” Webb told Senior Housing News Monday. “This is not business as usual.”

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CHI Living Communities is the senior living management division of Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health, a nearly $30 billion health system created in a 2019 merger between Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI). The combined system operates more than 700 care sites and 142 hospitals in 21 states, plus research programs, virtual care services, home health programs and senior living communities.

Like most other senior living providers, the coronavirus pandemic has tested CHI Living Communities. But the organization is coping well with current challenges while maintaining a roughly 88% occupancy rate, with no current active cases of Covid-19.

4 goals in year one

As CEO of CHI Living Communities, Webb has four main goals he wants to achieve in his first year on the job. The first is to find a “ministry alignment” among the larger organization’s different service lines so that they can move in lockstep to achieve broader health care delivery goals, and more easily work together in the future.

“As I have residents who need acute care, home health, hospice care, or even in some cases, pharmacy services, I’m not having to go out and … form partnerships with third parties who don’t know us,” Webb said. “I’m able to handle some of those relationships in-house, and over time, those synergies are only going to become stronger.”

Although the current plan is for each of the organization’s divisions to use their local brand names, there are also discussions underway regarding bringing them together under a more centralized brand identity.

Webb’s second goal is to pursue innovation, both in how senior living communities are designed and in how they use technology. Specifically, CHI Living Communities wants to land on a mix of services, amenities and design that will attract the next generation of senior living residents.

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“I want to aggressively pursue innovation, starting with talking to current senior living residents and residents who will be in the market in the next five, seven or 10 years,” Webb said. “If we do that, we truly have an opportunity to build the senior living communities of the future.”

CHI Living Communities is currently also hammering out new approaches for using technology in senior living communities. Like many other senior living providers during the new pandemic age, CHI Living Communities has embraced using technologies that keep residents connected to their loved ones, such as FaceTime and Zoom. The organization is also using telehealth where it can.

“Our home health and hospice group, for example, is using biometric telemetry in order to keep tabs on residents who are both in our campuses as well as at home,” Webb said. “So, technology is going to be a huge additive … and we need to maximize those opportunities while there is an appetite to do so.”

Another of Webb’s goals is to chart a course for national growth. Although the company is still working out exactly how it plans to grow and where, it will target markets where there is a need and demand for more faith-based senior living services.

“The fact that we are a faith-based provider is a huge differentiator for us, even in some markets that others would say would be oversaturated,” Webb said.

The company will initially look to fill out its continuum of care in markets where it already operates.

“If [for example] we have a hospital, and a physician’s practice and home health, and all that we’re missing to complete the continuum of care for CommonSpirit is senior living, I’m going to take a hard look at those places early on,” Webb explained.

Webb’s fourth goal is to advance social justice and bring more racial diversity into the organization. When he started with the organization, he asked for a breakdown of all of the company’s different employees and residents, organized by their race.

“The numbers were nowhere close to where they could be, or should be, on either count,” Webb said.

With that data in hand, CHI Living Communities’ next task is to study how and where it is recruiting new employees and marketing to new residents. And in doing so, the company will also develop a strategy to make its workforce and census more diverse — something the wider industry also must do better.

While Webb doesn’t believe CHI Living Communities or CommonSpirit discriminates against anyone on any basis, he does see areas where the organization can make a better effort to change the status quo.

“Unless we are intentional about seeking out historically underrepresented classes, I don’t think we can move the needle in any positive direction,” Webb said. “So, I plan to generate larger amounts of leads of diverse talent through very intentional efforts.”

In the end, Webb believes that, while Covid-19 has led to many new pressures for senior living providers, it also has created opportunities for creativity and innovation. And CHI Living Communities must capitalize on those opportunities while it can.

“I’m encouraging people to set higher expectations and speed up innovation,” Webb said.

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