Future Leader: Isabelle Guarino, COO of Residential Assisted Living Academy

The Future Leaders Awards program is brought to you in partnership with PointClickCare. The program is designed to recognize up-and-coming industry members who are shaping the next decade of senior housing, skilled nursing, home health and hospice care. To see this year’s future leaders, visit Future Leaders online.

Isabelle Guarino, COO of Tempe, Arizona-based Residential Assisted Living Academy, has been named a 2020 Future Leader by Senior Housing News parent company Aging Media Network.

To become a Future Leader, an individual is nominated by their peers. The candidate must be a high-performing employee who is 40 years old or younger, a passionate worker who knows how to put vision into action, and an advocate for seniors, and the committed professionals who ensure their well-being.

SHN sat down with Guarino to learn about how she views the future demand for senior housing, and how Residential Assisted Living Academy helps entrepreneurs start their own small-house senior living businesses.

What drew you to the senior living industry?

My dad, Gene Guarino, started owning and operating residential assisted living homes when my grandma fell ill and needed help and a place to live. She was in upstate New York, and he was looking for a solution for her, and he couldn’t really find anything that he felt was adequate. So, he bought and started operating some residential assisted living homes. And then we were all like, what are you doing? But then I got involved just by being curious and asking him lots of questions. And so, he started the Residential Assisted Living Academy, which teaches and trains entrepreneurs and investors from across the country how to own and operate their own residential assisted living homes.

About five years ago, he brought me on board as an executive assistant and now as his COO, for that company and a couple other senior companies. So, it was my family that drew me in. And then I realized the massive need throughout the nation.

As you look across your career so far, what’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned?

I originally had no idea what assisted living was or what it entailed. We focus on the residential side of it. So, it’s a lot of mom-and-pop shops and boutique-style operators with less than 16 residents in a home. I originally had no idea what type of care these seniors were getting, or what it cost.

The biggest lesson I learned was that there is a massive need for amazing care for these seniors. And it is just growing, and growing and growing. We are going to have a silver tsunami of seniors, and [if current trends hold] there are not going to be enough beds for them and there are not going to be enough caregivers to take care of everyone. So, we need people to step up and get involved and start opening beautiful homes to help care for this generation to come.

If you could change one thing with an eye toward the future of senior living, what would it be?

Our company goal is to positively impact 1 million people through residential assisted living.

I know that everyone is familiar with nursing homes or big-box assisted living facilities, but a lot of people aren’t familiar with the residential side of it, the smaller homes. So, one thing I wish that could change is getting out there more in the public eye.

There are other options, and residential assisted living is one of them. It’s not a homelike setting, it is a home setting. So I wish that we could change that perception. I do think the future is going to be about the smaller homes, and I hope that people can see that, understand it and get educated on the options that they do have for a parent who’s aging or themselves.

Looking ahead to 2021, what are some of the biggest challenges that you see on the horizon?

Outside of the pandemic, I see the biggest challenge being isolation, and seniors feeling more alone than ever. Another challenge is staffing, and finding the right people to take care of mom and dad. I think there’s going to be a massive need for caregivers, and it’s a really tough job. I also think we need to elevate the industry through quality care.

In one word, how would you describe the future of senior living?


To learn more about the Future Leaders program, visit the Future Leaders homepage.

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