Tim Nelson is a senior living veteran, having spent time with Pennant Group (NASDAQ: PNTG) and Ensign Group (NASDAQ: ENSG). Now, he is leading a new senior living venture with the goal of building a company that will last years into the future.
Nelson is co-principal leading Olympus Retirement Living, the private-pay senior living brand of Cascadia Healthcare. In January, Eagle, Idaho-based Cascadia acquired 10 communities from not-for-profit operator Good Samaritan.
Nelson has a particular vision for the new operator’s future. In fact, he was the one who pitched Cascadia on Olympus and its senior living operating model. The newest operator currently manages one community, but thanks to a recent Cascadia deal to acquire 10 Good Samaritan properties, While Olympus is still small with one community under management, it will fly the Olympus banner at six communities in Oregon, Washington and Idaho this year, with more to come.
“Our main goal is to really solidify the foundation as we build a lasting organization that can really stand the test of time,” Nelson told Senior Housing News during an episode of the Transform podcast. “We’re really getting our feet wet and we want to make sure that we’re taking care of those that staff our communities and those residents.””
As he leads the new operator’s growth, Nelson has a goal of growing the average company census to as much as 95% across its portfolio. That is already underway thanks to a head start provided from the management efforts of Good Samaritan, he said.
On Nelson’s background and career in senior living:
My senior living journey began just over a decade ago with the Ensign Group on the skilled nursing side of things and as a skilled nursing administrator for a number of years.I then had the opportunity to switch over to the senior living side of Ensign, which eventually spun off and became The Pennant Group.
I’ve operated large communities, small communities; I did some regional type roles for Ensign and The Pennant Group; and I got to a point in my life where I decided that I can do this the way I want to, and I started my search for skilled nursing organizations that did not have a senior living element to partner with. Through prior connections, I landed with Cascadia Healthcare and partnered with the owners to start Olympus Retirement Living.
It’s because our values and our mission are in lockstep and we meshed. Olympus Retirement Living came to fruition in October of 2021.
It was actually [Cascadia Healthcare’s] vision that drove me to want to partner with them. We aligned our vision and that is: To be a force for good. That’s what Olympus is setting out to do in the senior living industry. We want to go into communities that we have opportunities to and be that force for good for residents, staff and the community at-large. If we keep that force for good mentality in all things that we do, there’s no way to fail.
This plays in with being a force for good. We’re hyper-focused on treating human beings as human beings and they’re not just a number or a means to an end. We’re focusing on our staff and realizing that everyone has a story and is going through something in their lives. We want to look at each person as they are as an individual. We also want to compete with ourselves and not everyone that’s out there.
There’s enough residents out there for a ton of different senior living organizations out there and we really want to focus on ourselves and improve what we are doing.
On the current Olympus portfolio:
Right now we are tiny.
We are only currently operating one community in northern Idaho and we’ve had that for not quite a year yet. A lot of things have been in the works with the huge transaction with Good Samaritan a couple of weeks ago. We will go from one to five in the next couple of months with the Good Samaritan transition of their senior living portfolio.
We’ll be in Oregon, eastern Washington and northern Idaho markets. The first year-and-a-half has been preparing for that transaction, because we had been in talks with Good Samaritan before that.
We’re 100% looking [to grow] internally. Offers are coming on the table every day, just like any other organization out there. We don’t have a growth goal right now, and we want to grow organically.
Cascadia for the first few years is only operating a handful of skilled nursing facilities. Then in year three or four is when they would take 10, 12 communities in a year. We’re not at that point yet. We’re really getting our feet wet and we want to make sure that we’re taking care of those that staff our communities and those residents. We’ll get all of our ducks in a row and then we will continue to look to grow in the future.
Cascadia had for years some deals on their table where it was, for example, three skilled nursing facilities and a senior living community or five skilled nursing facilities and five senior living communities. They always passed on the ones that couldn’t be broken out because they were humble enough to know they don’t know anything about senior living.
After we formed Olympus, we were looking at a bunch of other properties, and Cascadia got into conversations with Good Samaritan, who decided to consolidate back to the Midwest. Since Cascadia is the largest skilled nursing provider in Idaho, they have a large footprint in the northwest.
They got into discussions with Good Samaritan on that northwest portfolio of Good Samaritan. Luckily for Olympus, there were also all those senior living communities in the northwest. Just by virtue of partnering with Cascadia, this Good Samaritan conversation started happening.
We teamed up as Cascadia and Olympus to go into talks with Good Samaritan. Kudos to them. Those people that work there are salt of the Earth and they really care about their staff and residents and what was going to happen to them. We weren’t the only people [Good Samaritan] was talking to. They were talking to a lot of other organizations out there. We felt like our missions aligned, our visions aligned. We were able to get it done in the last couple of months.
On transitioning communities:
These transitions can be very difficult, especially for the existing operation and the staff that worked there.
Good Samaritan has employees that have worked at their communities for literally over 40 years. A lot of 20-plus year staff members and a lot of them in their local leadership and within their communities. We knew going in and we had discussions with Good Samaritan because they wanted this to go really smoothly for their folks, too. We’re not focusing on them as employees, we’re focusing on them as people.
That was obviously the biggest question: Do I still have a job? And it was actually really easy to say yes, because I don’t have a bus full of Olympus employees that’s just going to roll up to these rural areas and replace everybody.
Joking aside, we plan on retaining everybody and that is the plan and it has been fun and exciting and nerve-wracking the last couple of weeks now that we can go into the communities. The executive directors we have on-site, at least the ones I have been involved with, have been very open with us and inviting us in to meet people and get to know them and so far everyone has been amazing, especially on the leadership side of things.
We haven’t been able to spend the time there yet to get to know all the floor staff or anything like that, but that’s coming very quickly. But our plan really is to retain the staff. Good Samaritan has done an amazing job, an amazing job in these properties. And we obviously want to continue that legacy so and who better to do that than the people in those communities. We’re really planning on relying on their expertise and their knowledge of their staff and the residents and the town and all the resources that are out there.
Announcements were made to the individual communities all in the same day, so folks from Good Samaritan went to 10 or 11 locations and folks from Cascadia and Olympus went to the locations with them. We held employee and resident town hall meetings. It was really awesome. We did six town hall meetings that day. We had independent living residents, townhome residents, skilled nursing residents, assisted living residents and their families. We went in there with the main focus being to ensure that the staff and the residents felt safe. Safety was the word of the day. We wanted to calm the nerves.
We let them know that we partnered with Good Samaritan on these transactions because our values align there. The feedback from all the other communities was very smooth. I think we were able to get the message across that, hey, we’re here to continue Good Samaritan’s legacy, and the way that they treat people and staff and residents alike and their families. We had to also be realistic and say we don’t do things exactly the same way that Good Samaritan does. But at the heart of it, we have the same heart and the same mission and we’re here for the same mission. So all in all, it went about as well as you can.
There’s been some follow-up in the last couple of weeks [where] I’ve gotten some emails from different residents or staff members asking certain questions, and we’re very transparent and we make sure to answer those questions to put them at ease. I don’t know that the answers are always exactly what they want to hear, but we just want them to know that we’re going to be open and honest with them to start building trust with these employees and residents from day one.
On rate increases, and what to expect from Olympus on rates and occupancy:
I’ve always loved the mantra of no margin no mission. We have to create that margin in order for us to achieve the mission that we’re after of taking care of people. I’ve seen everything from 3% to 15% [rate increases in 2023].
A lot of that I think has to do with the specific market that you’re in but more of it has to do with what folks were doing pre-pandemic and during the pandemic with their rates. Before the pandemic, folks were shotgunning it, sometimes doing 3% or 4% annually in an arbitrary way –not that people don’t use the consumer price index, but some of the increases were arbitrary.
During the pandemic it went haywire. Some people didn’t do rate increases because they wanted to maintain the census and some people increased their rates because there were all these new costs. So now everyone’s trying to catch up and figure out where we need to be. We have to do what is best for the individual communities. About the Good Samaritan communities, they let their leaders locally manage [rates] so they are maybe all over the place. We’re really taking a deep dive at each individual location to see what we need to do if there needs to be any adjustments. Once the transition is complete over the next couple of months, we have a little bit of buffer in the next couple of weeks and months to really figure those numbers out. So there’s really a lot of data there to kind of analyze in each individual market and each individual community.
Our internal analysis tells us we need to be at 85% occupied across the portfolio to be a healthy entity and we really should be at 85% or more. But 100% occupied is not out of the realm of possibility. Our initial goals will be 95% occupancy across the portfolio. The Good Samaritan occupancy is pretty high across the board. So we really are looking at this as market by market facility by facility, just taking that approach of what we need to do in each specific facility, but, but we do see the uptick in the industry as a whole. It looks like the trajectory is that we can get to 95% occupancy.
On goals for 2023:
Our main goal is to really solidify the foundation as we build a lasting organization that can really stand the test of time. We want to be here; in 20 years. It wants to be here in 30 years.
That might not be the goal of some organizations that are starting out where they plan to build up a really nice portfolio and sell it. So if they are and they’re listening, we’ll we’ll we’ll take a look at it. We are really focused on building something long lasting. We want to be in this for decades to come, and this is a calling and this is what I want to do.
We really need to take 2023 and really put our stamp on it and start to build something long-lasting.