With First Chief Experience Officer, Lutheran Senior Services Turns Focus to Growth, Wellness

Senior living nonprofit Lutheran Senior Services (LSS) has hired its first-ever chief experience officer in a move meant to help to elevate its future offerings for residents.

The St. Louis-based organization sees the future of aging services as shifting away from health care and toward wellness — and President and CEO Adam Marles believes that operators that adapt to that shift will be in the best position moving forward.

“Those organizations that figure out how to be nimble and stay ahead of those changes … I think will be fine,” Marles told Senior Housing News. “Those that are slower to change, for whatever reason, are going to struggle.”


LSS operates a portfolio of nine senior life plan communities totaling approximately 3,700 units. Seven communities are in Missouri, and three are located in Illinois. LSS also has an assisted living community called Richmond Terrace in Richmond Heights, Missouri.

In addition to its senior living communities, LSS has a portfolio of nine senior affordable housing communities in those states, comprising housing for about 500 residents.

Looking ahead, the organization is seeking to build scale, Marles said. As senior housing and care becomes increasingly complicated, scale will help the organization weather challenges laying down the road, but “it’s not just about scale for scale’s sake — it’s about scale to optimize the experiences [of our residents],” Marles said.


“It could be filling some gaps that we have, it could be by trying to build on those strengths. It could be diversification in one way or another,” Marles said.

Scale and evolution

Marles said the organization doesn’t just want to grow to get larger. Instead, that growth is pointed at building on its strengths.

For LSS, building on strengths would mean more life plan communities heavily weighted toward independent living. As it stands now, about 2,000 of LSS’s 3,700 senior living units are independent living, according to Marles.

“The big challenge, particularly in the nonprofit space, is for those providers who have legacy communities that need to be updated to meet the expectations of the consumers of the future in an environment where workforce [challenges] are so tough,” he said.

He added that he believes that trend will drive more nonprofit affiliations in the future.

Marles also believes that senior living operators’ success will hinge on how they can deliver services to residents and whether they can build a culture that can attract new workers. Wellness will be a big driver for both.

For residents, the organization is preparing to meet the needs of the baby boomers, who are bringing new preferences and desires to the industry.

On the staffing side, LSS is ensuring workers have more flexibility and work-life balance in their roles. For example, organization at the start of the year implemented paid family leave benefits, discounts for biometric screenings and mental health services from chaplains. Those efforts helped the organization make the 2022 Healthiest Employers of St. Louis list.

Marles also believes that operators will need to grow through diversification, increase community-based services and be able to change care delivery models in order to be more responsive to the current and future demands of residents.

Those trends were on the mind of leadership this month when LSS announced it hired Beth Rusertas the organization’s first-ever chief experience officer.

When she joined LSS, Rusert had no experience in senior living beyond her own parents’ residency in senior living communities. ButLutheran Senior Services viewed her lack of experience within the industry as a positive, and they were seeking a candidate who was “energized by the idea of being a pioneer in an industry to make things happen differently,” Marles said.

In her first 12-24 months, Rusert is tasked with examining the organization’s values and accountability with an emphasis on diversity, equality and inclusion.

As chief experience officer also, Rusert is set to conduct focus groups and solicit feedback from both residents and staff. The role also includes providing updated information on the organization’s plans and explaining why changes were or weren’t made.

Rusert will oversee each department in Lutheran Senior Services that deal with the company’s mission. That means that human resources, marketing and communication and mission integration, LSS’s faith-based component, will report directly to her.

Overall, the chief experience officer and CEO will be navigating changing expectations in senior living, something Marles sees as integral to success.

“We want to be as transparent as we possibly can as we’re going through all of this,” said Marles. “She’s going to take a really hard look at retention to make sure that when people come to LSS, they understand they’re part of something bigger … and that we’re doing everything we can to hold on to them as long as possible.”

Companies featured in this article: