The Springs Living CEO Fee Stubblefield sees a tough year ahead for senior living development fraught with new and old headwinds. Even so, he is moving forward with new projects and initiatives that will help shape the company’s future.
Chief among those is a $230 million community underway in Vancouver, Washington, that Stubblefield believes represents the next evolution of the company’s senior living model — and The Springs Living’s “most innovative” project to date.
“We don’t build cookie-cutter buildings,” Stubblefield said during the recent Senior Housing News BUILD conference in Chicago. “There are little things in the design that we’ve perfected over 26 years that we believe in, and that we build into each one of our communities.”
Looking ahead, Stubblefield said the industry must evolve, both from a physical development and operational standpoint.
“What should we really be measuring to create quality in our communities because whatever we do, we will have to create quality in care and in housing,” Stubblefield said.
The Springs Living, based in McMinnville, Oregon, operates 18 senior living communities in the Pacific Northwest. In his philosophy for leading the company, Stubblefield draws particular inspiration from the Lehman Hot Springs, a resort his grandfather Fancho built in 1925.
“Nobody would go to that remote part of that canyon in eastern Oregon if it wasn’t for that hot water,”. “The metaphor is that water provided at the hot springs is very similar to that care and compassion that our staff bring for our residents.”
The Springs Living’s next evolution
The Springs Living’s latest design evolution came during Covid, when the industry faced lofty challenges related to workforce and operations. Those advances are on display in the company’s The Springs at The Waterfront project in Washington.
As planned, the 12-story community will have 250 residences in the Portland, Oregon, metro area, with a mix of floor plans across AL, IL and memory care. The community is slated to include amenities such as a spa and wellness center, which isa mainstay at other The Springs communities; in addition to an indoor pool, and multiple themed dining venues.
The project, currently under construction, is part of a 32-acre master plan eight miles north of Portland on the Columbia River. That location will put the community in the midst of a thriving urban environment, with nearby parks, restaurants, retail, hotels and waterfront space.
While Stubblefield cautioned that the project was a “little aggressive” given the state of the economy and development sector, he said the company would integrate many of the lessons learned during Covid to push the project forward and “evolve the building.”
While the pandemic froze ambitions the company had for the wellness-forward community, Stubblefield said there had been a “reemerging” to normal community life with the prevalence of vaccines and Covid treatments.
Through unique community design, Stubblefield said The Springs Living is able to foster more organic interactions between residents and staff. To do that, the company emphasizes creating attractive spaces within communities.
“We want to draw people out of their homes and apartments,” Stubblefield said. “We want to create spaces and create life, so it’s the little things in the design that we’ve perfected over 26 years that we build into each one of our communities.”
One of the lessons learned from the pandemic included providing room service amenities for residents. Though that was originally born out of necessity due to Covid-19 restrictions, many residents have come to enjoy the service, and it is now integrated into the operator’s culinary program.
Other lessons related to building design. For instance, the operator has begun adding power plugins to its buildings’ elevators to accommodate hot carts and other ways of transporting hot food.
“We weren’t set up for it,” Stubblefield said of the room service at the start of the pandemic. “Now we’re bringing more of that ability to deliver quality into each person’s home inside of each community.”
The pandemic also showed Stubblefield that technology was “one of the key pillars to innovate and move forward.”
The integration of technology into a new development is key to future success from a workflow and resident perspectives. Another lesson from the pandemic was the fact that residents do not necessarily need to be in a senior living community to receive quality care.
“Technology is going to be key for the care component and the holy grail for us is to overlap,” Stubblefield said. “We have to make mistakes, we have to go forward and we have to innovate and we have to try it.”
‘It’s all about the people’
Regardless of how innovative a community is, Stubblefield’s vision hinges on the people working in the company’s communities. That is a fact Stubblefield knows all too well, and the driving force behind the company’s push to become more cognizant of worker needs, from higher, more competitive wages to additional benefits and on-site amenities.
The resources being put into staff amenities at communities now compared to a few years ago is “significant,” Stubblefield said.
“It’s all about the people,” Stubblefield said. “You can create energy, you can create places that people want to live but you can’t keep them without the people.”
Perks for The Springs Living employees include chiropractic adjustments and massages along with behavioral health services. The company also puts lots of thought into designing more pleasing break rooms and other spaces for employees. .
“You have to innovate around that and we’re building purpose-built spaces for staff,” Stubblefield said.
Another innovative way The Springs Living is catering to staff is through workforce housing. In Whitefish, Montana, where the company has one community, it can be tough for staff to find housing. So the operator has explored an approach used by local seasonal hospitality and tourism companies: Offering workforce housing to prospective employees.
“When we realized the risk that they take after their shift driving home, we just can’t do that. So we’re finding ways to provide that housing,” Stubblefield said.
Currently, The Springs Living is housing some staff in apartments converted for their use. But in the future, he has plans to build dedicated 55-plus housing with a workforce component built into it.
“We think it adds value and we’re going to try it,” Stubblefield said.
Climate a ‘real problem coming’ for development
The number of senior living companies supporting environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles has increased over the years, and Stubblefield believes this will only become a more important facet of doing business as climate change intensifies in the years ahead.
Prior to Covid, Stubblefield said he might not have engaged on climate change-related topics, but he said early warning signs of climate impacts on development have driven The Springs Living to take a more narrow focus on creating more environmentally friendly senior living buildings.
With debt being more costly to take on than it was two years ago, Stubblefield said it beehoves companies to engage with ESG principles to help attract capital at a lower cost.
“It’s about looking down the road,” Stubblefield said. “And it’s about reducing risk.”
The Springs at The Waterfront project design is aiming for LEED Silver certification. On top of the environmental rating, the project also is also aiming to get FitWel building certification, with Stubblefield noting that the FitWel designation was a “great way” to start with environmental efforts.
Climate change could make water more scarce in some parts of the country, or it could cause calamitous weather events to become even more extreme. And it’s no secret that could negatively impact communities’ long-term value.
But to that end, Stubblefield believes there is still time for senior living companies to get on board.
“You have to start somewhere,” Stubblefield said.