Now in Growth Mode, WesleyLife Looks to Build on Senior Living Momentum

Senior housing and care nonprofit WesleyLife is in growth mode with a plan to build out its continuum of care model and expand offerings to residents in America’s heartland.

Through recent efforts, the Johnston, Iowa-based provider is seeking to grow margins and keep residents within its sphere of care for longer, according to WesleyLife Vice President of Market Strategy and Business Department Ward Phillips.

From expanding its overall unit count, which is now around 1,900 units, to new development and partnerships, the company is bullish on its future as it celebrates 75 years of service in the Midwest.


“We’re certainly in growth mode,” Phillips said. “We’re really seeing growth in our at-home side for home health services and the community side.”

WesleyLife operates 12 senior living communities with an eye on the full continuum of care for residents. In 2019, the company branched outside of its stomping ground in Iowa for the first time with Illini Restorative Care, a new short-term rehabilitation and long-term care community in Silvis, Illinois. 

WesleyLife also recently completed an assisted living, memory care and short-term rehab community in DeWitt, Iowa known as Fieldstone of DeWitt. It is among the first entries in the organization’s WellSpire line of communities with Davenport, Iowa-based Genesis Health System, and it is the first WellSpire community to leverage financing from USDA Community Facilities Direct Loan and Grant Program, allowing it to serve more residents in the Clinton County area, Phillips said.


The $30 million, 95,000 square-foot facility is located on a 14-acre sprawling campus and represents a major step forward in the company’s vision to extend its care continuum. The community includes an active adult component, with which, Phillips said WesleyLife would be able to access more potential residents than a typical community.

A second major project that’s now fully operational this year is the Summit of Bettendorf, a $50 million continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Bettendorf, Iowa on a 178-acre campus. The community is made up of just over 100 IL units, 17 AL units, 18 memory care units and 40 around-the-clock care suites.

In October, WesleyLife is set to expand The Cottages community with an additional 36 suites, as part of an addition to one of the three campuses at its Hearthstone community. The addition to The Cottages replaces the care capacity lost with the closing of one of the Hearthstone campuses due to water damage in 2020.

“These projects have both been really well-received,” Phillips said. “We’re taking what we learned from past projects and improving on all aspects to really elevate the resident experience at all levels.”

With the expansion, WesleyLife is growing its lifestyle and programming options. And thanks to its partnership with Genesis Health, the company is able to deepen its share in health care services alongside its senior living portfolio.

But with expansion comes some growing pains. WesleyLife, like many operators, still struggling to recruit and retain new staff as it grows. Although there’s light at the end of this proverbial tunnel, Phillips said, referencing the company’s recent success and influx of new applicants as job seekers return from the sidelines since the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We’ve gotten more creative than ever in terms of recruitment because we feel now it isn’t just up to one department,” Phillips said. “We all feel like we have a part to play.”

Another factor helping its retention rate is that WesleyLife was named in the top five of Fortune’s Best Workplaces in Aging Services 2022 list.

On the retention side of the labor coin, management is focusing on “intentional succession planning,” Phillips said. That in-turn begets investment in present talent as future leaders, combined with scholarship, training and certification opportunities.

“We’re really diving into that because we are emphasizing staffing while we are a growing organization,” Phillips said. “We’re locked in on where we stand and where the opportunities lie.”

Through the culmination of new projects coming online, with some yet to open, Phillips said he felt the company had come back stronger than even prior to the pandemic.

“We’re finding the right mix of care types in our communities and that’s really exciting for us as we look ahead to the next 75 years,” Phillips said.

With its burgeoning growth and focus on staffing in the background, WesleyLife is also looking to be on the cutting-edge of senior living concepts. The company recently announced a partnership with Drake University to host Molly McDonough, a 22-year-old college senior that serves as an artist in residence offering programming for residents.

As a Wesley Acres resident, McDonough, a vocal music performance major, will perform weekly for residents and outside community members.

“I’m hoping to spread the word that younger and older people are just not that different from one another and can learn a lot from one another,” McDonough said in a news release regarding the intergenerational project.

To shore up existing properties, WesleyLife is also in the midst of a $25 million master plan to renovate its Des Monies flagship senior living campus. A major part of the renovation includes the addition of a wellness space with event centers, multiple pools, added dining options and common areas.

Phillips stressed the renovation was aimed at offering more public-facing offerings to engage with prospective residents via various nutritional classes and dining options. That emphasis on public-facing outreach is something central to WesleyLife, Phillips said, highlighting the company’s commitment to “tripling” its Meals on Wheels program to reduce food insecurity in Iowa.

“We’re passionate about food insecurity for solving that in our local area,” Phillips said.

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