New Christian Horizons CEO Kate Bertram sees a path to recovery and growth in solving labor challenges and increasing bottom line revenue through a ramp-up of its operating wing.
Bertram joined the company in March 2022 as COO. She brought more than two decades of experience in senior living to her elevated leadership role, having previously spent time as a vice president of operations at Chicago-based Pathway to Living. While COO at Christian Horizons, a post she took in 2022, she helped bring post-pandemic recovery and culture development for the Springfield, Illinois-based operator.
The organization’s current senior housing holdings include a portfolio of seven owned and operated life plan communities and five senior living communities offering a mix of services including independent, assisted living, memory care, long-term health care centers and short-term rehab.
The organization also in 2022 opened the doors to a Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) center in Saint Louis, Missouri, the state’s only such facility.
In an interview with SHN, Bertram said the priorities she’s entered into into her new role as the organization undergoes its latest “transformation.”
As CEO, Bertram said she wants to help the operator build a reputation of “taking it one step further” in all that it does. That is challenged by the fact that the senior living industry is in 2023 encountering stiff challenges lingering in the wake of the pandemic.
“We know how to operate communities really well, but we have some really strong headwinds currently with inflation and the cost of care,” Bertram said. “We are seeking growth and [to be] good stewardships of our own dollars and the investors’ dollars.”
She added: “It’s a complicated balance, all the time.”
That said, the organization has returned to pre-pandemic occupancy thanks to successes in sales and marketing, according to Bertram. But getting there wasn’t easy, as Christian Horizons had to overcome what she described as a “severe lack of trust” of the senior living industry during the pandemic’s darkest years.
“In the rural markets of the Midwest … trust is everything,” she said.
While focusing on the bells and whistles of new shiny is one strategy that operators wield to help secure short-term growth, Bertram said she was more focused on what makes operations really tick: Staffing. Specifically, she is focused on the recruitment and retention of workers by offering competitive benefits packages and personal leadership development.
“How do we get them to [learn],You can have a really awesome career?” Bertram said.
Bertram said there was still room to grow as headwinds from inflation and lingering expense pressures remain persistent. She added that revenue will remain a big focus moving forward.
As it stands, Bertram said the current cost of securing new capital was “really prohibitive” for the organization. Instead, she believes the company will increase operating management agreements and shying away from acquisitions for the “next 24 months.”
“We have a shovel-ready plan in Springfield and as of right now, we’re evaluating everything about the plan,” Bertram said.
At a high level, Bertram said she sees future growth occurring within AL and memory care, along with branching into the active adult sector, after the company’s temporary pause on new development.
In the coming months, Bertram hinted at Christian Horizons ramping up its senior living operating company that will be a “new way to serve seniors in the AL space.” Currently the organization is working through finding the right equity partner. The entire program is based around “total engagement” of residents.
“It’s a melding of bringing a group together that doesn’t have to identify themselves, but are thriving what is important to them,” Bertram said.