Senior living providers Front Porch and Covia are officially affiliated, the organizations announced Thursday. The combination creates a nonprofit with 54 communities across four states, serving about 7,500 residents and more than 6,000 participants in programs and services.
Front Porch and Covia first announced their intention to affiliate in June 2020. The merger adds Covia’s 7 senior living and 9 affordable housing communities to Front Porch’s 12 senior living and 26 affordable housing communities. The combined organization would have ranked No. 10 for total unit count on the 2019 LeadingAge/Ziegler 200 list.
Going forward, the organization will operate under the Front Porch name and will be led by John Woodward, who has been CEO of the Glendale, California-based organization since 2015. Covia CEO Kevin Gerber is retiring.
The affiliation brings together two nonprofits with reputations for innovation, and Woodward believes that the combination sets up the organization to respond quickly and effectively as the senior living landscape changes over the next decade.
Combining during Covid
Both Covia and Front Porch operate primarily in California and are no strangers to each other; Covia’s Resident Service Coordinators have provided support for Front Porch’s CARING Housing Ministries. But leaders with the two organizations began seriously discussing affiliation starting in Dec. 2019, Woodward told Senior Housing News.
Executive committees then undertook discussions, in the midst of which, Covid-19 struck. As the pandemic swept across the globe, Front Porch and Covia considered postponing the affiliation.
“Quite frankly, we were concerned about the ability to communicate the advantages and the structure of the new entity to the people that are the most important, and that’s the residents, our colleagues, our staff,” Woodward said. “We thought about that for a short period of time, and concluded that actually the challenges of Covid really underscored the need to proceed with this combination.”
Specifically, given that there was “no playbook” for responding to Covid-19, Front Porch and Covia leaders already were seeing benefits from being able to share ideas and best practices, he noted.
Furthermore, the pandemic underscored the importance of having the size and financial wherewithal to respond to unexpected crises. While Covia and Front Porch were financially strong prior to the pandemic, gaining more scale, resources, and achieving a lower cost of capital all became even more important goals.
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“I would be shocked if there aren’t boards of directors meeting today saying, my goodness, we didn’t realize that things could go from ‘we’re pretty good’ to ‘this is really scary,’” Woodward said. “I think working together, combining resources, will allow people to get through periods of volatility without making extreme choices.”
While Front Porch and Covia leaders agreed on the increased need for scale, they also believed that their organizations would integrate well from a cultural perspective.
“Both organizations come from cultures of change and innovation; I think this also helped us work together effectively,” Woodward said.
Front Porch has gained a reputation for technological innovation, driven largely by Chief Innovation and Technology Officer Kari Olson. Through its Center for Innovation and Wellbeing, and its Humanly Possible framework, Front Porch has played a leading role in testing and refining technology for senior living.
For example, the organization was one of the first to pilot Amazon’s voice-activated Echo devices and study their effectiveness in the senior living setting, and the provider subsequently expanded its use of voice-first technology.
This tech proved its value in being able to alleviate the “extraordinary isolation” that senior living residents endured during Covid-19, Woodward said.
Among Covia’s innovative plays, the provider last year invested in Minka, the tiny-house concept created by Dr. Bill Thomas. Covia viewed Minka homes as a promising way to create more affordable housing for older adults, as well as possibly workforce housing, and intended to create a demonstration home.
Woodward did not share any updates on the progress of these plans, but said he is excited about the Minka model and during the affiliation process was glad to learn of Covia’s involvement.
“We’re supporting it, and looking forward to maybe integrating some of our innovative technology with it,” he said.
Achieving integration, and the go-forward strategy
Front Porch and Covia have already embarked on the process of integrating their systems and processes, but the combined entity is not in any rush to change logos or branding at the local level.
“The communities and their individual identities may be the most important asset we have,” Woodward noted. “… We will work on rebranding and conforming identification later on, but the first thing we do is work with the residents, listen to them, and make sure they understand that we’re there not only to continue the support they’ve enjoyed, but work to improve it.”
And to that end, the combined organization is not looking to shed workers.
“We need everyone to be working, but we’re going to be working differently going forward,” Woodward said.
There may be personnel changes at the corporate level, but Woodward also emphasized that the board and executive leadership at both organizations have worked together well to find common ground. A merger helps overcome “inertia” within any organization, he said, which enables even successful enterprises to address longstanding problems and think in new ways.
“It really gives people permission to reset and rebuild,” he said.
As for what the future holds, the immediate priority is on combining the two organizations to maximize efficiencies. Longer-term, greenfield development is unlikely given the costs and timeframes involved, and Woodward anticipates the need to remain nimble and responsive to increasingly dynamic market conditions.
“We can’t predict the future, we aren’t prepared to say this is where we’re going to go over the next 10 years, but we know that change will probably accelerate during this period,” Woodward said. “And as we see opportunities, we’re going to have to move and redeploy our resources. We believe that this merger will allow us a better ability to do that.”