Atria CEO: We Relearned PR During Pandemic, Benefited from Covid-19 Vaccine Mandate

Covid-19 has been a period of innovation for senior living in many ways, notably the embrace of telehealth and technology platforms, and finding creative ways to market and sell communities to prospective residents.

Atria Senior Living adapted in these realms and others — “relearning PR,” for example — and CEO John Moore believes that the pandemic showed that innovation can be thought of in broader terms.

“Execution is its own innovation,” he said in a conversation Thursday during the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council (LHCC) Aging Innovation Global Healthcare Virtual Summit.

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Based out of Louisville, Kentucky, Atria manages close to 200 communities for real estate investment trust Ventas (NYSE: VTR), itself, and more than 10 other owners. Moore was recently named to LHCC’s board of directors.

Like other providers, Atria rushed to source and secure personal protective equipment (PPE), enact quarantine measures and establish a Covid-19 testing program, pivoted to virtual sales and marketing, adopted technology for telehealth purposes and to facilitate communications between residents and their families, and improved its public relations presence in the face of early news reports about mass outbreaks in long-term care facilities.

Moore discovered that being able to move from crisis to crisis required fluidity, as well as communication and transparency with staff, residents and other stakeholders in order to get the job done. He cautioned that senior living operations should not be commoditized  — a sentiment he has expressed in the past — and when running a company where employees make an impact for the business as well as the residents, execution is paramount.

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One area where Atria successfully executed was pivoting to virtual sales and marketing to drive inquiries. Where other operators were concerned about whether seniors would be able to adapt to a digital sales environment, Moore found that the pandemic necessitated seniors’ move to digital platforms, and with a quick learning curve.

The belief was well-founded. As Atria transformed its sales process, prospective residents adapted to the virtual environment. Today, move-ins driven from direct website inquiries are three times higher than pre-pandemic levels.

“Seniors are more [digitally savvy] than we give them credit for,” he said.

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Another area of improvement for Atria stemming from Covid-19 involved heightened communications, especially for public relations purposes. While the operator took an “early and often” approach to communications with residents, employees and their families early in the pandemic, Moore was surprised at the level of press coverage for the decision to mandate all employees get vaccinated against Covid-19.

The news led to stories in outlets ranging from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Associated Press, to mentions by the Pew Charitable Trust. The articles served the dual purpose of combating the negative light shined on long-term care by early Covid-19 outbreaks, and bolstering Atria’s business profile in the public eye.

“We learned how valuable that is, to have your name bouncing around out there in the digital world,” he said. “We re-learned PR.”

Moore believes Atria benefits from calling Louisville home. It is a centralized location from a logistics standpoint, which allowed the company to stockpile PPE and Covid-19 testing supplies, and get those supplies to communities quickly. Louisville is also home to other corporations such as Papa John’s Pizza and YUM! Brands, the corporate owner of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Atria’s recently named chief technology officer formerly worked at Papa John’s. Additionally, the main logistics hub of UPS is located in Louisville.

This requires substantial investment in fiber and digital infrastructure in order to do business. Coupled with lower cost of living Louisville affords, vis a vis other national tech hubs, Atria can compete with other tech forward companies for young corporate talent.

“If you want to have a business that can be successful in California, New York, Illinois, or North Carolina, this is a great place,” he said.

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