With the creation of a new affordable housing arm and a handful of other notable developments in 2022, it has been a big year for Transforming Age. But the senior living nonprofit is not done evolving.
Earlier this month, the organization added 10 new locations formerly managed by Essex Corp. and announced it’s opening a new second headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska.
The nonprofit in the process hired four senior living leaders from Essex: President and COO Frankie Pane, CFO and Partner Julie Bennett, Vice President and Chief Development Officer Camille Burke and Legal Counsel Scott Braasch.
The move was not only meant to help support Transforming Age’s growth beyond its nearly 70-community affordable housing and senior living portfolio, it also fits in with a desire to “do things a little differently” than the rest of the industry as it diversifies its services and looks to the future, according to CEO Torsten Hirche.
“It’s maybe not the most usual thing for a nonprofit to do, but we’re super excited about the capabilities they bring to us to supercharge growth,” Hirche said.
New HQ, new capabilities
The new second headquarters in Omaha will have a primary goal of serving Transforming Age’s five main “spheres”: housing, services, technology, partnerships, and philanthropy.
One immediate benefit is that the organization will gain a stronger presence and more oversight in the U.S. Midwest. The headquarters also will give the organization more ability to take on new management contracts and development projects.
In joining Transforming Age, Essex’s leaders are bringing to the table middle-market and active adult operation and development experience. Transforming Age already has a small handful of active adult communities, but it is a big priority for future growth, Hirche said.
“We’re seeing a ton of opportunity in the active adult, middle-market space,” Hirche said. “There is some overlap there.”
What Hirche means is that he sees active adult as a potential platform for middle-market senior housing that Transforming Age could then overlay with services.
“There is a good opportunity here to serve people at a certain price point with a solid offering, and then have Transforming Age or a partner offer services … either within home services or other offerings,” he said.
Transforming Age currently has around 2 million square feet of development underway across the organization, with a footprint in 22 states. And Hirche envisions the new headquarters will serve as a base of operations for expansions into other geographic areas, such as the East Coast and the South.
As it grows, Hirche said the organization will do so in a hub-and-spoke model, with communities clustered in a region to gain efficiencies in scale.
Transforming Age is also, like the rest of the industry, encountering challenges maintaining margins, hiring staff and trimming expenses.
Even so, the operator has made good progress regaining occupancy and revenue lost during the pandemic. Its affordable housing arm is nearly 100% occupied, and its new CCRCs in lease-up are progressing nicely. In general, communities that “aren’t in some sort of either expansion or repositioning project are doing very well,” Hirche added.
Additionally, some labor challenges have eased up in recent weeks. Hirche believes Transforming Age has a competitive advantage in hiring thanks to its distributed workforce model, which allows corporate staffers to work wherever they choose.
“It has really helped us onboard some significant talent across all disciplines, which really helped the organization,” Hirche said.
Building a ‘one customer journey’
Outside of growing the number of communities it operates, Transforming Age is also focused on diversification of services. In addition to its senior housing, the organization is also growing its home and community-based service offerings — though nothing is ready to announce just yet.
“There probably will be some exciting future announcements in terms of growth, including some new business models,” Hirche said.
All of this is leading to what Hirche and Transforming Age dub the “one customer journey.”
More specifically, Hirche sees the industry heading to a place where residents will soon desire and need more holistic care that can meet them wherever they are, be that providing services through a partner, in a senior living community or in the larger area where older adults live.
“Wellness around the social determinants of health, that’s nothing new — but I think it’s become a little bit more popular, especially around the value-based approach to health care,” he said. “We all want to live our lives as healthier, active, more holistic, and that’s no different for those that we serve.”
He added: “We’re obviously still at the very early stages of that, but that’s the idea behind it.”
Transforming Age’s reach also extends beyond caregiving and senior living communities.
For example, the nonprofit has a partnership with Seismic, a company that makes “Power Clothing” “fused with discreet robotic muscles.” Additionally, Transforming Age’s home- and community-based services affiliate is starting seven new programs centered on preventing homelessness in Seattle.
The organization also runs a website called Vinesta.com with the goal of helping older adults and their families find senior living operators in their area.
Though plans were still in motion and thus not announced, Hirche said the organization is laser-focused on bringing about a “digital transformation” through that and other functions.
“We’ve been running that for a couple of years, it’s been very successful, and we’re taking that as a basis for our next product evolution,” he said.
As he ponders new solutions for the middle-market and the baby boomers, Hirche is also focused on avoiding the “innovator’s dilemma,” which he describes as “being so good at what you do that it’s very hard to pivot to the next thing.”
At the end of the day, Hirche and Transforming Age’s “north star” are the people the organization impacts, which he estimates are numbered around 100,000 at this point. But even that is a drop in the bucket given the incoming needs of the baby boomers.
“There are 50 million older adults coming down the pike that need products and services, and we want to be the trusted partner and platform to deliver those, together with our partners,” Hirche said.