Brookdale, Holiday Alum Leading New Fast-Growing Operator Willow Ridge

An alum of Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD) and Holiday Retirement is leading a new senior living venture aimed at growing at a steady pace.

Since launching the company in 2019, Willow Ridge Senior Living Founder Michael Morris has his sights set on growing the New York-based company through new capital partnerships. The Albany, New York-based operator has been in perpetual growth mode since its launch, now with a portfolio of four communities in New York and Connecticut. 

With a small but growing platform under it, Morris said Willow Ridge is open to opportunities ranging from 100% total ownership and JVs to triple-net management.


“Building a portfolio that has these different buckets of ownership interests really helps reduce and mitigates risk in the long term,” Morris told Senior Housing News. “We’re really trying to find capital partners that align philosophically with what we are aiming to achieve, and that’s to provide a better quality of life for the residents we serve.”

Willow Ridge aims for 25 buildings in five years, Morris said, with that being based on recent growth trends. In 2022, the company completed two refinances, one acquisition and recently this year, two new management contracts. 

“At that level, I think we can continue moving in a very aggressive, but smart, growth pattern,” Morris said.


Earlier this month, the company partnered with its first capital provider, Boston, Massachusetts-based Cougar Capital, to manage a 65-bed assisted living community in Oneonta, New York previously owned by Welltower (NYSE: WELL). Willow Ridge also recently started managing a 48-bed memory care community in Clinton, Connecticut. The properties fit with the type of and size of buildings Willow Ridge is interested in, Morris noted.

With the two new communities in the fold, Willow Ridge is focused on finding joint ventures and further management agreements, Morris said. New development isn’t in the picture as of yet for Willow Ridge until debt markets improve, and Morris views the company as “operational experts” for distressed assets or properties with significant improvement opportunities. 

“We’re looking for deals between the $5 million and $10 million range trying to penetrate more secondary markets,” Morris added. “We found a niche in those areas and we’re trying to increase our rates as a company.”

Future growth will most likely come in the New England area, but New York is Willow Ridge’s “preferred state” for future growth. While he couldn’t yet detail specifics on forthcoming properties in New Hampshire, Morris noted that there were “a few possibilities” in the Granite State. Morris said he is also open to Willow Ridge getting involved with communities in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

Morris is an alumnus of Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD), where he worked as senior director of sales; and most recently Holiday Retirement, where he was a regional director of sales. He said he plans to leverage that experience to help the growing senior living operator achieve efficiency and portfolio growth with scale.

“After hitting the four or five building mark, we really need to lean on strong capital partners that are going to assist in fueling our growth,” Morris said. “I believe very strongly in diversifying the ownership buckets.”

Future opportunities and care types of each new community would be market-specific, Morris said, with the potential to reposition certain assets from luxury niche offerings into middle market products.

The company’s current portfolio includes middle-market communities in Western New York and a luxury community in Connecticut and Morris highlighted Willow Ridge’s flexibility as an advantage to grow within distinctly different markets.

“In Clinton, Connecticut, we can bring up that luxury competition in that area,” Morris said. “While the Western New York product is aimed to recoup occupancy and focus on that realignment by not pushing a product that’s unattainable.”

With growth in mind, Willow Ridge is building out a back office that includes a vice president of operations position.

The company is also moving away from relying on executive directors to coordinate the corporate management structure, and community EDs now report directly to a vice president of operations position. Willow Ridge also recently brought on a corporate office manager while adding accounting services to the back office, allowing community-level staff to better focus on providing quality care. 

“We will be able to be better equipped to take on additional locations by having these resources as a support center,” Morris said.

In terms of additional corporate-level staff, Morris said he envisions the addition of five positions within the next 18 months targeting accounting, finance and asset management. In line with the corporate office growth, Willow Ridge also implemented new software systems, cloud-based planning firm Acumatic and electronic health record (EHR) system Eldermark, which allows the company to get accurate data at the community level.

“When you’re in growth mode, you need a scalable platform that can support your employees that can support your residents and support the growing need for that timely and accurate recording for your ownership groups,” Morris added.

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