Focus on Care Continuum Helps Regional Providers Danbury, Horst Expand During Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic put some senior living expansion projects on ice earlier this year, but some companies continue to expand and even see greater opportunities for growth. Among these are two regional providers that have found success providing a continuum of care for seniors.

Danbury Senior Living recently began accepting reservations for new independent living villas it is building in Millersburg, Ohio, where it is also building an assisted living facility, President Brian Spring told Senior Housing News. Based in North Canton, Ohio, Danbury has a portfolio of 18 communities across the Buckeye state, including a mix of independent living, assisted living and memory care.

And in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Horst Senior Care will operate Columbia Cottage Assisted Living, as part of a redevelopment of the 132-acre former Blue Ridge Country Club site into Blue Ridge Village, an age-restricted, mixed-use development, President Jim Burnham told SHN.

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Based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Horst operates four Columbia Cottage Assisted living campuses.

Both providers are part of vertically integrated, family-run companies with roots outside of senior living — and they have been able to leverage their involvement in other types of housing to benefit their senior living businesses.

Danbury’s natural growth

Danbury Senior Living founder Bill Lemmon started his career as a commercial real estate appraiser in Columbus, Ohio, before moving into development in the 1980s, focusing on traditional multifamily projects.

As residents in Lemmon’s multifamily buildings aged, they approached him about the possibility of building housing with a service component for those who needed some assistance. From there, the first Danbury community — and independent living home in North Canton — was built in 1998. Lemmon added assisted living to the brand in 2010 with a small building adjacent to an independent living campus in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

Lemmon also launched a management arm, Brookwood Management, to operate his developments. Spring, who was an investor on one of Danbury’s communities, joined the company in 2015 to help build up the property management arm. Today, Danbury and Brookwood employ nearly 1,500 people, and the company has been developing up to four communities annually, for the past four years.

The villas under construction are 1,300-square-feet, two-bedroom duplexes. Danbury previously built an independent living villa complex in Worcester, Ohio on extra land adjacent to an assisted living facility, which turned out to be serendipitous. As the independent living residents aged, they required more services and the synergies between the two buildings strengthened.

“What we’ve found is that it’s a little bit of a CCRC model. It gives us a feeder system into our other buildings,” Spring said.

Danbury believes that feeder system will become stronger in light of the challenges presented from Covid-19, and the villas will gain in popularity among seniors exploring a move to independent living. This is a developing industry trend embraced by developers and operators such as Lloyd Jones, which is developing a continuum of active adult care with its Aviva brand, including a for-lease cottage product which the company envisions as an entry point for the first wave of boomers transitioning to senior housing.

Danbury has felt the effects of Covid-19 on operations, notably with staffing issues. But the operator has been able to tap into a deeper talent pool as a result of pandemic-related layoffs to hire new talent, which it has been able to keep.

Lease-ups, meanwhile, are gaining momentum as the virus progresses and Ohio continues with a phased reopening of the state.

“The demographics don’t lie. There are not enough new senior living units hitting the market, even before Covid-19, to handle some of the demand that is coming forth the next five to 10 years,” Spring said.

Fifth generation developers

Horst Senior Care is part of a vertically integrated, family-owned firm dating back five generations that got its start in construction and excavation services, along with insurance services, Burnham told SHN.

The Horst family decided to enter the senior care space in 1998 with the Columbia Cottage brand, at the recommendation of a Georgia-based joint venture partner that identified positive demographic trends for senior care in Pennsylvania. Horst’s construction arm was involved in several CCRC developments, but saw the opportunity to focus on niche assisted living: smaller communities with unique building layouts corresponding to a personalized care philosophy.

Additionally, the company provides management services to over 70 separate homeowners associations — one-third of which are age-restricted.

“It gives us an opportunity to provide referral and education opportunities [to seniors],” Burnham said. “We can offer our take on the various choices that are available in senior housing and care services.”

Columbia Cottage Assisted Living originally launched with personal care licenses and carried on that way until 2011, when all of the communities applied for assisted living licenses. Personal care licenses do not outline basic and supplemental services such as hospice, specialized cognitive support services, physical and occupational therapy, and skilled nursing services.

The Columbia Cottage model is typically up to 50 single assisted living units situated on three- to five-acre campuses, designed in a figure-eight of interior courtyards.

“It provides a comfortable setting for our residents and their families to enjoy a more fluid transition from a home based environment,” Burnham said.

The Blue Ridge Village project is the first new Columbia Cottage development for Horst in 15 years. The master planned development will include 108 single-family homes, 128 townhouses, 160 apartments, a 32-acre park, retail and a 7,500 square-foot primary care facility from Penn State Health Medical Group.

At 60,000 square feet, this is Horst’s largest Columbia Cottage development to date, nearly three times the size of a typical community.

“We were very purposeful in being able to maintain that homelike environment by creating households where there is a centralized kitchen and amenities, as well as a dedicated household specifically designed with space and program in mind for memory care,” he said.

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