‘Every Penny Counts’: How Data Powers Priority Life Care’s Middle-Market Senior Living Model

Some months back, a group of Priority Life Care employees created a burner email address and emailed Sevy Petras, the company’s chief executive.

In the email, the employees had an urgent message to share: Though they were aware of the company’s new rule of not using agency labor, they said some positions in their community were going unfilled, and that they sorely needed a break.

“It wasn’t meant to be rude, and it wasn’t meant to get anyone above them in trouble, but they reached out to me and I listened,” Petras told Senior Housing News.


Instead of saying no, Petras was impressed and willing to work with the employees. So, she contacted the area’s regional manager and allowed the community to use agency-sourced labor to give the staffers much-needed time off.

Although using agency labor no doubt costs more than relying on existing full-time staff, Petras saw more long-term value in giving workers a break when they needed one. She was able to arrive at that decision thanks in part to information gleaned to a robust suite of data that allows leaders to report financials on the first day of each month.

That pragmatism also underscores how she and Priority Life Care’s other leaders make the math work for their middle-market senior living model while balancing other important efforts, such as increasing flexibility for staff. And they say having that information at a glance is crucial when threading the operational needle, whether they are setting staffing levels or keeping a close eye on occupancy.


Making do with less ‘wiggle room’

Priority Life Care operates as a middle-market operator in the full-service assisted living and memory care sector. That gives the company a head start reaching a large and growing demographic, but Petras noted that also gives the company less “wiggle room” to offset costs by raising rates.

“So if PLC is at about $4,000 per month, luxury communities may be at $8,000 per month,” she added.

Still, Priority was able to raise rates in 2023 across its portfolio of 45 mostly AL and memory care communities between 5% and 11%, depending on the market.

Data plays a big role in how the operator is able to thread the needle between rates and expenses. The company recently launched a new data analytics platform that is helping to give leaders the information they need to make informed decisions, like the choice to bring in some agency staffers when needed.

As they make decisions, the company’s leaders are consulting a dashboard built in collaboration with Prime Care Technologies, a senior living and skilled nursing technology solution. The dashboard pulls data from all of Priority’s electronic medical records, including from different software providers like Welcome Home and PointClickCare.

Although Petras said the dashboard is not yet “perfect,” the goal is to monitor and make decisions based on real-time daily revenue reports that are down to the cent.

“We really do have to change the way we’re looking at [revenue], because every penny counts,” Petras said.

For Petras, knowing how all 45 communities are doing on any given day means she can jump in whenever there’s an issue or an opportunity.

The platform came in handy recently when one of Priority’s Virginia-based communities lost eleven residents within a 24-hour period, according to Petras. The platform equipped the corporate office with a real-time adjusted operating budget for the community. This allowed community leaders to set a new target for move-ins needed and recover the lost revenue in no time at all.

“We were actually able to change the budget and not lose revenue in the next month, even with having that many people out,” Petras told SHN.

Real-time data access is one of the many small avenues Fort Wayne, Indiana-based Priority Life Care is growing and evolving in 2023. The company also is improving the infrastructure of its “PLC University” training for staff.

“We brought in a college professor to lead the Priority Life Care University,” Petras said. “PLC University includes monthly corporate training that is on-location that includes different teams like the clinical teams, dietary teams and marketing teams.”

The training sessions consist of two days of training activities followed by a gathering at COO Bobby Petras’ house. “That’s really to drive home the cultural aspect of family that we have.”

About three-fourths of Priority Life Care’s portfolio currently has an occupancy rate of around 75% to 80%, according to Petras. But the year started in a hard way: Strangely, Priority Life Care saw more move-outs in this past January than it had seen in about two years.

On average, PLC residents enter their communities at an average age of 83, about two to three years older than had been the case prior to the pandemic. That means that residents are trending toward a higher acuity level when they walk through the door.

“I talked to a lot of operators who saw similar trends,” Petras said. “The only thing that we could attribute it to is that we had some people who moved in toward the end of the Covid-19 who had maybe wanted a little longer than they normally would have waited to move in.”

Growing with Ventas

Another way Petras is putting the new data platform to use includes watching how Priority Life Care is leasing-up and onboarding its second chunk of communities owned by Ventas.

Priority added seven communities with the real estate investment trust (REIT) at the start of the year. That followed moves in late 2021 when Priority began managing 17 communities previously operated by Eclipse Senior Living for Ventas.

Petras cited Ventas’ senior living leader, Justin Hutchens, as one big reason that the operator and the REIT work so well together. Petras believes that Hutchens, executive VP of Senior Housing and Chief Investment Officer with Ventas, is an operator at heart.

“He’s one of us,” Petras said.

Petras said Hutchens and Ventas understand the need to get new capital into buildings, particularly those buildings that for whatever reason need a facelift to remain competitive with potential residents and employees.

The partners started their relationship in 2021 when the REIT transferred operations of a 17-community portfolio to PLC that were previously operated by now-defunct operator Eclipse Senior Living. 

After successfully improving operations at those communities – branded as the Celebration portfolio – the two reconnected with seven additional Celebration communities coming into the PLC family for a total of 26 total Ventas communities. “We’ve improved occupancy about 15% month-over-months in all of our Ventas communities,” Petras told SHN. 

Unlike the first cohort of communities, all of which were located in Pennsylvania, these seven more recent additions are spread out in Indiana, Kentucky, Kansas, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

“You have to look at what the community looks like,” Petras said. “Do you have potholes in your parking lot? Do you have a decent-looking breakroom? If you have a hard time leasing up a building, you are probably having a hard time filling your building with staff too.”

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