The pandemic’s challenges have pushed many non-profit senior living operators to consider joining forces. The latest example of that trend is occurring in New Jersey, where four communities are coming together as one.
The communities, Fellowship Village in Basking Ridge, Friends Village in Woodstown, House of the Good Shepherd in Hackettstown and Pines Village in Whiting, New Jersey, are uniting under the banner FellowshipLife. Once the ink is dry, the new organization will span more than 1,000 units of independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing.
The organizations are coming together not simply to scale, but as a way to cope with the new and challenging environment for single-site non-profit senior living operators. By affiliating, the combined organization will have more resources and stability with which to weather tough times.
While Basking Ridge, New Jersey-based FellowshipLife is uniting four communities under one banner, they will not rebrand to reflect the affiliation, according to Brian Lawrence, who is leading the new organization as CEO.
“We believe in keeping each affiliated community distinct,” Lawrence told Senior Housing News. “Just like in your own family – each kid is unique. You want to honor and respect that uniqueness; so, for us, all of these communities are part of our fellowship family, but we honor that uniqueness.”
Challenges beget a refresh
The trend of non-profit senior living organizations affiliating started heating up in the midst of the pandemic when life plan communities were dealing with issues like safety, staffing and operating in the black.
“We turn on the news every day and there are a lot of mergers and acquisitions out there,” Lawrence said. He noted that senior living could be a bit late as “hospitals have been affiliating and merging for a number of years before [senior living],” he said.
Recent examples of that trend at work include operators Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society and Ebenezer, whose health system parent organizations are seeking to join forces. In January, Ohio Living and Brio Living Services announced they sought to affiliate due to the “rapid pace of change in the senior living and service sector post-Covid,” according to an announcement on the potential affiliation.
For FellowshipLife, the idea behind its respective affiliation is similar.
Lawrence understands that while the Covid-19 pandemic was a unique scenario, economic hardships are cyclical in senior living, often leading to a whirlwind of deals. “It’s always for the same reasons,” he said, whether that be a pandemic, regulatory hurdles or economic challenges.
“When you have scale and I’d say concentrated expertise and support, you could weather those storms much easier than a single site community,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence believes that by uniting under one umbrella, FellowshipLife will be better suited to manage the challenges of today’s economy such as staffing, upgrading IT infrastructure, marketing and meeting regulatory changes.
“The changes and new affiliations will help bring stability to all the communities,” Lawrence told SHN.
One benefit he expects of the affiliation will be an improved presence in the labor market by creating opportunities for staff to advance their careers.
“Growth helps us recruit and retain talented people who would otherwise move on if we did not have a career path for them,” Lawrence added.
FellowshipLife launched its new website last week, and already the company is preparing for its next chapter by giving some communities a facelift.
The organization is adding 107 senior living apartments, multiple dining venues, a pool and a fitness center as part of a new Friends Village campus in Woodstown.
Fellowship Life has prioritized wellness including a “med spa” at one of its communities that offers services such as IV vitamins, botox fillers, laser treatments and cool sculpting.
In fact, clinical services is one area in which the combined organization would like to grow. The organization recently promoted Laura Sharp to the position of VP of clinical services.
“We created a state-of-the-art medical practice with a beautiful waiting room and exam rooms and we’re going to open it to the greater community as well,” Lawrence said.